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Friday, 14 January, 2000, 15:20 GMT
Schools offered free system software
computer room
Costs are a key factor for school network managers
The software company Red Hat is offering its Linux operating system free to schools in the UK.

BBC News Online has been told that it aims to develop a technical support network that will be much cheaper than schools typically pay now.

And all the computers supplied under the Computers for the Community initiative to recycle redundant business machines will have Red Hat Linux installed.
colin tenwick
Red Hat's Colin Tenwick: "Not looking to make money"
Linux was developed from the unix operating system. The key to its growing worldwide adoption has been that it is 'open source' software - the basic code is freely available for people to develop themselves.

That and a reputation for stability and reliability have led to its being used on about a third of the world's web servers.

Last week, Intel announced that some of its web appliances would run Linux instead of Microsoft's Windows. And this week, in the biggest adoption of the system yet, IBM said it would make Linux the centrepiece of its computers, from PCs to mainframes.

The drawback has been that installation and maintenance tend to require a relatively high degree of technical knowledge.

Support options

Red Hat's boxed version aims to be more user friendly. Even so, the 'catch' is that schools will want technical help, and that does have a cost.

"I'm not looking to make money, I'm looking to break even," said Red Hat's vice-president for Europe, Colin Tenwick.

"If you're giving software away anyway my major expense apart from things like documentation is going to be on the support side, and I recognise that we are not talking about institutions that are going to be prepared to pay huge sums of money for support.

"It may well be that we provide direct support via our hotline, that's the way we've worked in the past.

"Or it may be that as this thing scales up we will use a network of partners, who will be looking to provide support on a more commercial basis.

'Innovative' school

"But from a school's point of view, it's the difference between what they are used to paying and what our commercial position is. After all you can go into PC World and buy a copy of Red Hat for 60, and that includes 180 days of support.

"So the type of numbers are so fundamentally different to what the traditional proprietary companies are talking about, I think I can pitch something which is closer to our normal commercial practice, and we can still break even."

The first 'official' Red Hat Linux network installation has been made at Parrs Wood High School in Manchester.

Parrs Wood, with internet access in every classroom, is one of the first new city learning centres, part of the government's move to provide local communities with access to information technology in schools.

It will also have video conference links to seven other European schools, and technology to allow all local primary schools to be electronically linked to its library and technology laboratories.

'Better performance'

The headteacher, Iain Hall, said: "Red Hat Linux enables educational institutions to save money and broaden the opportunities of information technology to all schools - something to which we are committed as an organisation.

"It also offers better performance than can be achieved with traditional operating systems."

Colin Tenwick says Parrs Wood is "a very innovative, interesting project" which will provide him with feedback on the kind of support schools need.

Other schools have discovered open source Linux as an alternative operating system, usually because they happen to have clued-in technical co-ordinators.

But Powys education authority has adopted Linux as the system for all its schools' servers, and other authorities are investigating the cost benefits.

The government agency overseeing the National Grid for Learning, Becta, says it is closely monitoring the "open source revolution" and the associated potential benefits to schools.

It is hosting a conference on the subject at the University of Birmingham in the UK in July.

See also:

20 Nov 99 | Science/Nature
29 Jan 99 | Science/Nature
10 Jan 00 | Business
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