Petter Reinholdtsen

Debian Edu interview: Ralf Gesellensetter
27th May 2012

In 2003, a German teacher showed up on the Debian Edu and Skolelinux mailing list with interesting problems and reports proving he setting up Linux for a (for us at the time) lot of pupils. His name was Ralf Gesellensetter, and he has been an important tester and contributor since then, helping to make sure the Debian Edu Squeeze release became as good as it is..

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

I am a teacher from Germany, and my subjects are Geography, Mathematics, and Computer Science ("Informatik"). During the past 12 years (since 2000), I have been working for a comprehensive (and soon, also inclusive) school leading to all kind of general levels, such as O- or A-level ("Abitur"). For quite as long, I've been taking care of our computer network.

Now, in my early 40s, I enjoy the privilege of spending a lot of my spare time together with my wife, our son (3 years) and our daughter (4 months).

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

We had tried different Linux based school servers, when members of my local Linux User Group (LUG OWL) detected Skolelinux. I remember very well, being part of a party celebrating the Linux New Media Award ("Best Newcomer Distribution", also nominated: Ubuntu) that was given to Skolelinux at Linux World Exposition in Frankfurt, 2005 (IIRC). Few months later, I had the chance to join a developer meeting in Ulsrud (Oslo) and to hand out the award to Knut Yrvin and others. For more than 7 years, Skolelinux is part of our schools infrastructure, namely our main server (tjener), one LTSP (today without thin clients), and approximately 50 work stations. Most of these have the option to boot a locally installed Skolelinux image. As a consequence, I joined quite a few events dealing with free software or Linux, and met many Debian (Edu) developers. All of them seemed quite nice and competent to me, one more reason to stick to Skolelinux.

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

Debian driven, you are given all the advantages of a community project including well maintained updates. Once, you are familiar with the network layout, you can easily roll out an entire educational computer infrastructure, from just one installation media. As only free software (FOSS) is used, that supports even elderly hardware, up-sizing your IT equipment is only limited by space (i.e. available labs). Especially if you run a LTSP thin client server, your administration costs tend towards zero.

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

While Debian's stability has loads of advantages for servers, this might be different in some cases for clients: Schools with unlimited budget might buy new hardware with components that are not yet supported by Debian stable, or wish to use more recent versions of office packages or desktop environments. These schools have the option to run Debian testing or other distributions - if they have the capacity to do so. Another issue is that Debian release cycles include a wide range of changes; therefor a high percentage of human power seems to be absorbed by just keeping the features of Skolelinux within the new setting of the version to come. During this process, the cogs of Debian Edu are getting more and more professional, i.e. harder to understand for novices.

Which free software do you use daily?

LibreOffice, Wikipedia, Openstreetmap, Iceweasel (Mozilla Firefox), KMail, Gimp, Inkscape - and of course the Linux Kernel (not only on PC, Laptop, Mobile, but also our SAT receiver)

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

  1. Support computer science as regular subject in schools to make people really "own" their hardware, to make them understand the difference between proprietary software products, and free software developing.
  2. Make budget baskets corresponding: In Germany's public schools there are more or less fixed budgets for IT equipment (including licenses), so schools won't benefit from any savings here. This privilege is left to private schools which have consequently a large share among German Skolelinux schools.
  3. Get free software in the seminars where would-be teachers are trained. In many cases, teachers' software customs are respected by decision makers rather than the expertise of any IT experts.
  4. Don't limit ourself to free software run natively. Everybody uses free software or free licenses (for instance Wikipedia), and this general concept should get expanded to free educational content to be shared world wide (school books e.g.).
  5. Make clear where ever you can that the market share of free (libre) office suites is much above 20 p.c. today, and that you pupils don't need to know the "ribbon menu" in order to get employed.
  6. Talk about the difference between freeware and free software.
  7. Spread free software, or even collections of portable free apps for USB pen drives. Endorse students to get a legal copy of Libreoffice rather than accepting them to use illegal serials. And keep sending documents in ODF formats.

Tags: debian edu, english, intervju.

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