Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Jumping on the Linux train

The Computer Science department at my college made the leap to Linux this year. Why?

We needed to have a stable programming environment for our students. Microsoft products have more than their fair share of problems but our need was to isolate the programming environment from our own Information Technology department.

They have blundered the installation of operating systems and software every year since I started at the college. Last year they forgot to include Microsoft Studio in the software image and hacked the operating system so badly that the software couldn't be installed to imaged computers. Another year the prematurely upgrade Windows to a version that wouldn't support any language compilers on the market. Of course the faculty found out about these changes during the first week of school. Computer Science clearly had to take control of their own computing environment.

At this school students are required to lease an imaged Compaq nx9010 laptop from the school for over $1000 per year. They are prohibited from connecting to the netowrk with any other computer. The computer labs became forgotten step-children as soon as the laptops came on campus so they weren't a viable alternative. The answer came in the form of Linux.

We repartioned the hard drive of a laptop using Partition Magic (version 8) reserving half of the drive for the Windows image installed by the college. We then installed Fedora Core 3 from CD. The entire process took less than an hour. The result is a dual-boot system allowing Computer Science students to work in either Windows XP or Linux environment according to their needs at the time. We then made sure we had the programming languages we needed to teach our courses. Much of it was included with Fedora. Java and Java Beans are available free for downloading from Sun Microsystems and we found a nice little version of BASIC for the introductory programming course. Everything worked smoothly!

I took the test system home for the summer and experienced no problems with it.
Fedora released Core 4 before the semester started so we decided to try that. The Operating Systems and Advanced Programming Topics were selected for our pilot. The students partitioned their own drives and installed Core 4 from DVD during class. It was a breeze.

Almost all of the installations completed during class time. I only had to finish two after class because some students got off to a late start. After five weeks, the students feel much more confident in using the Linux side of their computers. Other students started coming to my office to plead for Linux within the first week of classes. So far Linux has exceeded our expectations.

I'll offer a couple tips to help interested parties.

Have students install the Battery Charge Indication to the GNOME panel right away. This will help prevent students from losing their code when the batteries run dry. While you're at it, add a link to Terminal as well to give the student a fast way to the UNIX shell.

Buy a few copies of Learning Red Hat Enterprise: Linux & Fedora by McCarty. This book is available form O'Reilly Publishing and is in it's 4th edition. This will help any reluctant students adapt to their new operating system,

Perhaps I'll have more tips later in the semester.

Happy computing!


Blogger ChrisWoznitza said...

Hi I´m Chris. Greatings from Germany Bottrop !!

4:42 PM  

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