Matthew Rosewarne on 19 Jan 2008 12:59:59 -0800

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Re: [PLUG] One True OS

On Saturday 19 January 2008, W. Chris Shank wrote:
> He's not starting from scratch, even if he thinks he is. I have been
> involved in enough of these to know there is always some legacy stuff
> they have to keep or some infrastructure they have to utilize. Now, if
> the school was still using green-screen dumb terminals and he was
> replacing it with PCs, he'd be starting from scratch. No, he has an
> exiting infrastructure he needs to get under control and move up from
> there.

Considering how little of the current setup seems to actually work, it would 
appear he really is being hired to perform a ground-up revamp, essentially 
starting from scratch.

> And it won't be easy. I've seen spaghetti network wiring in these
> schools with multiple patch panels spread randomly, switches buried in
> classroom closets for no reason, and other craziness that will leave
> you saying  - "What were they thinking". But in fact, they weren't. In
> most of the schools I've been in (probably a half-dozen so far) -
> their IT was strung together by a series of volunteers who ran out of
> time or motivation to see their project through. The computers
> usually  consist of mostly a random collection of donated equipment
> from various vintages with some of the higher ups actually having
> modern ones.  People think they are doing their school a favor by
> "donating" their old PC - when in reality, this donation turns into
> more of a problem for them, unless they have a _really_ well organized
> IT department. But staff like that is usually beyond the reach of
> their budget. What I have seen on several occasions is a lot of half-
> completed attempts to get things together. Of the schools I've been
> in, I've only seen one that was well organized. For that school, a
> parent volunteer who happens to be a high level MCSE set it up. That
> network is running well because of his skill and knowledge. However,
> there was a considerable software and hardware expense initially.

It's important to note that this is not being done on a volunteer basis, but 
that James is actually being employed to do the work.

> I'm frustrated with the notion that somehow replacing everything with
> Linux is going to save the day. Yes Linux is a great OS and yes it
> _could_ save money _if_ all your applications, peripherals, and
> hardware is compatible _and_ your staff is knowledgeable enough to
> transition to it _and_ all their tools are available and the students
> can take work back and forth, and - and - and - and. Unless the only
> applications they use are non-collaborative Email and web browsing,
> anytime you push Linux in without a significant plan - your setting
> yourself up for failure. And each time someone shoehorns Linux into a
> network without a clear plan for success, it becomes fodder for the
> anti-Linux crowd.

It's a very real concern.  From what James is saying though, there students 
and staff really don't do much of anything beyond web, email, and producing 

> I'm sorry if I'm ranting. I'm really not anti-Linux. I use it to a
> tremendous extent and even commercially support about a dozen Linux
> desktops. So I know from experience, Linux itself isn't the answer to
> a poorly designed network or untrained users or crappy hardware or an
> inadequate IT budget. It will in fact will make your life miserable
> and make users skeptical about using Linux in the future when it truly
> has overcome the few remaining hurdles. I guess I'm jaded because I've
> been there - done that, and it sucks to see your effort fail. This
> hits close to home for me because I've been in James position and
> attempted to do just what he's trying to do about 5 years ago. Back
> then, instead of Vista as the problem OS it was XP and Windows 98 as
> the incumbent. But the story is very similar. Linux is more mature
> than it was then, but XP is also far superior to Windows 98, so the
> starting points aren't that far off.

No, of course Linux is not magical fairy dust.  This kind of thing can *only* 
be done under a specific set of circumstances, but it appears that this 
situation really would fit.

> What these schools need is a real _comprehensive solution_ that
> addresses all their needs and pain points. Just sticking Linux in the
> lab is only going to make his life harder because he'll have more
> complexity to try to manage.

Yes, they do need a comprehensive and maintainable solution, which is anything 
but what they have now.  If set up correctly, this new infrastructure really 
would make their lives easier.  If it's a pile of hacks, shell scripts, and 
half a ball of twine, then it will be a nightmare.  I trust James will be 
able to put something that meets their needs in place, particularly since he 
has access to a large number of skilled and experienced admins right here.

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