"We have four years of experience using Linux with user applications in Nynorsk" says Bjarne Hugo Hansen, principle of Høle primary and secondary school. Nynorsk is one of the two main norwegian dialects, the other is Bokmål. "Our school saves at least NOK 128.000 (Norwegian kroner) a year, and we are able to use new software on old computers". Most of our computer park consist of old, donated computers from private companies. Bjerke high school with 370 pupils, has three and a half years of experience with thin clients and servers running Linux with KDE and StarOffice. They use a hardware-optimized solution with central server-administration. "Our school saves NOK 100.000 a year" says Gro Flaten, principal of Bjerke.
July the 2nd 2001, an initiating meeting was summoned for the "Skolelinux" project (a project to create a Linux solution aimed at Norwegian schools. http://developer.skolelinux.no ). 13 out of 25 project participants met, which is good, considering that the participants live widely spread across Norway. The project's objective was discussed, and the Debian distribution was chosen as a base platform because Petter Reinholdtsen, who knows the Debian distribution well, volunteered to build the new "Skolelinux" distribution. Eivind Trondsen, Linux evangelist from IBM Norway, offered a build computer and development site for a couple of summer months. The objective we agreed on is:
Among the partial goals are:
The first release (version 1.0) of "Skolelinux" is scheduled to March 2002. It can either be downloaded as one or more CD images, or be installed directly over the Internet with apt-get.
During July and August the Bokmål versions of KDE, Koffice, Abiword and Gnumeric were improved. The Nynorsk versions were already way ahead as more translators were working on this. The Bokmål versions, which had mainly been translated by one person, were supplied with more translators. By the release of KDE 2.2.1, more than 300 user applications were translated to Bokmål and Nynorsk. Character sets and keyboard layouts for Sami were required to translate KDE into Sami. This was done during October. The translation of OpenOffice is also progressing. A simple, informal head count in the beginning og October, showed that there were between 40 and 50 active developers and translators on "Skolelinux".
To ensure realistic financing of the "Skolelinux" project, the Royal Norwegian Ministry of church, Education and Research granted NOK 200.000 to do an estimate of the total project cost. Noregs Mållag was the main contributor to get this initial funding. In parallel to the project preparation to get realistic founding, the project are progressing at full speed. These development activities are taking place:
We have had great difficulties to get hardware, and broadband (WAN) to our development sites. Some things take more time than necessary, especially with low or no funding at all. The money from the government had to be used on the initial project, not to buy equipment, or to finance workshops for developers and translators. We have applied for financing of development activities and hardware from the Norwegian Unix User Group Foundation. We have also applied for funding from different counties and municipalites with partly success. When money is involved things tend to take a lot of time, and the development process is in danger of slowing down. For administrative purposes we have established an interest member organisation, called "Linux i skolen". As of January 1. 2002 there where over 100 registered members. The organisation owns the "Skolelinux" project, and the main object is to speed up the use of free software in education, and to ensure that user programs are delivered in the two Norwegian dialects and in the Sami language.
School network configuration is of great importance, and consists of a variety of services. X-clients will start almost automatically. Network, name-server, directory service, web publishing, firewall and other services will be in the installation, and we will use cfengine as a the administration workhorse. It will be a network solution out of the box with everything configured and ready to run. Schools can use their old PCs, such as Pentium 90-200s or 486s with the newest software available as free software. Today the schools has to live with 4-5 year old unreliable software. Schools experience a lot of downtime, virus, worms, and exploits on their old software. Debian Linux will hopefully put an end to this problem, and schools will not have to reboot for more than 200 days on the thin clients, and even more on the servers. This in a "dangerous" school-environment with kids all over the place, and lots of energy and activity.
Debian's installer is not usable for us in its current state. Linux for Schools has to be as simple that Mom can install it on the family PC. The installation routine should only consist of three choices: select language, configuration, and source - then go. That's it. The rest is done automagically behind the scenes. Then we need programs for detection of different hardware as network cards, graphics cards, keyboards, mouses and so on. We had some talks with Joey Hess about debian-installer, the next-generation Debian installer, this autumn. He was really nice, but we had some difficulties to get him some hardware and food money. As explained earlier, the money issue takes a lot of time. In the meantime we are rewriting the installation routine ourselves - and working to get a solution to Mr. Hess' modest wishes:
Getting back to my own needs, with important things first, they are:
- a working floppy drive (of course I can manage this by myself)
- a $100 antenna and $75 wavelan card to get the test system up on the net, gatewayed through my laptop
- a cd burner
- additional disk space, preferably scsi, so I can test scsi installs
- a better test machine (although testing on a p-133 is a good way to make your code not be too slow!)
- more than one test machine, for more diverse testing
- food money
When this is written, you can download the pre-release number 34 (ftp.skolelinux.no/skolelinux-cd) of Linux for Schools. The build and distribution server is borrowed from IBM, and the University of Oslo hosts the machine. For Norwegian purposes it is the center of the universe. We are building the ISO images every 6th hour, and we are tweaking the build scripts to be as smooth as posible.
The Linux for Schools project has recruited two groups of last-year engineer-groups. They are starting right now, and will help us to develop, or configure the services which will be in the distribution. They doing this as a part of their main project, and getting grades for their work with Linux for Schools. More groups are established. There are three places right now in addition to all the people who works form their personal computers at home, or at work. Groups are established in Oslo, Trondheim, and Bodø. We are also building Linux for Shools for the Danish and the Swedes. The Danish developers has been the most active of this hopefully growing nordic effort (http://www.gnuskole.dk).
The project has been introduced to every one of the IT-managers in the different regions of Norway. Some of the regions have had more than one presentation, and are using some of the project participants for advicing in the right IT-strategy. Three or four of the regions use Linux servers as their main platform and backbone in their high school networks. More schools are testing Linux as their preferred desktop-solution, and others have emigrated with luck, but not without difficulties. The Linux for Schools project is cooperating with Bjerke primary and secondary school as a test site. We are also working with Høle primary and secondary school, and the project called "Nynorsk into the IT-education", which also was supported with 500.000 NOK from the Department of Education. The project has good relations with the Nynorsk communities. The Linux in Schools project is becoming well known in Norway's educational system.
It has taken us less than three month to get initial support from the Norwegian education authorities. We are working day and night, and gaining strength every week with more people joining the project. We are more than 50 developers, translators, and writers, and 6-7 people coordinating the effort to get quality language support, smooth installation, and a network out-of-the-box with configurations for thin client, workstation, and servers. Is this something for you? Visit our developer site: ( http://developer.skolelinux.no/index.html.en).
Knut Yrvin - 13. january 2001 - elected project leader.