Using PCs that run free and open source operating systems and applications is 'no trouble at all' for students at two special schools in Plymouth, says Steve Kemsley, owner of the IT service provider for both schools Magicka Interactive. "Students are allowed to use whichever deskop, KDE, Gnome Unity or XFCE, and do so with little effort."
Kemsley's company manages the schools forty desktop PCs at Mount Tamar, a school for students between 5 and 16 years old with social, emotional and behavioural problems. Magicka also helps manage (X) PCs at the Brookgreen Centre for Learning, a school for students between 11 and 16 years old with moderate learning, behavioural and social disadvantages.
Mount Tamar School is one of the first schools in the United Kingdom to use Linux and other open source applications, to rid itself of IT vendor lock-in. It starts using the Suse Linux distribution for its desktops in 2003. Nowadays the schools uses Ubuntu Linux, version 10.04.
"We run Ubuntu throughout and a proprietary operating system on a few PCs". The desktops are virtualised, using the open source virtual machine solution KVM. "There are two servers that serve the KVM instances of Ubuntu desktops, which allows the schools to make good use of the computer hardware resources.
This way, starting up the Ubuntu desktops takes a user typically four seconds, Kemsley says. "That is ten times faster than the time needed to login to the proprietary alternative." The Ubuntu desktop is used in 80 percent of the time, notes Kemsley.
Easy to manage
Both school's network and file services can be accessed from computing devices running either an open source operating system or proprietary alternatives. The same is true for the office productivity; by using OpenOffice, which is available for most commonly used open source and proprietary operating systems.
Even for back-ups, the schools rely on open source. "We use Rsync to replicate the files from the primary file server to the secondary file server, offsite. This means we can recover almost anything going back months."
For teaching, the schools uses Wikimedia and the open source e-learning system. "And increasingly we're making use of the cloud office suite offered by a well-know Internet search company."
One important advantage of using open source servers, says Kemsley, is the ease of management. "One part-time person can manage 25 servers and more than 150 virutal desktops on PCs and laptops. The last time we had to fix a software error was more than six months ago."