Friday, November 30, 2007

Low Cost Computers for Schools

I have previously written about the potential of Linux in education
Dell Pushing Linux? May25, 2007. Technology & Learning this month has a cover story about the growing role of Linux in schools. Some points of the article apply directly to technology efforts in South Dakota:

Techlearning: Linux Makes the Grade - November 15, 2007
Today,more than 100,000 Indiana school kids (in all, 300,000 high schoolers are slated to receive one) have their own $298 computer and monitor with numerous free software applications, and, in turn, schools across the state have secure, reliable, sophisticated server systems thanks to Linux-based open source technology. In other words, instead of using computers set to run either Microsoft or Apple operating systems, Indiana school children were given desktops running a Linux-based OS (in this case, distribution packages offered by Red Hat, Novell, and Ubuntu) and with preinstalled free open source software (commonly referred to as FOSS), much of it mimicking popular but expensive programming such as the comprehensive office suites offered by major companies. Did Indiana children mind? "Who cares?" one student quipped to Michael Huffman, special assistant for technology, as he surveyed the one-to-one program's success across the state. "Is Linux the answer? Obviously we think so," says Huffman, who estimates software costs total only $5 per machine annually. "It's the only model we've come up with that is affordable, repeatable, and sustainable. If you look at a lot of other states that have had laptop initiatives, I think there is a real breakdown. And there are a lot of them that aren't continuing. There are schools that have gone out and bought a lot of laptops, but there is no plan for four years down the road [emphasis mine]. That's why we went with open source," Huffman says. Indeed, Indiana and other large school systems like San Diego and Atlanta have joined the until-now quiet, albeit multibillion-dollar, revolution in computing.
The article describes how Linux has evolved from a closet machine to a desktop OS:
In the past, Linux was largely relegated to the back office as an operating system, out of sight of most teachers and students. But recent friendlier developments, including a graphical user interface, have made it increasingly viable for schools.

Now it's come out of the closet as districts seek even more innovative ROI solutions.

According to a Compass Intelligence report, spending on IT personnel is anticipated to drop 5 percent a year, to $2.4 billion by 2010. And federal funding of the last protected block grant for technology, Enhancing Education Through Technology, has been steadily chipped away at since 2005.

Today, old computers that would have been tossed out are being "repurposed" and set up either as desktops with a Linux OS (which tends to boot up faster with mature hardware than rival Microsoft) or transformed into "thin clients" (meaning, they are run off software housed on a school system server).

Network servers are being "virtualized" with technology—rapidly being deployed in the education industry—that allows singleapplication servers to simultaneously run UNIX, Microsoft, and Apple.

Cheaper technology, coupled with FOSS adoption, has freed up money in many districts' tech budgets, allowing them to reinvest in IT training or broader professional development, or to bring even more computers or Internet-connected devices into the classroom.
I personally bought a $350 laptop (with Vista Home Basic and 0.5 Gb memory--it was nearly impossible to use it was so slow!), wiped out the hard drive, and installed Ubuntu Linux. We now have a low cost machine with browser, word processor, spreadsheet, presentation (all saving in MS Office format), graphics, and music software. The cost would have been even lower if I hadn't had to pay the "Microsoft tax" for the OEM Windows (Best Buy had the same laptop as a black Friday special for $229).

The interface and installation process have improved enormously in recent months. Has there been a learning curve for making it work? Certainly. But computer 2 was so much quicker to implement. I am now not "scared" to do more Linux machines as more hardware deals become available.

Are there features lost by moving to Linux? Certainly the tablet features of the Classroom Connections machines are more powerful. But at a cost factor of 2-5 Linux computers for every Windows tablet (or Macintosh), education cannot continue to ignore Linux for future implementations. It is incumbent on SD schools to start testing Linux machines with students to see firsthand the feasibility of using these tools in our schools.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Compose Your Own Music!!!

