What is it?
Debian Edu/Skolelinux is an operating system intended for educational use and a Debian Pure Blend . As skole [skuːlə] is the Norwegian word for school, Skolelinux's literal translation is "school linux". It has been created as an overall free software computer solution designed to fit to schools' resources and needs, and is currently being developed by a large and growing international community.
Skolelinux provides a terminal server environment suitable to most educational scenarios, and comes with most services pre-configured out-of-the-box. It allows both a technical and non-technical installation process depending on the user's needs and expertise and highly simplifies middle-to-large system deployments and configurations.
A bit of history
Skolelinux's seed was planted during a warm summer day in 2001 when a group of four computer talented people started discussing the computer situation at schools and how much they disliked the market domination by proprietary software. They dreamed of a better scenario where Norwegian students could enjoy software natively translated and where they could have access to the source code to be able to learn from it. They were also conscious of schools' problems with high costs and the restrictions that proprietary software impose.
With great enthusiasm, they started working on a solution and officially founded the Skolelinux project on July 2, 2001. Twenty-five computer programmers and translators combined efforts to improve and promote educational software. Naturally, some pioneers were more interested in developing software and some others in providing as many native translations as possible.
At about the same time, Raphael Herzog started the Debian Edu project in France to create an education-related meta-packages collection, and the two projects joined forces in 2003.
Soon Debian Edu/Skolelinux's importance grew and it became associated with the "Free Software in Schools" organization (earlier called "Linux in schools") which was founded on July 16, 2001. During 2002, German teachers, developers and translators joined Skolelinux. In 2003, Skolelinux incrementally became included as a standard part of Debian, and since then, many developers from around the world have collaborated on the project. During 2002 Skolelinux was tested in a pilot phase at eleven Norwegian schools, and also introduced in Hamburg schools.
Debian Edu or Skolelinux?
At some point during the spring and summer of 2001 both Debian Edu and Skolelinux projects began as independent attempts to create a GNU/Linux distribution for educational purposes. Raphael Herzog started Debian Edu project as a member of a group called IIRC with the objective of creating education-related meta-packages and Skolelinux started from a Norwegian group as a project intended to create a CD distribution. After some initial collaboration, the French group left package maintenance to the Norwegian group which started to include them on their CD. By that time people all over the world were contributing, and at that point both projects effectively became one. Some say that Debian Edu is the name of the project, and Skolelinux is the name of the distribution, but in practice both names now actually refer to the same project.
Create a complete solution: provide a complete educational software solution suitable for real scenarios, entirely free.
Reduce technical barriers: The best way to reach wide spread is by easing installation, use, maintenance and administration. Debian Edu/Skolelinux should work out-of-the-box.
International scale: as part of a collaborative project, it is essential to offer as many close to native-level translations as possible.
Educational software ecosystem: it is necessary to locate, package and classify educational free software.
Teaching documentation: it is important not only to provide a great platform but to provide documentation on how to better use it for teaching.
Why consider it?
It is Free software: not only in price but also in the way schools are allowed to use it. This is ethically important to an educational environment as it should avoid being an arena where piracy is accepted or encouraged but a place that promotes the making and sharing of knowledge. This project provides user-friendly licenses that gives rights not responsibilities.
Provides control: users can decide themselves when to upgrade hardware or software, and so they are able to remain independent from suppliers' influence.
Economical savings: Teleplan, an independent agency, released a report concluding that it can help save up to 60% in costs thanks to its eased maintenance when compared to a traditional workstation infrastructure. Note that saving money does not mean zero cost.
Rock solid: it is a stable and reliable system that just works. Additionally, it is less vulnerable to viruses, worms and malicious acts.
Solves real needs: it is made by schools and for schools and so, it becomes inherently designed to fit real scenarios.
Highly supported: as it is part of Debian, it benefits from a large and vibrant community that means lots of momentum and development and guarantees that it will stand strong and around us for a very long time.
Ecological: it helps to lower ecological footprints. It has proved to be more power-efficient than a traditional independent workstation infrastructure, and terminal servers also enable reusing of old hardware to act as thin clients.
Where are we now?
Existing solution is now able to simplify administration and maintenance by providing:
User centralization: allow students to access their home directories with its custom settings to the computer services with a single user and password on any machine of the network.
Proxy caching: enables supervision in how the Internet is used, and Internet downloaded files caching helps provide a faster surfing experience.
Resource sharing: hardware like printers can be shared and made available anywhere in the network.
It is now able to reduce costs by:
Use of free software: there are no licenses to pay.
Enabling reusing hardware: old hardware is often reused to serve as thin clients.
Being power efficient: as few servers are used, they can optimize computation power better than many more workstations.
Less maintenance: as there are fewer "smart" machines operating on the infrastructure, it is less likely for them to fail, and when failures occur it is easier and faster to restore the machines.
It is now able to fit real scenarios by:
Relevant software: it is being distributed with a large collection of relevant educational software.
Widely translated: it has reached a formidable number of native translations.
Use of free software: allows modifications to better suit special needs.
Is now necessarily documented to:
Empower users: allows users to solve their problems and help others in a growing international community.
Amplifies teacher's skills: by enabling them to improve their teaching methodologies.
It is a valuable medium to test and develop many technologies:
Debian-installer: it has been a major contributor on rewriting the Debian-Installer.
LTSP: it has conducted extensive development and testing of thin clients and diskless workstations.