Linux Wars: The Teacher Strikes Back, Gets Paddled

I know quite a few of you adore Linux, so when Canadian Cynic linked to this, I knew I had to share. Hope you’ve had your blood pressure medication today:

This blog is momentarily interrupted to bring you a snippet of recently received email.

“…observed one of my students with a group of other children gathered around his laptop. Upon looking at his computer, I saw he was giving a demonstration of some sort. The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks. After confiscating the disks I called a confrence with the student and that is how I came to discover you and your organization. Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline. I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows. Mr. Starks, I along with many others tried Linux during college and I assure you, the claims you make are grossly over-stated and hinge on falsehoods. I admire your attempts in getting computers in the hands of disadvantaged people but putting linux on these machines is holding our kids back.

This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older verison of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them…”

Karen xxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxx Middle School


I suppose I should, before anything else, thank you. You have given me the opportunity to show others just what a battle we face in what we do. “We” being those who advocate, support and use Free Open Source Software and Linux in particular.

If you find my following words terse or less than cordial, take a breath and prepare yourself…what I have to say to you are soft strokes to your hair in comparison to what you are about to experience.

Head on over and enjoy the spanking. I’m just going to sit back here and enjoy the entertaining mental image of young geeks dealing open source software from street corners.

Linux Wars: The Teacher Strikes Back, Gets Paddled
The Orbit is still fighting a SLAPP suit! Help defend freedom of speech, click here to find out more and donate!

8 thoughts on “Linux Wars: The Teacher Strikes Back, Gets Paddled

  1. 1

    I should probably say something, as I have some personal experiences directly relevant to this issue…The computer I set up for Harena’s kids to use runs Kubuntu Linux. It’s kind of an old, sad computer, but it does well enough for them to play their internet games and (more recently) for Z to do his homework (word-processing, OpenOffice).Increasingly, the schools (especially Z’s private school) seem to expect that we will have a Windows computer available for running whatever educational software they determine that Z needs.(Harena chimes in: “I’ve known NEA was evil at least since the seventies!” I don’t know if NEA membership is required at this school, but the bedfellowship of NEA and Microsoft would explain a lot.)He also frequently mentions all the wonderful Windows programs that run at school, or at his grandmother’s house, and consequently both he and his younger brother (B) have come to see Linux as definitely second-class.Much of this is due to Windows’s ubiquity, of course; if more people were using Linux, B and Z would have been exposed to more of what’s available in the Linux universe — and I would easily be able to install most of it. Also, plugins commonly used in internet games would be more thoroughly tested with Linux; they work a lot better than they did even a year ago, but even so there are still some things that Just Don’t Work in a browser under Linux.As it is, I have spent hours trying to get programs requested by the kids to run under WINE (Windows compatibility driver) or Qemu (PC emulator where you can install and run a copy of actual-Windows if you have one, but it doesn’t play well with the network).Some of it, however, is due to Linux’s own awkwardness. None of the desktop managers I know of (Gnome, KDE, XFCE, enlightenment) have a file-manager that can compete with MS Explorer — at least, Explorer pre-XP; they went and made it worse for XP, so maybe Linux will eventually catch up by standing still. Plugging in a USB drive is still kind of hit-and-miss. The latest version of KDE is extremely shiny, but also rather horrible (a lot like Vista — but Linux is supposed to be above that kind of market-driven dumbing-down). And so on and so on.If I have any point to make, I think it might be this: although a good 70% of the apparent “shortcomings” of Linux as viewed by someone immersed in a Windows environment are simply due to the ubiquity of Windows rather than any actual technical superiority (and there are many things Linux does which make it especially suited for a kid-computer), there are still some serious issues to answer — which makes it difficult to resoundingly defend Linux over Windows in an educational environment — and I’m not really sure what to do about it.

  2. 2

    I’d be curious to know what you think Explorer does that Nautilus, the GNOME file manager does not, Woozle. It’s what I’ve been using for years, and I don’t miss Explorer one little bit.Just for the record, what the student was doing was, in all likelihood, perfectly legal. It would have been if he’d been doing that with Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuSE, or CentOS disks. Linux disks are covered by copyright law, just as any other software disks. The teacher in question has displayed a distressing unwillingness to do research before condemning her student’s actions.

