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Macedonia: A New Sun of Linux Freedom Rises

In Macedonia, Edubuntu Machines For Every Student

  • November 19, 2007
  • By Brian Proffitt

The Republic of Macedonia is one of the poorer nations in southeastern Europe to come from the break-up of the former Yugoslav republic. But thanks to Linux, they do have the wherewithal to get a computer to every student in the country, thanks to a program launched in 2005 known as the "Computer for Every Child" (CEC) project.

According to the Macedonia Ministry of Education and Science, more than 180,000 workstations running Edubuntu 7.04 have already begun to be deployed to Macedonian students. The students will share time on the computers, half in the morning and half in the afternoon.

Getting computers into classrooms is a high priority for many nations, and there are several opportunities to do so--the One Laptop Per Child and the Mandriva/Classmate PC projects being two of the more well-known efforts. The Macedonian program can take its place in this group, given the scope of the project.

The CEC project is one of the largest known thin-client and desktop Linux deployments ever undertaken, according to the Canonical, the commercial company behind the Edubuntu distribution. The Edubuntu distribution (based on Feisty Fawn) will run on 160,000 virtual PC terminals and 20,000 PCs (which each also support a student on the attached monitor) supplied by NComputing. The systems were procured and will be installed by Chinese PC maker The Haier Company.

The first 7,000 computers pre-installed with Ubuntu were shipped on September 4, a press statement from Canonical confirmed.

Not only is this one of the largest known Linux desktop deployments, but according to Canonical's marketing manager Gerry Carr, this is the largest "pure" Edubuntu deployment to date. There have been larger Ubuntu deployments, he added, notably in Spain school districts.

Carr explained that this news was a long time in coming. Back in 2005, a pilot version of the program was launched that put 5,000 Ubuntu machines in 468 schools and 182 computer labs. That two-year pilot was very successful, Carr said, which led to the implementation of the full deployment this year.

This is not simply a victory for Linux on the desktop, but a direct loss for Microsoft as well. In 2003, Macedonia entered into an agreement with Microsoft to legalize copies of Windows that were at that time unlicensed by the Macedonian government. Microsoft was also to devote resources for translating more of Windows into the Macedonian language. Details of the arrangement were never fully disclosed, though presumably the translation did take place, because Carr confirmed that, like Edubuntu, Windows XP was available in Macedonian.

Despite XP's native-language capabilities, Carr did not seem the slightest bit concerned about a possible operating system switchover along the lines of what occured recently in Nigeria, when a planned deployment of 17,000 Mandriva-loaded Classmate PC was almost derailed by an unplanned switch to Windows XP on the Classmate machines.

In Macedonia, it's extremely unlikely that such an event would occur, Carr said, because the Macedonian government had put so much time and effort into researching the Edubuntu-based solution.

"This program is also unique," Carr said, "because the PCs were purchased from scratch." Essentially, he explained, they were off-the-shelf systems for which Edubuntu was then certified. That certification process was made all the more easier by the fact that all of the systems were Intel-based, and Intel has done a lot of work with Canonical to get the *buntu distributions pre-certified.

Now that the systems are starting to arrive, Carr expects that the bulk of the deployment will be finished sometime around the end of the calendar year.

This article was updated to correct erroneous information about the state of education in Macedonia. The author apologizes for the error and thanks readers for pointing out the incorrect information.

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