I was ready to share and recommend this post because I love the idea of using open source software in education. However the author falls into a trap of dismissing the benefits of commercial software and overemphasizing the benefits of desktop Linux software. Using Linux desktops in conjunction with the Chrome Web Store can give you the wow factor that impresses students and families while building on the strengths of desktop linux machines.
I think it’s very clever and appropriate to offer a network of “thin client” Linux-based laptops connected to virtual desktops. Desktop Linux can deliver a decent computing experience for very low cost, and that’s a great thing for cash strapped schools.
However, the author refers to frequent conversations he has with his school’s community in which they compare the Linux-based ecosystem to the range of modern apps available to the Mac or iPad ecosystem:
I am frequently involved in discussions that revolve around bringing innovative to education which of course involves a technological aspect. And just as frequently, the requested technology includes utilizing popular commercial software, iDevices, and so forth. Although many teachers have embraced and see the potential of open source-based software, I occasionally hear people indicating how our districts use of open source software somehow diminishes the learning experience of our students.
I have to say my heart goes out to those family members who see all the attractive, education-focused apps available on iOS and wonder why their school is promoting capable (if homely) options like OpenOffice, GIMP, and Scribus. Linux evangelists love to point to these stalwart packages, saying “you can do anything on Linux!” when the reality is that many desktop Linux apps can be overly complicated for novices, visually lackluster, and a couple years behind their commercial competitors’ feature sets.
iPad and Android’s app ecosystems stand out for the sheer variety of simple, single-use apps for specific purposes. Need a camera? Get a camera app. Need a photo editor? There are hundreds of good choices– pick one! Want to turn your photos into a slideshow? There’s an app for that. Desktop Linux has always struggled to offer a large variety of appealing apps due to its small market share and comparatively low developer engagement.
That’s not to say that this experience can’t be had on those Linux machines– far from it.
This IT Director can provide the kind of appealing app store experience that his school community is looking for by leveraging the many free apps in the Chrome Web Store. As Chrome emerges as not just the world’s most popular web browser but an app development platform of its own, a huge variety of appealing apps are springing up in its ecosystem. Installing Chrome on those Linux client machines would give students access to a similar variety of simple, attractive, single use apps as their iPad-toting friends, all at huge monetary savings over an iPad strategy.
Chrome, and its web store, are designed to be the sole experience available to schools that adopt Chromebooks— just a browser and some apps are what the whole experience consists of. I think that a good desktop Linux environment that includes Chrome and its apps is an even stronger (and more cost-effective) approach that Chromebooks alone. This gives students access to what’s good about desktop Linux, while also granting access to the wider world of attractive, free apps available on the Chrome platform.
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