Editor’s Note: Shuckin’ and Jivin’

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

As some of you may recall, I am a native resident of Indiana and
very proud of it. So I took it a little personally when I read the

CRN story
about the IDC study that revealed that Indiana school
districts still prefer to purchase Windows desktops over Linux
desktops, when given the choice.

Let me clue you in on something about Hoosiers: we don’t really
like a lot of shuck and jive–which is exactly what this analyst
report is. Actually, I would use a more colorful epithet, but I was
raised better.

When I first read the story, my initial reaction was of course
Windows is still preferred–the Linux project was a pilot for about
22,000 laptops and 1,600 desktops, sponsored by Linspire and
Novell. While I don’t know the exact total number of computers used
in Indiana schools, I think that, right now, it’s a safe bet to say
that a vast majority of those machines are still Windows and Mac

So, the premise of the whole analyst report was flawed, since to
me it was akin to a hypothetical analysis done at the end of the
19th Century, where wagon maker commissioned a report that
indicated that yes, indeed, a vast majority of the world’s
population still used horse-drawn carriages. Clearly, such a report
would imply, this newfangled horseless carriage would amount to

But as I read further into the story, I realized that this
wasn’t just a case of Microsoft trying to play the obvious
“sky-is-blue” argument so early in the life of a Linux pilot
deployment. No, this was no case of using providentially timed
truth: this was a case of outright deception.

Here’s what tipped me off: “In the study, the Government
Insights unit of research firm IDC conducted in-depth interviews
with five Indiana school districts that are opting to spend their
own funds to continue installing Microsoft software.”

This wording implies that there are (at least) five school
corporations who are defying the DoE’s ACCESS Indiana program that
is rolling out Linux desktops and are using their own funds to buck
that program and buy Windows machines instead. Clearly a case of
the downtrodden schools overriding the ill-conceived Linux notions
of big government and sticking it to the man with a grass-roots
Windows movement. It’s enough to warm your heart, isn’t it?

It just gives me heartburn.

What IDC and the report’s sponsor in Redmond are hoping you
don’t notice is the fact that in Indiana all school districts are
responsible for their own IT spending. There is no central IT
funding from the state. The Department of Education set the minimum
IT standards and curriculum for the entire state, which all of the
348 public school corporations are required to follow. What they
choose to buy and what they can afford to buy is based solely on
each corporation’s IT budget and the personal preferences of each
corporation’s IT manager.

ACCESS Indiana is a program designed to provide more than just
guidelines to the various school districts–its purpose is to get
schools with very limited IT budgets (and Indiana, that’s pretty
much all of them) inexpensive access to the necessary machines and
software so the schools can go beyond the minimum guidelines. If
the pilot program proves successful, then IT managers in the
various school districts should see a chance to expand the scale of
their schools’ IT footprint and stay in their meager budgets.

The reason why these five school districts are not choosing to
go to Linux cannot have anything to do with the ACCESS program,
which the report intimates. It’s likely that these IT managers are
more familiar with Microsoft technology and don’t want to try
something newfangled. In fact, given that IDC disclosed that these
managers were selected for interview by Microsoft itself, I think
“likely” gets upgraded to “take it to the bank.”

To imply that they chose not to go into the ACCESS is completely
wrong: ACCESS is in pilot mode and is not yet available to
Indiana’s 310,316 secondary school students. The choice is not
available yet
. One wonders what will happen when the pilot
goes into fully operational mode. IDC isn’t wondering: they’re
simply reporting on the here and now, where clearly Linux is not
yet being deployed on wide scale.

Like I said, shuck and jive.

Now, to be completely fair, I can tell you that there could
indeed be a hurdle for ACCESS when it shifts gears, one which the
IDC report indicated, but they seemed not to notice: there are, in
the public school systems, a high percentage of IT managers who
really don’t have a lot of formal IT training. There are 348 public
school districts in the Hoosier State, and of those, I would bet
that only 80-90 actually have a full-time, trained IT professional
on staff. The rest are either using homegrown experts or outside
consultants. Consultants who are probably Microsoft Certified

This means that even if the ACCESS pilot program is wildly
successful in costs and stability, there’s going to be a lack of IT
workers who will be willing or able to manage a Linux environment.
It’s a harsh reality, but it’s going to be true nonetheless. The
DoE, Novell, and Linspire have recognized this, but finding
qualified Linux support personnel in Indiana could be a challenge,
at least to start.

I personally believe the potential benefits of shifting away
from Microsoft will ultimately encourage the local school boards to
look a bit harder for the support and training they
need–especially when you consider the ticking time bomb that
Microsoft faces in almost every public school system on the planet,
not just Indiana. The name of that time bomb is Vista.

Vista, when it finally rolls out for public consumption, will
have minimum requirements that are so high that many schools, which
try to get by on the oldest hardware possible in order to stretch
their IT , will simply be unable to make the upgrade. Faced with
that reality, and a need to try to keep up-to-date software and
security, schools will be looking very hard at alternatives like

This is something Microsoft must know is coming, which is why it
is trying to discredit any existing efforts to deploy Linux in
schools, like ACCESS. Fortunately in this case, we don’t have to
buy what they are trying to sell.


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