Tuesday, April 14, 2009

OS X vs Windows Vs Linux - Part 1

In Trinity I got used to Unix and liked it but when I was doing the H.Dip. and had to write up some essays I was directed to the Apple Macs in the computer room under the arches up by Westland Row. The screens were small but I was blown away by the word processor. The fonts were beautiful and the print quality from the laser printer just incredible compared to what I was used to from the wide carriage dot matrix stuff in the Maths Department.

When I started working in Clongowes there were 14 standalone DOS pcs, 2 with hard disks and colour monitors. One was linked to a 9-pin dot matrix. I remember loading up Windows 1.0 on one of them. I was fierce impressed byt the clock, it had hands that turned around. Yep I was easily impressed. Once Windows was up and running though you couldn't run any applications as Windows used all the RAM. A student insisted to me that this was the future ..... I was skeptical.

There followed Windows 3, 95, 98 & 98SE. By that time I was in Clongowes 10 years and had just taken over the role of ICT Coordinator in the school. I decided it was time we had a network and that Windows NT Server 4.0 was the way to go. It took me 3 days to get one computer to talk to another but before too long we had a network of two servers (Primary and Backup Domain Controllers in MS terminology) and 24 X Win 98 clients. Win 98 was too easy to mess up so we switched to NT Workstation on the clients. Another couple of years and we jumped to Windows 2000 on the clients and servers. XP on the clients came at a time when I was growing interested in Linux. At that stage I was getting concerned that we were spending a lot of money on licences for Microsoft software and we started using a fair amount of Open Source alternatives. Another couple of years and it was Linux on the servers with Linux and Windows on the clients. StarOffice and Gimp had replaced MS Office and Paint Shop Pro and I was getting confident enough with Linux to start thinking that perhaps XP would be the last version of Windows we would run on our network and that Linux everywhere might be the future albeit quite a few years off.

The computer room was Windows only on the clients as that was what teachers used with their classes. Apples decision to move to Intel chips and the development of boot camp opened up the possibility of having Apple computers in the room as we could boot it up as a Windows machine for class. I had some money left over from another project and splashed out on a Mac Mini. It took a while to get it integrated into the network so that students could log onto it in the same way as other computers and access their files on the server. I found the interface very polished and I liked the way the students embraced the differences and could make comparisons between it and the other operating systems we were using on the network. I started seeing things differently, that while my own preference was for Linux that it was in the students interest to have a variety of operating systems. In the same way that learning a number of languages improves a childs ability to learn any language, having the opportunity to play with a number of operating systems improves their understanding of all of them.

There was a time in Clongowes where we aimed to teach students how to use particular applications well with the understanding it would serve them well when they left the school. So DOS and Word Perfect were the order of the day. The thing is though the pace of change is so fast in the computer industry that it doesn't matter what applications you learn at at 2nd level there will be new versions or completely different applications in use within a few years.

Now the aim in Clongowes is that students be very comfortable with technology, confident that when they are presented with an application they have never used that they can learn it, aware that there are always several ways to get any job done and that one application isn't in itself better than another one just because it is the one they are familiar with.

Now that I have given some background to where we are at in Clongowes, tomorrow I'll have a look at where I think our school network is heading over the next few years both with open source and proprietary software.