Linux kernels find fertile ground in Inyo County

5 October 2013 by Steve Blum
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Opening eyes to open source.

Inyo County, in remote eastern California, might be the first in the country where every student, from kindergartener to high school senior, is given a personal computing device in the public schools.

Terry McAteer, Inyo County superintendent of schools, made that claim last month at a forum organised by the Eastern Sierra Connect Regional Broadband Consortium. Every student in the county’s school system has an Acer Travelmate, a $320 netbook-class machine.

The hardware specs are decent enough – 1.6 MHz Celeron processor and 3.8 GB of RAM – but Linux is what keeps the cost down and performance up.

The devices are all provisioned and managed using the Ubermix platform, which was developed specifically to support Linux installations in schools. It bundles a customised version of Ubuntu Linux and the GNOME desktop environment, and about sixty open source applications into an easily installed package. Students can learn and experiment with it, but it can be easily managed – or completely restored – by school staff. It compares well to the Chromebook platform that’s finding favor in California libraries.

Younger students leave the computers at school, older kids can take them home. Parents can install the core applications, like Libre Office, on most any computer in the house, for more or less seamless transitions from school work to home work.

Students and parents who learn to be comfortable with the open source world will be more likely to stay with it over time, diminishing the gravitational attraction of Microsoft Windows and Office and setting the stage for cross platform – PCs, tablets, phones and embedded devices – implementations of Linux. It’s a barebones user experience, but it’s simple, functional and easy to learn. And delightfully subversive.