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Students Score Big Opportunities For Learning Using Linux

The Penguin at St. Mary's

  • July 12, 2002
  • By Rob Reilly

St. Mary's School is a 450-student Pre-K through 8th grade school in Rockledge, Florida that has begun to embrace a Linux Terminal Server Project solution for their ever-expanding educational computing needs.

In a recent interview, John Baillie, St. Mary's Technology Manager, offered some unique insights into the positive effects a Linux-based Technology Lab can have on students. Baillie's tone told the whole story... he's very proud of all the students and their accomplishments in the Technology Lab.

Baillie, armed with an MCSE certification, was hired by St. Mary's as the Technology Manager about four years ago and was tasked to support the school's computer systems/network. About the same time, the new school administration took over and knew that they had to bolster their educational and administration computing infrastructure.

They looked at possible solutions, while staying on the existing systems, until about 18 months ago. Baillie and the administration knew they had to make some decisions because they faced the all-too-familiar information technology problem: little available money for expansion.

Fortunately, Baillie had been seriously exploring Linux for the last couple of years as a Linux User Group member. He even enlisted the LUG to help experiment with the Linux desktop on some of the school's donated machines. Unfortunately, StarOffice, Netscape 4.x, and other applications simply ran too slowly to be useful for St. Mary's educational workload. Then Baillie heard of the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) and thought that it would be a viable solution for the needs of St. Mary's School.

Even though the LTSP solution would provide a high-value Open Source computing resource for the educational needs of the St. Mary's students, Baillie admitted that selling it would have been much harder with a fat budget.

"With an unlimited budget we probably would have gone with Microsoft products," Baillie said.

Their current LTSP lab setup ended up being 35 Pentium IIs with a Dual Pentium III terminal server. Baillie is very happy that Linux has become the vehicle for expansion of the St. Mary's educational computing infrastructure.

From a system administration standpoint, Baillie recognized that managing the Lab desktops with a Linux Terminal Server setup would be much simpler than trying to maintain 35 standard individual Windows machines. Past experience told Baillie that the students couldn't resist customizing their individual desktop environment. They could do it at home, after all, so why not at school? Having a bunch of students rotate through 35 Technology Lab machines would have been a desktop look-and-feel nightmare without the multi-user capabilities of Linux terminals. Under an LTSP system, the students could customize and rearrange to their hearts content without affecting any other student's settings. They could even crash applications without the customary three-fingered recovery salute.

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