Non-Profits Lead The Way With Linux

Non-profits, schools and libraries have migrated to Linux to help the bottom line.
Posted December 13, 2010

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley

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On a regular basis we see studies claiming that the way forward in effective IT is with open source concepts. This means open source software, Linux desktops, Linux servers, Linux embedded devices, and the list just keeps on expanding.

At the same time, the forces behind big label proprietary software applications rail back against open source by saying the open source approach to enterprise needs will end up costing more money in the long run. And in instances where FUD doesn't work, these same companies ride along with the old "legacy software" argument, explaining how open source solutions simply cannot match up in quality to their proprietary counterparts.

Now here's the interesting part. There have been poorly promoted news stories by the mainstream press in which non-profits, libraries and schools have gone with open source solutions only to realize a substantial savings in terms of overall cost. So while the enterprise world continues to grapple with the perceived "expense" of making the switch, some entities not trying to earn a profit appear to be making a successful go at it.

In this article, I’ll explore which applications have allowed non-profits, libraries and schools to make the move over to Linux and web-based services and away from a licensing nightmare brought to us by our friends in the proprietary software universe.

Schools making the grade

In the States, we still see limited grants from proprietary application vendors that helps their software continue to make its way into the classroom. But when more computers are needed, the schools often find they are on their own when it's time to expand on existing inventory. Either this free proprietary software comes on a gifted computer for a PR stunt or not at all.

Now with shrinking budgets for proprietary software licenses, more than ever schools here in the States are positioned to embrace the value of an open source desktop experience using Linux thin clients, multi-seat configurations, or dedicated single use PCs.

This translates into users being able to utilize less hardware resources while servicing more individual users. This means that students, non-profits and even libraries can keep up with the latest technological advances without a huge outpouring of funds.

In countries throughout the world, I've seen schools jumping onto the Linux bandwagon at an amazing pace of adoption. Countries with limited financial resources have made the switch to the Linux way of doing things almost completely. Closer to home, I've seen evidence that Canada is also embracing the Linux experience more each day. Yet here in the States, Linux/ open source adoption seems to spend a lot of time in a holding pattern. Why?

I'd start with empty promises from proprietary software companies, the belief that we must ready students trained in a given proprietary OS, among similar issues, which have long been a limiting factor for open source in American schools.

To counter this, I believe the solution will come from efforts like SchoolForge as it can serve as a resource for schools looking to unplug from the proprietary software treadmill. Some of the most valuable offerings from this resource include the coveted SIS (student information systems) software. Solutions provided at the SchoolForge portal demonstrate that running a school and a classroom without a proprietary operating system is actually quite doable.

Open source applications like iTALC that run on both Windows and Linux systems, allow schools to decide which operating platform is going to be the best choice for their classrooms. For most Linux distributions, iTALC is available both in its master and client installation formats.

Perhaps just as important, iTALC's Windows support means that schools can test out the idea of running an open source classroom before they bother switching operating systems. Sort of a safe way to try things out before making any longer term commitments with a new kind of software licensing scheme.

Bundled with other open source applications like ClaSS, Open Admin and a number of great learning management systems, schools are able to spend more time on teaching and less time finding funds for similar proprietary software alternatives.

Looking to the local library

I've been told that a growing number of public libraries are now embracing open source solutions to manage patrons, books and other related activities. Some of the software that has made this possible includes applications like the following.

The Evergreen Project: Described as a software suite that helps patrons find library material such as books, etc. Compatible with both school and public library type environments.

Koha Integrated Library System: Considered a full-featured library management system, Koha provides features found with Evergreen in addition to being an application that runs within the browser. This means less hassle with client software updates.

In both the above cases, you will find that a library will be able to take either software product and run with it for their needs. However, I have been told on countless occasions that Koha is just "easier" to use and maintain.

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Tags: Linux, Libraries, Linux desktop, Linux downloads, school

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