It has been a while since I managed to publish the last interview, but the Debian Edu / Skolelinux community is still going strong, and yesterday we even had a new school administrator show up on #debian-edu to share his success story with installing Debian Edu at their school. This time I have been able to get some helpful comments from the creator of Knoppix, Klaus Knopper, who was involved in a Skolelinux project in Germany a few years ago.
Who are you, and how do you spend your days?
I am Klaus Knopper. I have a master degree in electrical engineering, and is currently professor in information management at the university of applied sciences Kaiserslautern / Germany and freelance Open Source software developer and consultant.
All of this is pretty much of the work I spend my days with. Apart from teaching, I'm also conducting some more or less experimental projects like the Knoppix GNU/Linux live system (Debian-based like Skolelinux), ADRIANE (a blind-friendly talking desktop system) and LINBO (Linux-based network boot console, a fast remote install and repair system supporting various operating systems).
How did you get in contact with the Skolelinux / Debian Edu project?
The credit for this have to go to Kurt Gramlich, who is the German coordinator for Skolelinux. We were looking for an all-in-one open source community-supported distribution for schools, and Kurt introduced us to Skolelinux for this purpose.
What do you see as the advantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?
- Quick installation,
- works (almost) out of the box,
- contains many useful software packages for teaching and learning,
- is a purely community-based distro and not controlled by a single company,
- has a large number of supporters and teachers who share their experience and problem solutions.
What do you see as the disadvantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?
- Skolelinux is - as we had to learn - not easily upgradable to the next version. Opposed to its genuine Debian base, upgrading to a new version means a full new installation from scratch to get it working again reliably.
- Skolelinux is based on Debian/stable, and therefore always a little outdated in terms of program versions compared to Edubuntu or similar educational Linux distros, which rather use Debian/testing as their base.
- Skolelinux has some very self-opinionated and stubborn default configuration which in my opinion adds unnecessary complexity and is not always suitable for a schools needs, the preset network configuration is actually a core definition feature of Skolelinux and not easy to change, so schools sometimes have to change their network configuration to make it "Skolelinux-compatible".
- Some proposed extensions, which were made available as contribution, like secure examination mode and lecture material distribution and collection, were not accepted into the mainline Skolelinux development and are now not easy to maintain in the future because of Skolelinux somewhat undeterministic update schemes.
- Skolelinux has only a very tiny number of base developers compared to Debian.
For these reasons and experience from our project, I would now rather consider using plain Debian for schools next time, until Skolelinux is more closely integrated into Debian and becomes upgradeable without reinstallation.
Which free software do you use daily?
GNU/Linux with LXDE desktop, bash for interactive dialog and programming, texlive for documentation and correspondence, occasionally LibreOffice for document format conversion. Various programming languages for teaching.
Which strategy do you believe is the right one to use to get schools to use free software?
Strong arguments are
- Knowledge is free, and so should be methods and tools for teaching and learning.
- Students can learn with and use the same software at school, at home, and at their working place without running into license or conversion problems.
- Closed source or proprietary software hides knowledge rather than exposing it, and proprietary software vendors try to bind customers to certain products. But teachers need to teach science, not products.
- If you have everything you for daily work as open source, what would you need proprietary software for?