  3. 3

    In reverse order:Yes, it’s absolutely legal, as I understand it (although IANAL). You can copy and distribute (and sell!) copies of GNU-licensed material to your heart’s content, as long as a copy of the GNU license accompanies each copy (which it would have done, being on the ISOs downloaded and used to burn the CDs).I haven’t done a comprehensive listing of all the annoying features and non-features of the various Linux file browsers, so this is just a quick sketch.Let’s go with Konqueror, because it’s the only one that provides a side-by-side mode with a tree on the left and detailed file listing on the right. (Thunar (xfce) has side-by-side, but the left seems to be just a fixed listing of devices. Nautilus (Gnome) has the same situation on the left but does at least seem to offer a treeview on the right, which I’m pretty sure is new since the last time I tried plain-vanilla Ubuntu several years ago; I may have to try it again to see if I’m missing something by going with Kubuntu and Xubuntu.)First, it’s sluggish. Explorer is snappy, on a machine less than half as powerful. (Explorer: right-click on a filename, and the menu pops up like physically popped it up with the mouse; Konq: right-click on a filename, disk rattles for maybe 0.75 second, and *then* the menu pops up. This is on a 1.4 GHz Winbox vs 2.1 GHz Kubuntu box with 3 times as much RAM. This sluggishness seems to be largely a problem with KDE or perhaps XWin, but it’s a major source of my preference for using Explorer when possible.) Opening an Explorer window takes maybe half a second; opening a new Konq window takes upwards of 2 seconds on the aforementioned faster machine, on a good day.Second, you can’t do all the same stuff in a file-open dialog that you can do in Konq itself; in Explorer, they’re pretty much the same control. (Delete, rename, move, copy, edit, run… whatever. Yes, this does come up regularly.)Third, it sucks as far as saving configurations. Does multiple profiles, but won’t default to profiles you create.Fourth, Explorer is much better integrated with the OS. I can right-click on a disk drive to run diagnostics, format a floppy, or eject a CD (in Konq/KDE, I’m lucky if I get a floppy or CD icon to click on). Every application can interact with network files as if they were on the local drive (except OpenOffice, the last time I tried it); only in KDE can you even attempt this, unless you happen to know a geek who has explained the magic of fusesmb (not part of a standard install and not something “discoverable” by a power-user through the GUI). The widgets which are supposed to let you browse the network don’t even work reliably. Konq even has an alternate method of accessing the network which sometimes shows up uninvited and sometimes works but seems even less app-compatible than smb:.The .dotfilename method of hiding filenames (and folders) is annoying, especially when used for folders. You can tell Konq to show these “hidden” files, but they still don’t show up in folder listings and dialogs — which means there are some circumstances where you simply can’t browse to a file. Windows uses a file attribute for hiding files/folders, and if you tell Explorer to show them anyway, it always shows them.Konq also is way overenthusiastic about caching directory listings. I can’t count the number of times that it has sworn up and down (refresh, shift-refresh, close folder and re-open it…) that a file was a certain size, but I drop to a command line and find that actually it has changed.And that’s just as compared to Explorer; don’t get me started with comparing to some of the features added by low-cost third party file managers (not available for Linux).But don’t get me wrong; with regard to the issue of Linux vs. Windows, I find I feel very similarly to the issue of Obama vs. McCain: the former may or may not save us all, but it’s a damn sight better than the deep-rooted evil harbored and nurtured by the latter, however good its intentions may appear. (I gather Windows is prone to irrational bursts of anger and blue screens of death off-camera…)…and I hope this doesn’t qualify as starting an OS Religious War in Dana’s blog comments, ‘cuz after all I’m actually attacking/criticizing the OS I strongly prefer…

  4. 4

    ISO images are covered by copyright law. All distro authors, like RedHat, Novell, etc., add value that includes copyrighted material. Whether you can copy an ISO legally or not is at their discretion. RedHat expressly forbids people from copying. That’s one of the reasons there’s CentOS.As for the Explorer/Nautilus thing, a couple of things jump out at me:* For the last couple of years at least, I’ve been able to format floppies, write to blank CDs, and have USB drives automatically mount. I’m used to the GNOME environment, but I believe KDE will do most of that, also.* Hard for me to do a performance comparison, but I find that we all get used to the way our chosen software is slow or fast. Explorer doesn’t do well on old hardware from my point of view, at least if we’re talking about XP. Presumably, Vista is even slower, but I have no experience.

