Selling LTSP to Schools

by Scott Belford

We are slowly acquiring a good deal of experience in approaching schools with the benefits of an Open Source Software lab. In a recent presentation at an ilearning conference for our Department of Education, I think I finally found the zone.

What I like to do first is to demonstrate the software. Using a donated laptop installed with the K12LTSP, I go through these slides:

though earlier in the year I used these Webmin heavy slides (Webmin is featured prominently and appropriately in Skolelinux) at our eSchool Conference

They emphasize that Open Source Software labs provide a vendor neutral, standards-compliant learning platform that provides free software tools that can be integrated into existing curricula in order to meet or exceed NCLB Mandates. I draw attention to the job creating potential, the economic development opportunities, and the education innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities (ala Bill Kendrick and his Tux* Suite).

I think that in the future I will not show screen shots of the programs but instead actually launch them. At any rate, I stop halfway through and explain that this is all great. Now all we have to do is to use this free software and install it on the computers we have at our schools, or we can just get new ones with the money we can save on software. Problem is, there aren’t any or many computers in place already, and there is really not money to be saved and then spent for new ones.

Here begins the magical pitch. I ask, ‘What if I could show you how to extend the resources of existing computers and turn previously discarded computers into fully functional workstations?’


Out of my bag comes the switch. Out of my bag comes two network cables. I explain that just as your cable box gets its programs through a high-speed cable, the version of Linux that we promote for schools enables a central server to power previously discarded computers with the speed of today’s supercomputer.

Next comes the magical Dell Box. Seen here already naked

its case cover is removed by pressing two buttons, its cd and floppy are quickly released, and I can hold this up and show that, hard drive free, it looks like and borders on being trash.

While removing the parts I explain that this method of setting up a computer lab enables the school to use either computers that it currently refuses from the community for being too slow or computers that HOSEF can donate to it to create a complete computer lab. I plug in the peripherals, I plug it into the switch, I plug the switch into the server, and I plug the overhead into the client. 30 seconds later I callously pick up the booted client and say that this junk is now treasure.

I log in, and I complete the presentation from there. I explain how using these components from NewEgg

and donated computers from HOSEF we were able to set up a 30-client computer lab at Enchanted Lake Elementary that cost the school 3344.17

and that was written about here

Incidentally, our new build list is now this one:

So, I now have the audience enthralled and interested. This is where we have a lot of strength because we already have a laundry list of DOE schools running Linux that we can refer them to. One of those is an Adult School where we have donated a lab and now hold weekly workshops and classes, for free, as a community service. By partnering with the Honolulu Community College (heavily Debian based for core network services) we are able to store hundreds of ready to roll clients.

This is also where we as a community are most exposed. We still don’t have out of the box documentation and curricula to make this immediately valuable. The Skolelinux folks have written a bunch of great documentation and simplified the install as much as possible, just as the K12LTSP folks have. The fact is, though, without national support, without a backbone of easily attained documentation, we are vulnerable. I have to no avail implored IBM, Novell, and HP to get on board with this tremendous opportunity to sell software, support, and hardware.

I end the presentation by explaining that we by no means promote the rip and replace philosophy for diffusing this OSS innovation. If a school is comfortable with and well-served by a proprietary application, it should be left alone. We do emphasize, though, that there are OSS alternatives, as we all know, to many name-brand apps that are worth considering. We propose that Linux labs be used as the workhorse and if there is money leftover to spend that it be used for support, training, and that delicious Apple hardware so good for multimedia education.

That is how we approach it. I could say so, so much more, but I’ll save it for other threads. If we can serve as a reference, or if our DOE success is of value to you, please exploit us. Below my signature are some links to other press. Soon, very soon, two one-hour videos will be put online from my TV appearances on a DOE program in which I install and demonstrate the K12LTSP on live TV. Hosted by a seasoned teacher, he asks all the right questions, and I hope that once online this will be a valuable resource for all of us.

with aloha


— R. Scott Belford Founder/Director The Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation PO Box 392 Kailua, HI 96734 808.689.6518 phone/fax