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Linux in Education

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Even those with a remote connection to the computer world will likely have heard of something called Linux. The value and application of the technology is being hotly debated among computer developers and industry insiders. Linux has even grabbed headlines in mainstream media because of its revolutionary potential. This issue is also capturing the attention of academic circles. For good reason: Linux is uniquely qualified to serve the needs of the education market. Linux has nearly everything educators and students are looking for in an operating system. It's stable and secure. It's "open source" software, so it can be customized to match specific demands. Perhaps most importantly, it's cost-effective.

 

What Is Linux?

Linux (pronounced "lin-ucks") is a 32-bit computer operating system (OS) that is similar to the well-known UNIX OS, but is available for the desktop and offers many more benefits.

Linux has its origins in the academic setting. It's named after its Finnish founder Linus Torvalds, who developed it in 1991 when he was a 21-year-old student. His discovery was inspired by the earlier efforts of his teacher, Andrew Tanenbaum. In the 1980s, Tanenbaum, a Dutch professor of computer science and a specialist in designing operating systems, wrote an operating system called MINIX to help his students learn the complexities of UNIX on their home computers. Torvalds improved on Tanenbaum's work by exploring ways to increase the functionality of MINIX.

Torvalds' experimentation gave way to the Linux kernel, the operating code and core element of Linux. Torvalds later placed the source code for Linux in the public domain through something called the GNU General Public License. That way, developers around the world could download Linux from the Internet in order to study, modify and add to Torvald's initial developments. That's why it's considered "open source" - developers have ready access to the source code.

Strictly defined, Linux refers to the kernel or core operating system. However, it has come to describe the complete operating system and suite of applications associated with it. As Linux supporters - and committed members of the "open source" community - companies such as Corel, Red Hat and Caldera make the Linux operating system available for free on the Internet. Shrink-wrapped versions of the OS are also available, for a relatively low cost, but they include documentation and technical support.

Linux is increasingly gaining in stature as a powerful and cost-effective alternative to Windows and Mac operating systems. It continues to grow in popularity. In fact, a study by International Data Corporation (IDC), a Massachusetts-based industry research organization, shows Linux had 25% of the server (operating system) market in 1999, compared to 16% in 1998. IDC forecasts that the Linux operating environment, including both desktop and server markets, will increase at a compound annual growth rate of greater than 25% through 2003.

 

Ideal For Students

Linux's strengths - its relatively low cost, stability, power and flexibility - are particularly beneficial for students and the academic community. Unlike corporations, schools don't have a lot of money to invest in technology. At the same time, students need to be intimately familiar with the latest technology to be prepared for the highly competitive marketplace later on in their careers. Linux gives students access to leading-edge technology - software that will meet their computing needs - without the high price tag that's usually associated with it. For example, schools can install the Linux OS on every workstation in a classroom using one CD. Normally, a licensing fee is charged each time a program is installed on a new workstation. In addition, students and educators enjoy maximum flexibility and stability using Linux. Some Linux users have reported using the OS for more than a year without rebooting, whereas frequent reboots can be commonplace in other operating system environments. With open access to the source code, Linux users can tailor the technology to meet their specific needs.

The nature and history of Linux is a lesson in itself. What's perhaps most fascinating about the technology is how it's developed. In compliance with the open source philosophy, companies such as Corel are obligated to publicly release the source code to any code that is part of the GNU Public License. As a result, Linux evolves much more rapidly than many other technologies.

 

Corel's Linux Initiatives

In November of 1999, Corel launched its own distribution of Linux. It is based on the stable and robust Debian distribution and the KDE desktop. Debian has a network of hundreds of developers worldwide who thoroughly test each new piece of code that is added to their distribution. Corel LINUX OS is incredibly easy to use and features a quick, three-step install. Corel LINUX OS includes connectivity to Windows networks so users can experience the high reliability and low cost of Linux and still be fully connected to the Windows universe.

Corel is now in the process of porting all of its applications to the Linux platform, including its WordPerfect and CorelDRAW suites. WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux is available now, as is a free download of Corel PHOTO-PAINT 9 for Linux. The full graphics suite for Linux is planned for release in July. Academic versions of the WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux will be released this summer along with licensing options for schools.

Corel is committed to being an active contributor and solid partner with the education community and considers the academic market to be among its top priorities. We are constantly seeking ways to form alliances and make investments in school systems.

For example, Corel has partnered with three academic institutions in the Ottawa area to develop pilot programs using Corel LINUX OS and WordPerfect 8 for Linux. Also, at the Earl of March High School in Ottawa, Ontario, Corel LINUX OS has been incorporated into the grade nine curriculum and all students are learning this technology. While the project is just finishing its first year, administrators have noticed an increase in the desire of their students to continue pursuing computer technology in upper years. They anticipate rolling out the program on a potentially wider scale for next year.

Linux can offer schools a tailor-made computing solution that is stable, secure, robust and cost-effective. We expect that as students and educators discover its benefits, more schools will adopt this technology in the near future.

 

 


  

 (Academic institutions interested in learning more about Linux academic partnerships should contact Corel at sponsorships@corel.com. For general information about Linux, visit www.linux.corel.com or www.linux.com.)

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.

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