Future funding of Epoptes by Greece is uncertain
It’s a textbook example of public administration software reuse. The city of Valencia (Spain) is one of the many users of Epoptes, software for managing school PC-labs, that has been developed as open source in Greece since 2008. The software is being improved by staff members of the city’s IT department, who share their code publicly. Meanwhile in Greece however, the future development of Epoptes is in limbo.
The city of Valencia uses Epoptes to let teachers manage all the PCs in a classroom. The software is one of the applications that are included in Lliurex, the GNU/Linux distribution implemented on 120,000 school PCs. “Epoptes is our main classroom manager, and it has been used intensely ever since 2013, when we added it to Lliurex”, says Hector Garcia Huerta, one of the distro maintainers.
The city’s IT department has helped to modify and expand Epoptes' functionality. For example, they built in the option to block and unblock the Internet connections of managed PCs. They also added a check, to prevent pupils from circumventing Epoptes controls by briefly severing the network connection. Like the main software, Valencia’s improvements to Epoptes are available as free software.
The Spanish developers also contacted their Greek counterparts, keen to start collaboration. However, since December, the upstream project’s two main developers have been struggling to continue the project. The past years, Epoptes and the closely related LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project), were funded by the country’s Computer Technology Institute, which in turn received funding from the Ministry of Education and the European Union, explains developer Alkis Georgopoulos, a core contributor to LTSP.
Development and maintenance of Epoptes and LTSP was part of the Greek Stirizo school IT support programme, which ended in December. Two developers, Alkis Georgopoulos and Fotis Tsamis, were working part-time for the Stirizo project, enabling them to spend a few hours per week on the two projects. “Unfortunately Stirizo ended last year, and the Greek Ministry of Education hasn't yet decided on funding for its successor”, says Georgopoulos.
Used all over the world
“Epoptes is used in many European countries”, adds developer Tsamis. “We have received feedback from Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Poland and Germany”, Tsamis says. The software is also implemented in schools across Tanzania by Camara, an Irish charity. Similarly to Valencia, the project received code patches from a team in Brazil, that added multiseat support.
It is a common misconception that open source software means development is done for free, says Georgopoulos. Most of the successful open source projects have a core team of developers that get paid in one way or another for their contributions. “Small contributions from others, like bug reports or patches, are excellent, but they aren't enough to keep the development alive”, Georgopoulos says. “I hope funding is found soon, otherwise I fear the two projects will stagnate.”