I was doing a school visit this week and met a teacher who showed me Finale NotePad. She was using the program to take a piece of music that was for a soloist and organizing it into a composition for a group. This is a free download!!! Of course, there are versions with more bells and whistles, but they also have a cost.

Basic Music NotationFinale NotePad is the free version of the famous music notation software Finale. NotePad allows you to make simple scores, with a number of basic features borrowed from its sibling Finale. It's also critical to compatibility, since users who don't own Finale can open any file made with a Finale-family program in NotePad.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Vista Tips

Be sure to visit Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows Vista Showcase to find more information about installation and service packs. Particularly interesting are the tips readers have sent in about using Vista:

Attack of the 50 Foot Tall Windows Vista Tips2007-04-03
Revenge of More Windows Vista Tips2007-03-10
Son of More Windows Vista Tips2007-03-07
Still More Windows Vista Tips2007-03-04
More Windows Vista Tips2007-02-28
Windows Vista Tips for IT Pros2007-02-26

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Electronic Paper

Amazon just released it's new e-reader called Kindle and one can only imagine they are thinking this will be the spark of a new revolution to end the paper book as we know it and replace them all with these lightweight powerful machines. Read more and watch the video here.
At $399, I don't think we'll be seeing them everywhere just yet, but it does create another avenue of thinking about digital text and wireless access.
PC World Review Boing Boing Review ZDNet Review

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Systems Change Conference Keynote: Neil Howe

Systems Change Conference Keynote: Neil Howe

Click on the link directly above to read this posting on the TIE Leadership blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

101 Gadgets that Changed the World

When we think of technology, our thoughts immediately center on computers and electronics. Have you ever thought of barbed wire as technology? It has made the list of 101 gadgets that changed the world. Of course, ipods, radios, and the like are listed. It's an interesting list, beginning with the abacus. Check it out:

One Laptop Per Child

Now you can participate in the Give One/Get One. The article provides links to register for the program.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Low-cost Laptops Battling for Markets

It used to be easy to write off the hardware specs of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) device, called XO, as a novelty. They were designing what appeared to be a low power laptop for sale only to 3rd-world countries. But the trend can be ignored no more.

First of all, it is not low-powered--rather is a different paradigm of what is needed in a laptop. If you look at this device with a mentality of the large-storage-with-huge-applications implementation of todays computers, you will likely miss the concept. The XO takes a different approach: Laptop With a Mission Widens Its Audience - New York Times
There’s no CD/DVD drive at all, no hard drive and only a 7.5-inch screen. The Linux operating system doesn’t run Microsoft Office, Photoshop or any other standard Mac or Windows programs. The membrane-sealed, spillproof keyboard is too small for touch-typing by an adult. And then there’s the look of this thing. It’s made of shiny green and white plastic, like a Fisher-Price toy, complete with a handle. With its two earlike antennas raised, it could be Shrek’s little robot friend. And sure enough, the bloggers and the ignorant have already begun to spit on the XO laptop. “Dude, for $400, I can buy a real Windows laptop,” they say. Clearly, the XO’s mission has sailed over these people’s heads like a 747.
The truth is, the XO laptop, now in final testing, is absolutely amazing, and in my limited tests, a total kid magnet. Both the hardware and the software exhibit breakthrough after breakthrough — some of them not available on any other laptop, for $400 or $4,000...
As you read further, there are many well-thought out features available on this machine. Truly, it is not a low power machine.