  5. 5

    I don’t know about Red Hat (Fedora); we moved away from it because of maintenance issues. If something is GNU-licensed, then what I said applies; if it’s not, then other licenses may have other restrictions. We’re now running five Kubuntu setups, and *ubuntu is GNU-licensed.Ok, I went and checked about Fedora’s copying policy: “You can download, use and redestribute Fedora and we strongly encourage you to do so. The Free and open source licenses (such as the GPL) governing the source code allow you to redistribute or modify Fedora but any use must comply with the Fedora Trademark Guidelines.” So, yeah, what I said earlier: copy (and possibly even sell, if you can get someone to pay you for free software) to your heart’s content.Anyway… on our Kubuntu boxes, USB stick-mounting works a lot better than it used to; Harena (who does most of the offloading) says the only glitch within recent memory was after a large upgrade when it stopped working for a few days.At least once, Konq claimed it had successfully moved a bunch of files off a USB camera, and deleted the files from it correspondingly, but the video files were all zero bytes after copying. (Since then, I copy first and then delete — but I’ve never had that happen in ten years of using Explorer.) Other times, Konq/KDE decided the stick was read-only, and I had to wave rubber chickens and /etc/fstab it repeatedly in the face before it would cooperate. (How many average users are likely to discover fstab on their own?) But that was at least one major version ago.It’s definitely getting there, and I feel good about having bailed out of Windows and onto the Linux bandwagon when I did… and I will be pushing the business whose computers I maintain to move over to it as well, when time permits (the main obstacle there being QuickBooks, I think). Right now I’m just struggling to extract them from the vice-like jaws of MS Outlook’s PST format.Slow Explorer is just one of the reasons I don’t want to upgrade either of our two remaining Win98 boxes to XP, despite the pressure… though the times I’ve used XP Explorer, it still hasn’t been as sluggish as Konq. (Just annoying in other ways.) The only way I’m “getting used” to the slow speed of Konq is by gradually upgrading my hardware to the point where the lag becomes manageable — but from what I’ve seen of KDE4, they’re bloating the software to compensate. WTF?? My laptop was usable before, but now it’s a struggle. I’m hoping that updates will fix this soon, as they often do. (A plus: Linux updates usually make things work better, not worse.)

  6. 6

    Fedora and Red Hat have different licensing policies, even though they are both products of the same company. In the case of Red Hat, the source code is freely available. The ISOs are not. To make an analogy, I can paint a picture using someone else’s paints (provided he gave them to me), which might be patented by a third entity. Yet, the copyright will be mine, as long as I haven’t signed the rights away. That’s why you don’t see genuine Red Hat Linux ISO images mirrored anywhere. What I said earlier.I’d recommend you look at CentOS. It’s Red Hat without the hassles. If Red Hat did it the way CentOS does, I’d be glad to pay them the money. Heck, back before they changed their policies and went big time, I did pay them the money. Clearly, though, I’m not the average customer, or they’d continue to do it to my liking.What’s good about Red Hat? It’s stable and reliable. It’s fully supported for three years, which means that all bug fixes and security fixes will be available, plus compatible upgrades. Nice for delivery to a customer or use in a system you’ll have to rely on for a long time. Ubuntu makes such a release every so often, but I don’t quite understand what the schedule is. They make releases every six months, some are intended to be long term releases and some are not.The updates generally tend to make things work better. The one exception is when they include new versions of software. KDE 4 and Firefox 3.0 are but two examples. I sometimes wish there was a more flexible upgrade path for older systems, but right now simplicity and flexibility are not to be had in the same update system. Anyone who is doing work with Linux distros would be well advised to have his own update server with the updates that he knows will work for his purposes.Anyway, I can see why you’re using Xubuntu now. Probably a good choice for those older systems, even if it’s a bit more primitive.

  7. 7

    Oh, sorry — I assumed Red Hat was outside the bounds of what we were discussing, as they have apparently gone to a pay-for-download model as well (not evil like Microsoft, but still a situation where you have to pay for every copy you install, as I understand it — and from what I can tell, you can’t even download without paying: a whole different set of rules, where the difference should be difficult to accidentally overlook).For that matter, Red Hat’s business model is an example of what I’m talking about as far as “copy or even sell all you like”: they made copies of the original GNU Linux, modified and improved it, and are selling the results.I was assuming that a professional Linux support guy who was advocating the free copying of Linux distros would only be doing so for a distro allowing such copying. (One tends to be less enthusiastic about the distros with a more restrictive license.)My point was not to claim that “if it’s Linux it must be copyable” but more that this is overwhelmingly the default for Linux distros (and their ISOs), especially the popular ones like Ubuntu and Fedora — in stark contrast to the teacher’s claim that “No software is free, and spreading that misconception is harmful.”

  8. 8

    “I […] tried Linux during college”– but she didn’t inhale, apparently. What next? “I did not give myself root priveleges on that O/S“?(hmm, that works better in Australia)

Comments are closed.