Three years ago I purchased an Asus Eee PC 900 series computer. Since that time, I’ve taken it with me on a lot of trips to conferences and meetings. My little companion often served as a secondary computer for note-taking and another means of web-browsing while my other computers were busy being used for digital video editing.
Although the Eee PC came loaded with a useful Linux-based operating system known as Xandros, I couldn’t keep myself from installing any number of other operating systems (both Windows and Linux) to see what my little netbook could and would do. I enjoy experimenting. I made bootable USBs and loaded operating systems such as Eeebuntu (the Aurora Project has links to old and new versions of this OS) , Puppy Linux, Xubuntu, as well as Hexxeh’s hugely popular ChromiumOS build, Flow, on the machine. Each time I did, I learned something new (like how and why to use Windows Image Writer, UNetbootin, and other related resources).
After my numerous fits of tinkering, I began to understand that the Eee PC needed a restoration back to its original factory settings. Unfortunately, I misplaced the restore DVD that came with the machine. Ugh! Thankfully, after visiting the eeeUser Forum and reading a number of posts (and learning about tips like the nifty F9 trick), I was able to get my machine back to its original settings. After getting everything back to its original state, I dropped by the Ubuntu site and downloaded the netbook version of the Ubuntu OS.
A wonderful (free) virtualization software package called VirtualBox gives educators a way to better meet the needs of learners across a variety of operating systems. Although pupils have a great deal in common with one another, they also have differing abilities, needs, and learning styles. Beyond their personalities and intellectual potential, they often have access to and make use of computers with different operating systems. Despite the fact that all of the students in a classroom or group may frequently employ web-based resources such as Google Docs to collaborate and learn together, they’ll eventually want to do work individually on computers that have resources uniquely designed to meet their own personal tastes.
For example, suppose there’s a teacher who wants to give her learners more choice in how they complete their work. This teacher knows that the students gravitate toward differing operating systems. One student prefers doing his assignments on a Windows machine, while another is dedicated to completing work on her Mac OS X laptop. A third, more adventurous pupil, after nobly rescuing a surplussed PC destined for a landfill, is happily anticipating learning with a Linux-based desktop. The teacher decides to foster the choices made by the learners. She installs VirtualBox on her own computer to see the applications her pupils are using and how the operate.
VirtualBox is remarkably useful as it runs on Windows, Linux, and Macintosh machines. It also supports a large number of guest operating systems. This means that a math teacher using a Mac with VirtualBox loaded on her machine can actually install and run other operating systems (such as Windows and Linux) at the same time. If one of her students prefers using a Windows-based math application such as GraphCalc to complete his assignment, the instructor can see that program in action within a Windows-based environment on her Mac! This powerful means of meeting the needs of pupils is free.
Your school system could be helping students hone their 21st century skills without expending a great of money. Sponsored by Novell, the openSUSE for Schools project is all about providing free learning tools for educators. This robust site has a huge assortment of rich desktop applications designed to run on a Linux desktop.
Virtually every school system has a number of PC lying around that no one is using. What a wonderful way to breathe new life into old hardware! Best of all, even if the plan doesn’t go as expected, no money has been lost. It’s FREE. Why stop there, though? Relatively inexpensive netbooks could be used as well.
If you really want to students to learn and be prepared for life in a 21st century economy, model what you expect–learn something new! Take a risk and give the openSUSE for Schools project a try. You’ll learn valuable lessons along the way and open up new opportunities for your students.
Anyone checking my blog can see that I’ve been taking it easy. Aside from slacking off from my posting and occasionally checking my mail, I’ve been playing around with all kinds of Linux distros. I’m fortunate to have a reputation for being a guy who takes worn-out PCs. I got a lot of old laptops and desktops to experiment upon in my quest for tried and tested tools for free computing. When I get aging machines I enjoy loading the hardware with all manner of open source and free software. For the last five days I’ve been working my way through all of the flavors of Ubuntu.
My wife, bless her, has been very accommodating with my holiday hobby. Antiquated computers adorn my home like scattered toys. My floors may be messy but they bear witness to my zeal. I’ve been installing, examining, reviewing, and testing stuff like:
I’ve known about and used these resources for a few years and I’m still eager to explore their potential. The kind individuals who invest time and knowledge in refining all of these variations of Ubuntu make the prospect of using the systems irresistible. That’s why I’m on holiday from Windows and thrilled about touring an alternative operating system or two. Why not take the plunge and see what Ubuntu or one of its cousins has to offer? Better yet, burn a few Ubuntu CDs and give them to your friends!
My good pal Joe rang me up today and brought something supremely interesting to my attention. He told me about a news story that caught his eye. While exploring Google News, he discovered that IBM is launching a line of computers that do not use Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Instead, IBM’s machines will combine its own open source Lotus Symphony desktop package with the Linux operating system. According to the news story,
“IBM claims the system can save businesses $500 to $800 per user on Microsoft software licenses and an additional $258 per user “since there is no need to upgrade hardware to support Windows Vista and Office.”
That’s important. Why? Even before the recent economic downturn, many schools lacked the funds necessary for maintaining Windows-based computers. Money was scarce even before money was scarce. With the added stress of the loss of what little funds they had, it’s no wonder that many schools are coming around to the possibility of using Windows-free computers.
For the last three years, Joe has been investigating and using a variety of open source programs and freeware. He knows his stuff. Whether it’s Inkscape, Audacity, or TuxPaint, Joe has been carefully researching all manner of computer programs that students can use for free. He fervently believes that the tools of learning can and should be free. With IBM’s bold move, maybe they will be.
According to what I’ve read at the Official Google Blog, it seems that Google’s long-awaited and soon-to-be-released web browser, Chrome, is going to have some stamina that other browsers are currently lacking. In typical Google style, Chrome is going to an open source browser. Big G is giving back to the community! As if to add whipped cream and a cherry on top, one of my favorite illustrators, Scott McCloud, has an online comic book explaining the rich features of Chrome. Spiffy!
It’ll be available tomorrow, September 2nd. I can’t wait!
Here I am in San Antonio, Texas at the Gonzalez Convention Center sitting in the Open Source Lab session listening to Steve Hargadon discuss free resources. I’ve heard Steve present before and, as always, it’s a pleasure to get access to his fresh ideas and opinions. This post–the one you’re reading–is being written on an old, IBM ThinkPad that has no harddrive. It’s a PC that’s part of a thin client network. There’s a room full of these normally useless, obsolete machines that are being used for blogging, word processing, multimedia, and other tasks. Imagine what might happen if a system or school decided to make better use of its old machines rather than tossing them out or surplusing them.