Digital autonomy

Threatened South Tyrol open source school project wins SFScon award

Published on: 20/11/2019
Last update: 02/04/2020

South Tyrol’s use of open source in its Italian-language schools was awarded the SFScon award last week. The use of free and open source is of “fundamental importance for public service projects that involve private, personal data - and that includes schools”, says the award organiser, the Linux User Group Bozen-Bolzano-Bulsan.

The SFSAward 2019 was given to teacher Piergiorgio Cemin and student Marco Marinello, who develop and maintain the project ‘Free Upgrade in South Tyrol’s Schools’ (FUSS).

The image shows a Twitter message including a photo of the two award winners holding the award plaque.
Twitter retweets and likes for the SFSAward 2019 for FUSS developers and maintainers Piergiorgio Cemin and student Marco Marinello.

FUSS uses Debian GNU/Linux and other free and open source software for schools. Now in its fifteenth year, FUSS is implemented on 4500 PC workstations across 80 schools, and is used by about 16,000 students and 1900 teachers. Others schools in the region, teaching in German or Ladin, use mostly proprietary software.

In July, FUSS came under threat from local politicians representing the populist Lega party. They want the schools to switch to proprietary software, alleging that teachers were complaining about FUSS. The FUSS project riposted that the majority of teachers want the project to continue: already over one thousand citizens, including many teachers, have signed a petition in support of FUSS.

Earlier this month, the project published statements of support by some 60 regional companies and international organisations.

Mission impossible

In September, Marco Marinello, an 18-year old high-school student who helps keep FUSS up to date, asked Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella to intervene. The use of Debian has saved the schools a lot of money, he writes. The total costs of the FUSS project over the past fourteen years is EUR 670,000. The licences for the usual proprietary alternative would have cost EUR 2.5 million, he adds.

Over the years, FUSS has trained 30 IT administrators and courses for teachers are organised every six months, the student writes: “[This] has resulted in a unique product that is owned by the province, in a way that is impossible with proprietary software.” Switching to a proprietary operating system makes little sense, he writes: “Within a few years, all applications will be browser-based, independent of PC operating systems.”

The SFSCon Award is part of the South Tyrol Free Software Conference (SFScon), which took place last Friday and Thursday in Bolzano. The annual conference, organised for the first time in 2001 by the Linux User Group Bozen-Bolzano-Bulsan, is co-organised since 2005 by the NOI Techpark in Bolzano.

OSOR reached out to the governor of South Tyrol, and awaits a response.

More information:

SFSAward 2019 announcement by the Linux User Group Bozen-Bolzano-Bulsan (in Italian)
Open Source Initiative (OSI) case study on the FUSS project
English booklet on FUSS (PDF)
South Tyrol Free Software Conference (SFScon)
Alto Adige news item (in Italian)