In the dark ages (circa, just after the DotCom bust of the new millennium), I had heard of Linux, Unix and BSD operating systems, but had never put any time in on them. I was familiar with the idea that most of the big corporations ran their mission-critical applications on Unix machines with custom-coded operating systems; most web-based applications were hosted Linux or BSD based operating systems. That was enough for me in early 2000. I had grown up with MS-DOS, BASIC for programming and later, Windows as an OS. Boy the times have changed!
Later in 2001, I took the position as a Technology Coordinator for a small school district in the Ozarks. Budgets were tight back then, and I inherited an ancient computer lab with which I was supposed to teach students how to be technologically literate so they could have useful computer skills when they entered the job market. Those computers were pushed to their limits just to run Windows 98 (and some of them struggled to run Windows 95). Those computers were filled with malware, spyware, adware and other vices of the Internet age (the proxy filter which the school was paying thousands for was not working correctly).
Then a good friend from my high school days (who is an ultra elite uber geek government contractor with top secret security clearance) told me that I should learn more about BSD and Linux (he was a professed Unix-geek, but a fan of the BSD and Linux variants). BSD proved to be too needy and geeky for me, but Linux appeared to have the mixture of just the right stuff for me: community support, hardware drivers and user-friendly (sort of) applications. I jumped in on Red Hat version 7 and never looked back. Soon after I learned of the K12LTSP community which turned out to be a lifesaver (and budget saver) for me.
It wasn't long before I had a beta-test application server setup (1 Ghz Celeron processor with 512 Mb RAM). This machine would serve the applications to my oldest PCs (Pentium 1, 133 Mhz machines with 64 Mb RAM). Suddenly, the old and slow pieces of junk were moving at what seemed like lightning speed! Eureka! I had discovered the greatest secret for Technology Coordinators everywhere! Don't throw away your old piece of crap machines from the late 90's! They make excellent "thin client" computers (I call them "fat clients" - because PCs of the 90s were anything but thin).
Next I decided to install a Pentium 4 machine as the application server instead of the Celeron machine (that became the new, fully-functioning proxy filter). With a Pentium 4 machine running at 2.4 Ghz and with 2 Gb RAM, I now had some "serious" horsepower to play with. I setup a classroom writing lab for the English teacher in her own classroom with 9 "fat clients", a laser printer and an overhead LCD projector (sorry, no Smartboard). The kids and the teacher loved it! Now she didn't have to reserve time in my outdated computer lab so her students could do their writing or research. That classroom became self sufficient overnight.
Suddenly the Science and Math teachers wanted a mini classroom computer lab like the English teacher. Then the History teacher joined the fray. Next one of the upper elementary teachers wanted one also, and so did the Special Education teacher! Wow! This thing started taking off!
Linux and Open Source Software had saved the day (and thousands of dollars in licensing fees versus doing the same thing with Microsoft). Linux and OSS allowed me to:
- create a web server (free)
- create a CMS (content management server) (free)
- create an email server (free)
- create an Internet proxy filter (free)
- create a file server (free)
- create several application servers for classrooms (free)
- use MS Office file formats, running on OpenOffice (free)
Thanks to all the Linux geeks!