Ease of use and political support are boosting uptake
In Spain’s autonomous community of Aragon a fast growing number of schools are using Vitalinux. This tailored distribution of free and open source software solutions boots fast and is easy to use. The workstations can be centrally managed, to keep software up-to-date and ease troubleshooting.
Since the project’s inception in 2014, 40 of Aragon’s 3000 schools have already switched, bringing the total of Vitalinux PCs to over 6000. All of these are maintained and kept up-to-date by just two IT staff members working at the Department of Education.
In December, their work got an important political boost when the Aragon Parliament unanimously asked the Minister of Education to implement Vitalinux in all schools in the region.
The autonomous community of Aragon has no central policy for school IT systems. Schools and teachers are free to use PCs as part of the curriculum. With only a limited budget at their disposal, schools need to weigh the cost of purchasing computer hardware, with the cost of proprietary software licences, while avoiding the use of unlicensed software. In many schools, this has led to schools continuing to use Microsoft Windows XP, a decade-old proprietary operating system for which the manufacturer no longer provides support.">
In 2014, Aragon’s Department of Education decided to promote the use of Vitalinux. The project’s objectives were to:
- Reuse existing computer hardware;
- Offer an alternative to Microsoft Windows XP/7/8;
- Prevent the use of unlicensed software;
- Reduce the costs of proprietary software licenses;
- Encourage the use of free software in education;
- Create a central inventory of all software and hardware; and
- Allow central management of software.
In late 2014, the region started a pilot, asking schools and adult education institutions to signal their interest in participating.
Description of target users and groups
Vitalinux is designed to be used in schools by students (aged 12 to 18) and their teachers.
The distribution (distro) is now used in 40 schools in the region (see table 1). In most of these, Vitalinux is installed on practically all the PCs; a few schools use the distro solely for the PCs in the computer lab.
|school year||number of schools|
|2014 - 2015||14|
|2015 - 2016||20|
|2016 - 2017||40|
As the software can be downloaded by anyone, the exact number of schools using Vitalinux is likely higher than 40, suggests Arturo Martin Romero, one of the IT staff members working at the Department of Education. “Teachers can run Vitalinux or Microsoft Windows, or both. They don’t have to tell us, and if they do not contact us, for example for support, we’ll never know about these”, says Romero.
Romero estimates that Vitalinux is running on just over 6000 PCs - mostly in schools, but including some installations used at home by teachers and students. This, he says, is the number of Vitalinux PCs that connect to the region’s software distribution tool, Migasfree. This open source software solution provides a central point for managing configuration and software updates.
It is not essential to use Migasfree to run Vitalinux. However, all the schools supported by Aragon’s Vitalinux project are centrally managed with Migasfree.
Development of Migasfree started in 2010, at the IT department of the city of Zaragoza - the capital of Zaragoza province and the capital of the Aragon region. The IT department needed a good solution for managing desktops and servers, and, unimpressed by the available options, decided to write their own. The software is published using the GNU GPL v3 - a commonly used free software licence.
Migasfree is written in the Python programming language and requires an Apache web server. In Zaragoza, Migasfree is the default tool for distributing software applications across all departments and offices. The software allows administrators to manage all the computer hardware and stores the configuration of each machine.
In many educational centres in Aragon, schools continue to use Microsoft Windows XP, a now decade-old, proprietary computer operating system for which the manufacturer no longer provides support. This creates problems for schools, including security issues. In addition, the system can no longer run applications required by the region’s education department.
Switching to Vitalinux makes most teachers “very happy”, says Romero. The distro boots fast, saving minutes of valuable time to start working. Teachers who opt to use Migasfree are equally impressed by the central management, which absolves them of the need to update any of the PC workstations.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
The Vitalinux project provides training, and most of the training material is also available online.
Vitalinux is based on Lubuntu - a lightweight version of the Ubuntu Linux distro, which provides easy access to tens of thousands of free and open source software packages. The main difference between Lubuntu and Vitalinux is the latter’s integration with Migasfree, a software configuration and management server developed by Alberto Gacías and José Antonio Chavarría, two IT staff members working for the city of Zaragoza.
Migasfree allows the region to centrally manage all Vitalinux software remotely, unattended and automated, based on an inventory of all hardware, software and configurations. Migasfree administrators can, remotely:
- keep software up to date;
- install or remove software;
- configure PCs, and prepare programs;
- shut down unused PC equipment (for example after school hours);
- detect and fix software errors; and
- configure peripherals such as printers, projectors, and whiteboards.
Technology choice: Open source software
Main results, benefits and impacts
The number of primary schools, secondary schools and institions for adult education that use Vitalinux is growing gradually. The project is very low-cost: its budget is equal to two FTE IT staff.
Track record of sharing
Several other autonomous regions in Spain have similar Linux-based school PC projects.
There is little to no sharing of experiences between projects, as each distro builder has their own preferences and distros are tweaked to regional characteristics. However, the technicians do share experience and build on experiences of others. The Vitalinux maintainers actively seek such educational open source communities. “The success of such projects depends on political support, and there is a lack of politicians who understand the benefits of educational software projects running free and open source”, says Romero.
Migasfree is the tool that makes Vitalinux possible, says Romero: “Migasfree is the key to a scalable remote management of school computers.”
Scope: Regional (sub-national)