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Editor's Note: Penguins in the Corn

Aug 05, 2005, 23:30 (6 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

What's the Linux capital of the world this week? Portland? Pish-posh. San Francisco? See you later. Nope, it's none of those.

The answer? It's gotta be Indiana.

See, out here among the corn and soybeans, we Hoosiers are quietly starting our own little open source revolution. It's small, to be sure, but it has started to grab more than a little attention.

First off, there is the obvious: yesterday's announcement of a pilot program in three Indiana school districts of Linspire-platform, Wintergreen PCs. The program, which is part of a broader push to lower IT costs in the Indiana schools, will be officially launched with the students go back to school in August.

This has, as you would imagine, caused quite a stir in the Linux community, and it has been mostly seen as a positive move. I am personally estatic about the program, and I hope it will do well. Actually, it needs to do very well, because it will need to in order to combat big Microsoft inertia.

Here's why: in Indiana, the IT decisions are not made by one central department. There is an IT Department in the state's Department of Education, but they can only make recommendations on equipment, software, and procedures. They do not dictate these decisions. As long as the IT equipment (hard and soft) works with the established curriculum standards that are set up by the Department of Education, each individual school corporation decides what to buy and use.

So, although it is excellent news that three school corporations are starting the Linspire/Wintergreen pilot, it is important to note that a small success may not be enough to impact the decisions of some of the other IT departments and school boards in the rest of the state. This pilot program will have to be stunningly successful.

(It does not help that Hoosiers are notoriously tenacious and resistant to change. We flouted Daylight Savings Time not so much because it didn't make sense, but because just the word of the government saying it was needed was nowhere near good enough.)

Also, too, there is a concerted effort from Microsoft to stem the tide of this investigation into Linux by the school systems. I know of one county system in Indiana with about 9,500 students with an IT staff that is very interested in deploying Linux--and an outside team of consultants working very hard to convince them to stick with Microsoft. And that's a small rural county. I can only imagine the bargaining and pressuring going on in the larger cities like Ft. Wayne, Gary, and Indianapolis.

The other big Indiana news that is not so obvious is next week's official formation of the Debian Common Core Alliance, spearheaded by Indianapolis-based Progeny. I am watching this with much interest, and not just because it's a local story.

The DCCA has the potential to be what UnitedLinux and the Linux Core Consortium could never seem to achieve: an open unified standard that independent software vendors can start to build upon. Sure, ISVs can build on Red Hat and SUSE, but Red Hat is notoriously stingy with sharing any of its development partners (and the APIs developed to run partner software) and Novell seems to be heading down the same path. Debian GNU/Linux is about as open as open can get and I think an enterprise distro that can maintain a stricter adherence to the guidelines of free software will be a very welcome change on the market.

Will the DCCA succeed? The technology is certainly in place; I just hope the businesses involved will keep their heads in the game. They should; as has been mentioned before, none of the anticiapted members of the DCCA (Progeny, Linspire, Sun Wah Linux, Xandros, UserLinux, MEPIS, credativ, LinEX, and Knoppix) really compete with each other.

UserLinux's participation is a welcome sight, since not much has been heard from this enterprise oriented distro in quite a while and DCCA should save it from languishing to death.

Notably absent is Ubuntu, which in the past has been urged to participate more fully in the Debian Project as it has struck out on its own in the Southern Hemisphere. I am not too worried, yet. Mark Shuttleworth is known to have, shall we say, very strong beliefs in himself and his companies. He may be waiting to see how the new team does before he decides to buy in. Plus, Ubuntu's aggressive commercial approach in South Africa and Australia seems to be working well for them thus far.

But all the speculation is over. Now it's time to see what will happen, and I wish the DCCA the best of luck.

So, while Portland has OSCON this week, and San Francisco has LinuxWorld Expo next week, just remember little ol' Indiana's small part in the advancement of Linux. Because, in all seriousness, Linux is not tied to any one single place: it is a global technology that reaches from the highest skyscraper to the smallest farm.

Linux knows no boundaries.