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Graduation Day for Linux

The First Day of School

  • May 22, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

Lately, it seems, attention has become more and more focused on finding alternatives to Microsoft in business, government, and education venues all over the world. Naturally, Linux and its rapidly improving desktop applications are being eyed as top candidates to replace Windows.

Suddenly, the rest of the world has figured out what many in the Linux community knew all along--that the availability of free, resource-stingy software to these various environments could not help but bring significant costs savings to new Linux users. For two men in Portland, Oregon, the success comes as no surprise--they've been implementing Linux within school systems in the Portland area for the past six years.

Paul Nelson and Eric Harrison may not be as widely known as Alan Cox or Linus Torvalds in the Linux community, but to many educators in the Pacific Northwest, their contributions meet and probably surpass any work that Linus and Alan have achieved thus far. Nelson and Harrison are the co-founders of the K12 Linux Terminal Server Project (K12LTSP), an ambitious project that combines the tools found in Red Hat Linux with the technology behind the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) to create turn-key computer labs for any school that needs them.

The evolution of K12LTSP came from the work that Nelson and Harrison began in their day jobs in educational technology support personnel for two school districts in Portland. Nelson is the technology coordinator for the Riverdale School District, a small district in Multnomah County. Harrison is the WAN/LAN administrator for the Multnomah Education Service District, an umbrella agency that provides technical support and ISP services to several school districts in Multnomah County, including Riverdale.

The advent of LTSP has made it possible to implement Linux on a much larger scale for client machines in the Portland area school districts, but their involvement with Linux began--like so many others--on the server side.

In 1996, Nelson explained, "we started using Linux when we installed a web server and then started using the same box as a file server for our Windows and Mac workstations. I was impressed with Linux as a web and file server but lacked the expertise to do any real instruction about Unix/Linux. I barely had the thing running but I wanted to share how cool this was with other schools."

Already hooked on his new discovery, Nelson used an annual gathering of education technology specialists to spread the word.

"Many of the technology education leaders around here pull an all nighter every year called slumbertech. I offered to bring in a Linux expert to work with us all night," Nelson said, "We all installed Linux (Red Hat 4.0), configured the machines and worked on Linux 101 stuff from Friday at 5:00 pm to Saturday at 10:00 am. A Portland Linux user, Terry Griffin, volunteered to be our instructor."

That was the beginning of their journey with Linux.

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