Monday, August 31, 2009

Bitten by a penguin: the Windows user's guide to Linux

Two quick points:
  • Jon Jermey has written a nice little introduction to Linux, aimed at Windows users, and he's made it available for download as an e-book here. It's a really good summary of what Linux is, some of the major distributions available and why one might make the switch to one of them
  • Secondly, if you're not aware of it, Ubuntu Linux Live CDs are available here. A live CD lets you run an evaluation version of Linux without making changes to your existing system. These are really cool: pop in the CD, fire it up and have a play around. If you don't like it, eject the CD and it all goes away; if you do like it, double click install and it'll install a copy onto your computer. You can even keep your exisiting operating system (Windows or OSX) so you can choose between it and Linux. (If you don't know what a disk partition is, it might pay to ask someone who does to look over your shoulder while you install it, however.) I wondered why other software companies didn't offer a Live CD option, but then I realised that if MS had done this with Vista, no one would have bought it. Companies like Microsoft can't survive by offering people choice; they can only survive by compelling people to upgrade regularly. The need for cashflow determines the consumer's experience.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Linux tablet

This is cool. A 5 inch tablet or slate. BTW Why is it that we use stone age/industrial revolution language to describe these cutting edge things? It runs Android (the same operating system as the HTC Magic) and looks very, very cool.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Magic little phones

As a school that's interested in 21st century learning tools, we don't ban mobile phones at the gate. Far from it: we welcome students' mobile computing devices and have set our network up to accommodate them. We have banks of charging laptop locker to keep portable devices secure when they are not being used; we have a wireless network that allows any device to connect to it and we use portable devices (iPods, phones etc.) in learning wherever possible.
We've been thinking about getting iPhones for the Senior Leadership Team for a while but something kept gnawing at me: how could we as an open source school encourage the use of proprietary operating systems on smartphones? Clearly we couldn't, and we decided to put our money where our mouths were: we took possession yesterday of 5 HTC Magic phones running Google's Android OS, which is in turn based on Linux. I took it home last night and spent most of the evening playing with it and I have to say that seeing a Linux-powered phone competing function for function with an iPhone was a great feeling. (My wife has already started referring to herself as an 'Android Widow'.) Have a look at the features. It's a magic little phone.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Software Freedom Day

It's rapidly approaching and feels like some kind of landmark: it's the first software freedom day to be celebrated by Albany Senior High School. We've decided to do things in our own way, and have chosen to hold a LAN party (with pizza and drinks) playing only open source games. Students are arranging themselves into teams of four and will play each other in capture the flag and deathmatch games. Our relationship with games at ASHS is an interesting one: we have Wine installed on our Ubuntu machines, and very quickly students realised that they could bring in Windows games and play them on our network. Within a very short space of time (and with the help of a few USB sticks) students were arranging their own LAN parties at lunchtime using software of questionable legality (at best). One of our staff members and I sat the gamers down and explained our dilemma: we didn't mind them playing games; what we did mind was them pirating software in order to do it. We decided to explore other alternatives including open source games, and quickly found out there are quite a few more than reasonable Linux-based options. Within a few days we had added a dozen games to our machines and the students were tearing into them. The two most popular are Alien Arena:
...and Nexuiz:
So now our students play legal, open-source games, and we're going to celebrate the fact on 18th Sept with our very own LAN party.
Interestingly the PIRLS 2006 survey found outside of school on a normal day, 49% of teenagers play computer games for more than 1 hr/day while 66% watch television for more than 1hr/day. Clearly teenagers play games, and clearly we need to accept this fact if we're ever going to be able to harness them for learning. With more and more games and simulations being used to train doctors, pilots, engineers and planners its only a matter of time before the play a key role in education. For some of the best games I've seen in a long time, have a look at Games for Change.
For the record, we have the following games installed on all of our machines:
  • Alien Arena
  • Battle for Wesnoth
  • Flightgear
  • Frets on Fire
  • Nexuiz
  • Torcs
  • Warsow
  • Glest
What really brought a smile to my face was an email I received last week: extremely polite, very well composed, and reading something like this: "While we appreciate the games you provide for us already, we have noticed there is a lack of strategy games on the school machines. We have researched open-source strategy games and would appreciate it if you added the following to the student computers..."
I'm adding them now.