UKUUG Linux 2005 Conference, day one, first session!

The UKUUG Linux 2005 Conference is taking place right now here at Swansea University. Naturally, I’ve been taking a look.

I skipped the tutorials yesterday, although it sounds like the one on Zsh was quite interesting and in particular showed off lots of shiny things you can do with that. One of the reasons I didn’t go is because, well, I really can’t swap from Bash can I? What would the wife think? Well, it turns out she’s clued in enough that apparently, if Zsh really is that good, she’ll consider changing her name. ;-)

I’m currently missing some talks, but this morning there was a really good one on “Experiences of a large linux deployment in education“. It seems that schools in this country waste shedloads of (taxpayers’) money on IT, paying and re-paying for proprietary software licenses, constantly churning hardware (eg 3 year cycles are typical), usually without real in-house IT expertise. The government’s target is a 1:4 ratio of computers to pupils, which 33% of schools had met last year, but that number is going to decrease not increase because many of those schools have now run out of budget for upgrades they’ll need over the next couple of years. Their installations are expensive, complicated, fragile in the face of “improperly-motivated” students, and require lots of time-consuming installation and maintenance.

The guys speaking this morning went into a school in Felixstowe last September and installed IBM Blade application servers and loads of thin clients running Linux and KDE. They have a Windows 2003 Terminal Server for their legacy Windows stuff. The students don’t resist using Linux – they don’t care, they pick it up in no time – but there’s been resistance from staff, who are only just dealing with Windows. So the staff continue using Windows laptops to admin this stuff, with NX bridging the gap. KDE’s a win for them because it looks like Windows, but also because it’s apparently got a very tight and manageable “kiosk mode” in which it’s completely locked down. Over the 12 months since rollout, the school has had one “tampering” incident to deal with, as opposed to the previous situation of having to rebuild/reinstall one or two boxes per week because of malware or general student breakage. Win.

The thin clients can run on old boxes people are giving away. They heard about someone giving away 40 PIIIs, spent 47 quid hiring a minibus, and went and collected them. A classroom of PCs for 47 quid. The school in question has smashed the 1:4 ratio, and slashed their IT budget by about 30 grand per annum. Using thin clients really has made the system trivial to maintain (they’ve only returned to the school for upgrades and development, not maintenance – the school has an IT guy, but he’s not a Linux guy… It just works.) and easy to expand.

Sounds good to me. Only shame is they’ve only done this on the educational/pedagogical side, not the schools admin/office side, which is apparently much hairier and where fat clients are still, realistically, necessary. Cutter Project for more info.

After that I went to hear about “Adopting a driver – from fixing typos to breaking thousands of machines worldwide” which was a bit more technical (though not hugely), and mainly about the woes of freeform open source development. Interesting, but less of a jaw-dropper than the first.

Then coffee in the Digital Technium atrium – a woefully small space for nigh-on a hundred geeks to drink coffee, talk, and (largely) sit around tapping away at laptops. Shame.

I decided to skip the current session and come here for some work. So I should really do some now, I guess. :-)