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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Russian schools move to Linux
Web user looks at the Linux home page
Russian students will be getting used to the Linux screen
Schoolchildren in Russia are to be taught using the free, open-source Linux software in an effort to cut the cost of teaching information technology.

By 2009, all computers in Russian schools are to be run on Linux - which means they will not have to pay for a licence for software, such as Microsoft's Windows.

Alexey Smirnov, Director General of the Company ALTLinux, said that schools formerly tended to run illegal copies of Microsoft operating systems, but after Russia entered the WTO, the laws became much stricter and schools began to be prosecuted for doing so.

"The situation became rather serious, and something had to be done," he told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

"One possible decision was to buy licences for all the software being used - but so much software was being used, it proved too expensive... so the decision was taken to use free software, although not immediately, but over three years."

Main principles

The Linux software is to be tested first in three pilot regions, while others will have the option of installing it as a second operating system.

Steve Ballmer
Microsoft's Steve Ballmer has claimed Linux infringed 42 patents
These pilot schools will then get the option to choose either the free software or to pay for something else.

Mr Smirnov said that teachers will need to be trained to use the software and prepare new exercises for the children to do, and that this will entail increased costs in the short term.

"I'm sure the free software is good enough for schools - but a lot of teachers do not have experience in Linux, or in free software and so on," he said.

"So they should try it and test it. It's not good to make someone use free software - a person should have some choice."

But he added that he believed schools should teach the main principles of all software anyway.

"If you study specific software, by the time you leave school it will be in other versions," he said.

"It is not good to teach exact software. But if you learn Open Office, you can easily understand Word, and vice-versa... if we want to give really good education, we should make it possible to look inside how it is working, at least for those who are interested in this and how to do it."

Not locked in

And he dismissed suggestions that using open source might put students at a disadvantage when it comes to finding a job, saying that it is already being used in many Russian universities and has proved advantageous to Russian developers.

Linux penguin
Linux's penguin logo has his own Russian look
"If you're interested in development, you can be involved in a lot of free software projects, which work at a very high level," he said.

"You can use your knowledge and grow very quickly. It is very important just to be involved in these projects... they put you in contact with high-level specialists."

However, technology analysist Bill Thompson told Digital Planet that there was a also an element of political agenda to Russia's decision.

"There probably is something about not wanting to be locked in to Western software," he said.

"But there's also a commercial agenda - not wanting to pay very large licences - and also an educational agenda, about not wanting to tie people in to a particular way of working."

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