Petter Reinholdtsen

Debian Edu interview: Jonathan Carter
12th June 2013

There is a certain cross-over between the Debian Edu / Skolelinux project and the Edubuntu project, and for example the LTSP packages in Debian are a joint effort between the projects. One person with a foot in both camps is Jonathan Carter, which I am now happy to present to you.

Who are you, and how do you spend your days?

I'm a South-African free software geek who lives in Cape Town. My days vary quite a bit since I'm involved in too many things. As I'm getting older I'm learning how to focus a bit more :)

I'm also an Edubuntu contributor and I love when there are opportunities for the Edubuntu and Debian Edu projects to benefit from each other.

How did you get in contact with the Skolelinux / Debian Edu project?

I've been somewhat familiar with the project before, but I think my first direct exposure to the project was when I met Petter [Reinholdtsen] and Knut [Yrvin] at the Edubuntu summit in 2005 in London. They provided great feedback that helped the bootstrapping of Edubuntu. Back then Edubuntu (and even Ubuntu) was still very new and it was great getting input from people who have been around longer. I was also still very excitable and said yes to everything and to this day I have a big todo list backlog that I'm catching up with. I think over the years the relationship between Edubuntu and Debian-Edu has been gradually improving, although I think there's a lot that we could still improve on in terms of working together on packages. I'm sure we'll get there one day.

What do you see as the advantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?

Debian itself already has so many advantages. I could go on about it for pages, but in essence I love that it's a very honest project that puts its users first with no hidden agendas and also produces very high quality work.

I think the advantage of Debian Edu is that it makes many common set-up tasks simpler so that administrators can get up and running with a lot less effort and frustration. At the same time I think it helps to standardise installations in schools so that it's easier for community members and commercial suppliers to support.

What do you see as the disadvantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?

I had to re-type this one a few times because I'm trying to separate "disadvantages" from "areas that need improvement" (which is what I originally rambled on about)

The biggest disadvantage I can think of is lack of manpower. The project could do so much more if there were more good contributors. I think some of the problems are external too. Free software and free content in education is a no-brainer but it takes some time to catch on. When you've been working with the same proprietary eco-system for years and have gotten used to it, it can be hard to adjust to some concepts in the free software world. It would be nice if there were more Debian Edu consultants across the world. I'd love to be one myself but I'm already so over-committed that it's just not possible currently.

I think the best short-term solution to that large-scale problem is for schools to be pro-active and share their experiences and grow their skills in-house. I'm often saddened to see how much money educational institutions spend on 3rd party solutions that they don't have access to after the service has ended and they could've gotten so much more value otherwise by being more self-sustainable and autonomous.

Which free software do you use daily?

My main laptop dual-boots between Debian and Windows 7. I was Windows free for years but started dual-booting again last year for some games which help me focus and relax (Starcraft II in particular). Gaming support on Linux is improving in leaps and bounds so I suppose I'll soon be able to regain that disk space :)

Besides that I rely on Icedove, Chromium, Terminator, Byobu, irssi, git, Tomboy, KVM, VLC and LibreOffice. Recently I've been torn on which desktop environment I like and I'm taking some refuge in Xfce while I figure that out. I like tools that keep things simple. I enjoy Python and shell scripting. I went to an Arduino workshop recently and it was awesome seeing how easy and simple the IDE software was to get up and running in Debian compared to the users running Windows and OS X.

I also use mc which some people frown upon slightly. I got used to using Norton Commander in the early 90's and it stuck (I think the people who sneer at it is just jealous that they don't know how to use it :p)

Which strategy do you believe is the right one to use to get schools to use free software?

I think trying to force it is unproductive. I also think that in many cases it's appropriate for schools to use non-free systems and I don't think that there's any particular moral or ethical problem with that.

I do think though that free software can already solve so so many problems in educational institutions and it's just a shame not taking advantage of that.

I also think that some curricula need serious review. For example, some areas of the world rely heavily on very specific versions of MS Office, teaching students to parrot menu items instead of learning the general concepts. I think that's very unproductive because firstly, MS Office's interface changes drastically every few years and on top of that it also locks in a generation to a product that might not be the best solution for them.

To answer your question, I believe that the right strategy is to educate and inform, giving someone the information they require to make a decision that would work for them.

Tags: debian edu, english, intervju.

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