Who are you, and how do you spend your days?
I teach ICT part time at the Rudolf Steiner School in Kings Langley, near London, UK. Previously I worked as a technical author/trainer while my children attended the school, and I also contributed to the Schoolforge UK community with the aim of encouraging UK schools to adopt free/open source software. Five or six years ago we had about 50 schools interested in some way, but we weren't able to convert many of them into sustainable installations.
How did you get in contact with the Skolelinux/Debian Edu project?
Skolelinux had two representatives at an early Edubuntu meeting in London which I attended. However at that time our school network had just been installed using CentOS, LTSP 4 and GNOME. When LTSP 5 came along we switched to Edubuntu thin client servers so now we have a mixed environment which includes Windows PCs and student laptops, as well as their MacBooks and iPads. However, the proprietary systems have always been rather problematic, and we never built a GUI for the LDAP server, so when I discovered Skolelinux is configured for all these things we decided to try it.
What do you see as the advantages of Skolelinux/Debian Edu?
By far the biggest advantage is the Debian Edu community. Apart from that I have always believed in the same "sustainable computing" goals that Skolelinux is built on: installing Linux on computers which would otherwise be thrown away, to provide a reliable, secure and low-cost IT environment for schools. From my own experience I know that a part-time person can teach and manage a network of about 25 Linux computers, but it would take much more of my time if we had proprietary software everywhere.
What do you see as the disadvantages of Skolelinux/Debian Edu?
As a newcomer I'm just finding out who's who in the community and how you're organised, and what your procedures are for dealing with various things such as editing manual pages and so-on. The only English language mailing list seems to be for developers as well as users, so my inbox needs heavy pruning each day!
Which free software do you use daily?
Besides the software already mentioned at school we use Samba, OpenLDAP, CUPS, Nagios and Dansguardian for the network, and on the desktops we have LibreOffice, Firefox, GIMP and Inkscape. At home I use Ubuntu and an Android 4 eePad Transformer (but I'm not sure if that counts...)
Which strategy do you believe is the right one to use to get schools to use free software?
That's a tough question! For very many years UK schools installed and taught only proprietary software, so that at the highest levels the notion of "computer" means simply "proprietary office applications". However, schools today are experiencing budget constraints, and many are having to think hard about upgrading Windows XP. At the same time, we have students showing teachers how to use iPads, MacBooks and Android, so the choice of operating system is no longer quite so automatic. What is more, our government at last realised that we need people with programming skills, so they're putting coding back in the curriculum! And it's encouraging that the first 10,000 Raspberry Pi units sold out in 2 hours.
I don't really know what strategy is going to get UK schools to use free software, but building an active community of Skolelinux/Debian Edu users in this country has to be part of it.