Another reason one cannot ignore the low-cost laptop trend is that the competition is heating up. The Intel/Microsoft coalition now produces the Classmate PC that is going after the same market as OLPC: eSchool News online - Low-cost laptop deals heat up
Low-cost laptop deals heat up-- Intel, OLPC supply special computers to students in developing nations. Mere hours after news broke that Uruguay's government placed the first official order for the One Laptop Per Child initiative's XO, or "$100 laptop," chip giant Intel Corp. announces that Libya has ordered 150,000 of Intel's own version of the low-cost laptop, the Classmate PC.
Other low-cost laptop companies are now getting into the fray: Cheap Linux PCs may pressure One Laptop Per Child | InfoWorld
Cheap Linux PCs may pressure One Laptop Per Child--Non-profit OLPC's XO notebook has jumped from its original estimated price of $100 and now faces pricing competition from commercial laptops

As component prices drop, the aggressive pricing of commercial Linux notebooks could hamper efforts by One Laptop Per Child to supply inexpensive laptops to children in developing markets. Asustek recently shipped its Linux-based Eee PC, and Everex on Thursday said it would soon sell Linux-based PCs with an x86 processor for under $300. Those competitive prices may draw buyers to commercial laptops over One Laptop Per Chilld's (OLPC's) specialized XO laptops, which will carry a $200 price tag when it ships on Nov. 12, analysts said.
Why should educators in our area even be concerned? Looking at the sheer volume of tech R&D and sales that go into these laptops, it is virtually impossible for the technology/features of these laptops to not creep into the laptop market of the US. The problem is that if our attention is focused solely on the traditional Gateway/Dell/HP/Apple commercial laptop offerings, we may get broadsided. I suspect it is really in our best interest to keep a pulse on where these technologies go because it will most likely show up in our schools in the very near future.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Web 2.0 Tools and Dropout Rates

This year the Los Angeles Unified School District started a new initiative entitled MyFutureMyDecision: utilizing Web 2.0 Technology such as Myspace and You Tube, along with POWER 160 a local radio station and text messenging to aid in decreasing their dropout rate. The district hopes that this new endeavor will reach students through a medium they know and utilize daily. Myspace and You Tube will feature former dropouts sharing why they returned to school and the benefits they are now experiencing because they returned. Along with allowing those who may be at risk of dropping out to voice their concerns in hopes to keep them in the school system. The project also features counselors who target at-risk students in hopes of retaining them before dropping out. Once a student decides to remain in the system or returns to the system, Web 2.0 technology is being utilized to offer online courses for those who may have to work or do not feel equipped to return to a traditional school setting. Will these efforts retain students or bring back those who have already left? The answers may not yet be clear but the potential benefits are numerous.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Next Version of JPEG is Microsoft's format

JPEG is the standard for photo sharing, particularly on the internet. Now a new proposed version, JPEG RX, is based on a Microsoft standard.

Electronista | Microsoft format to become JPEG successor
Microsoft format to become JPEG successor
The multinational Joint Photographic Experts Group, responsible for the JPEG standard used in virtually all mainstream imaging, has announced that the next iteration of its standard will be based on Microsoft's HD Photo format. HD Photo is built into Windows Vista, and was originally dubbed Windows Media Photo, hoped to offer some degree of proprietary control for the company; in its new incarnation however it will be called JPEG XR, and remain neutral as with the current JPEG technology...

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Apple Leopard Technical Review

Even if you do not have Macs, often the technology they implement shows up in other areas. Here is a more technical review of Apple's Leopard that talks about OpenDirectory/ActiveDirectory, user backup systems, scripting, user interface, & security (including application sandboxing).

Not Just Another Leopard Review -- InformationWeek

Another in-depth review:

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: the Ars Technica review: Page 1

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Virtually Speaking........

I spent an evening with a group of friends discussing virtual worlds. We specifically talked about an eighteen-year-old high school graduate who is hooked on Second Life. In Second Life, one can create an avatar, explore, meet people, and can buy property to build a house or start a business. Apparently, people who start businesses in this virtual world are making real money, not virtual money. I found this interesting so I did a search online for virtual worlds. I didn’t realize there were so many of them: Weblo, 3b, There, and IMVU just to name a few. It makes me wonder how this will affect the educational community. Will teachers see these as teaching tools or annoyances? Will shy students become more confident? I guess only “virtual” time will tell.