> > How as a FOSS company are you going to maintain a 
> well-staffed callout 
> > team and helpdesk if the software you are providing is essentially 
> > free?
> 
> Why is that a problem? My companies have never had a problem 
> charging for support for Free Software. All software needs support.
> 
> > You can't justify far higher support contract charges for 
> that reason 
> > alone, and schools will either bring the required talent in-house
> 
> Schools don't pay enough to attract good suport staff :-(
> 
> > or source it locally - and bingo, just like that, your 
> company is out 
> > of business.
> 
> So think local. How many schols are there within 40 miles of you?=


(by the way Richard, I believe we may have conversed before this evening,
offline :) Thistle, last year?)

Oh, there are many schools in my area. There's one about a third of a mile
away from my doorstep!

> You seem to be saying that although the status quo is not 
> good (indeed, it is delivering a second-cless education), 
> there's no easy way out, so let's leave things as they are. 
> If I have mis-characterised your argument, I apologise, but 
> let's sidestep that. After all, you're barking up the wrong tree.

You're somewhat on target; my final comment on this for the time being is
that I think the current situation is far from ideal, but I freely admit
that I have no fantastical solution which will make everything better. (the
educational goldmine?)

I know that M6-IT is somewhat unique in how it operates, including recycling
legacy gear and giving it a new lease of life with quality FOSS to provide
custom solutions that fit in where other proprietary solutions may not have
worked as efficiently (it's a great thing!) - but M6 is also slightly
different in its model, aiming itself as it does as a social enterprise for
the voluntary and educational sectors. How many schools do you serve in your
locality? (just curious...) Your model obviously works exceptionally well
for what you do, but I wonder how big your client base is versus how big it
could potentially be if you supported every school in the area - you could
get very big, very fast, or the ground could open up for competition and
aside from lower costs to the end users, there might be an even greater
disparity in levels of support or the kinds of solutions delivered.

I suppose the one sad fact about the current MS incumbency is that there can
be some predictable level of consistency throughout the LEA. I'm fed up to
the back teeth as much as anyone at some counties (including where my
parents live) where the council has a massive arrangement with Dell - for
the kind of service they get, they must literally parachute bags of money
into Dell's UK HQ, and I think it's good money mostly wasted.

> The model of maintaining individually-installed apps over 
> several discrete PCs was all very well in the 80s, and 
> possibly the 90s, but how long before schools catch up with 
> the rest of the world. PCs in schools are mandated to teach 
> curriculum areas - this can easily be delivered through 500 - 
> 600 web apps. The whole curriculum.  A small investment from 
> government (less than 1% of the UK's annual school IT spend) 
> would get all of these apps written. Released under the GNU 
> GPL, they would be tweaked and improved by thousands of 
> teachers and students.


> Given web apps, designed to work with standards-compliant 
> browsers, it becomes irrelevant which platform is used to 
> view them, save on grounds of cost and maintainability. The 
> obvious choice then is LTSP.


Personal opinion: 95% of web apps just don't cut it. If you're talking about
SaaS, the problems highlighted by Salesforce.com's recent downtime are
testament to that - and as I'm sure you're well aware, school timetables and
the National Curriculum have even less margin for troubleshooting IT than
even the business sector. If I was a teacher I would hate it hate it hate it
if I couldn't teach a class because the main host server was bogged down
with too many intensive tasks, or it fell over or lagged out or needed to be
failed over for some reason.


There's a new build school in Bucks which is currently under construction;
unfortunately it looks like not enough forethought was paid to the IT
infrastructure so it becomes horrendously unfeasible, perhaps even
impossible, to implement the kind of high quality, high bandwidth and low
latency network a totally thin-client based network would require. (right
down to simple things such as impossible corners for bundles of fibre to go
round, poorly chosen rooms for network nodes in context of rooms where
computers will be installed, and architectural features that can't have
ducting run along them as it would spoil the visual presentation! So the
fibre has to take a massively long route all the way around instead, hugely
increasing the cost.) Of course, not every school is (hopefully) going to be
designed like this, but it's not great... I think a lot of educational ICT
systems have these kinds of compromises.

It also, like all new schools that will be built from now on, has some mad
passive cooling requirements due to environmental restrictions; no A/C,
geothermal heating/cooling, plus windowless classrooms etc... Of course this
is a perfect scenario in theory for thin clients, but unfortunately their
continued impracticalities wrt their raw power and capabilities leaves a lot
to be desired. If I was speccing a school's IT, I don't think thin clients
would get much way past the first round of planning unless some incredibly
well-designed thin client solutions were brought to my attention (and then
you're talking equivalent prices for thin clients as you would for regular
MiniATX desktops). 

I'm still personally very sceptical of thin client solutions, I don't think
their capabilities ar sufficient to satisfy all the potential uses for
educational machines. And I wouldn't like to have all that total reliance on
just a handful of extremely powerful servers; it's bad enough when the
Internet proxy server goes down or the network drive can't be accessed
because the Active Directory is having a fit, but to have a classful of
children sitting in front of dumb terminals when the primary host server for
that classroom's client machines goes down? Wuh oh.

Maybe my mistrust is misplaced, and thin clients are actually really quite
good at most things now... Perhaps my perception of them, like many other
peoples', is part of the problem which needs to be addressed. There must be
some reason other than bloody-mindedness that makes schools keep on going
for full-PC solutions time after time though... I do aim to do more work in
the educational sector as my own business gets going in the next few years,
and I want to offer all kinds of viable solutions as long as they work well
for everybody. Do you really think that setups like the LTSP are as
competitive as regular networks of fairly powerful x86 machines and central
file/print/etc servers for secondary school environments? (not being sarkies
here, genuinely interested to know your thoughts and prepared to do a lot of
reading if you have suggested starting points).



Wrt to government-funded FOSS development for education: unfortunately I
have even less faith in UK.gov to sensibly sort out this kind of project
than the faith I would have in the private sector accomplishing this; look
at how many tens of billons of pounds they've blown getting their NHS
computer system up and running! iSoft have to be the best-paid vapourware
company in the UK, because the lights at their Banbury offices are still
very much on every time I drive past on the M40... The phrase 'unable to
organise drinking session in local brewery' springs to mind when I think of
UK.gov implementing a well-organised national scheme for FOSS applications
on a FOSS platform.

And given the mad state of affairs we're in today, might not the Competition
Commission declare that UK.gov pouring all this taxpayer money into
developing applications for schools to be horribly anti-competitive as it's
undercutting the commercial market? And unless they mandated that all
schools implement their FOSS package, I have a feeling that most schools
would carry on using their existing setups regardless because it's too much
hassle to change.

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