Petter Reinholdtsen

Debian Edu interview: Giorgio Pioda
17th September 2012

After a long break in my row of interviews with people in the Debian Edu and Skolelinux community, I finally found time to wrap up another. This time it is Giorgio Pioda, which showed up on the mailing list at the start of this year, asking questions and inspiring us to improve the first time administrators experience with Skolelinux. :) The interview was conduced in May, but I only found time to publish it now.

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

I have a PhD in chemistry but since several years I work as teacher in secondary (15-18 year old students) and tertiary (a kind of "light" university) schools. Five years ago I started to manage a Learning Management Service server and slowly I got more and more involved with IT. 3 years ago the graduating schools moved completely to Linux and I got the head of the IT for this. The experience collected in chemistry labs computers (for example NMR analysis of protein folding) and in the IT-courses during university where sufficient to start. Self training is anyway very important

I live in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, and the SPSE school (secondary) is a very special sport school for young people who try to became sport pro (for all sports, we have dozens of disciplines represented) and we are recognised by the Olympic Swiss Organisation.

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

Looking for Linux / Primary Domain Controller (PDC) I found it already several years ago. But since the system was still not Kerberized and since our schools relies strongly on laptops I didn't use it. I plan to introduce it in the next future, probably for the next school year, since the squeeze release solved this security hole.

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

Many. First of all there is a strong and living community that is very generous for help and hints. Chat help is crucial, together with the mailing list. Second. With Skolelinux you get an already well engineered platform and you don't have to start to build up your PDC and your clients from GNU/scratch; I've already done this once and I can tell it, it is hard. Third, since Skolelinux is a standard platform, it is way easier to educate other IT people and even if the head IT is sick another one could pick up the task without too much hassle.

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

The only real problem I see is that it is a little too less flexible at client level. Debian stable is rocky and desirable, but there are many reasons that force for another choice. For example the need of new drivers for new PC, or the need for a specific OS for some devices that have specific software packages for another specific distribution (I have such a case for whiteboards that have only Ubuntu packages). Thus, I prepared compatibility packages educlient and eduroaming, hoping not to use them ;-)

Which free software do you use daily?

I have a Debian Stable PDC at school (Kerberos, NIS, NFS) with mixed Debian and Ubuntu clients. If you think that this triad combination is exotic... well I discovered right yesterday that Perceus has the same...

For myself I run Debian wheezy/sid, but this combination is good only I you have enough competence to fix stuff for yourself, if something breaks. Daily I use texmacs, gnumeric, a little bit of R statistics, kmplot, and less frequently

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

I think that the only real argument that school managers "hear" is cost reduction. They don't give too much weight on quality, stability, just because they are normally not open to change.

Students adapts very quickly to GNU/Linux (and for them being able to switch between different OS is a plus value); teachers and managers don't.

We decided to move to Linux because students at our school have own laptop and we have the responsibility to keep the laptop ready to use; we were really unsatisfied with Microsoft since every Monday we had 20 machine to fix for viral infections... With Linux this has been reduced to zero, since people installs almost only from official repositories. I think that our special needs brought us to Linux. Those who don't have such needs will hardly move to Linux.

Tags: debian edu, english, intervju.

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