Macedonia Deploys 5,000 GNOME Desktops in Public Schools
When the Republic of Macedonia decided to deploy Linux in 468 schools and 182 computer labs nationwide, they chose GNOME on an Ubuntu distribution. Arangel Angov met with Darko Arsov, Technology Integration Manager at the Education Development Center, to find out more about their reasons for using GNOME.
The Republic of Macedonia is a small country in Southern Europe with a population of around 2 million. Internet penetration is only around 5% and software piracy is rampant. Also, the government does not play any major role in the development of the ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) and a private sector is dominated by Microsoft technologies.
Given the circumstances, one would not expect any free software related stories to make the headlines. Yet the presence of a small volunteer organization by the name Free Software Macedonia is making a big difference in this small country.
At the time of writing this article, all major Free Open Source Software (FOSS) projects have either been translated or were close to being translated in Macedonian language. Tools such as spell checkers are also under development. Although, resources are scarce, dedication and enthusiasm has kept these projects going.
This particular write-up is about implementation of GNOME.
It was in early August that a friend of mine told me about a project involving mass deployment of FOSS in public schools throughout the Republic of Macedonia.
After a little research, I found out that the project involved deployment of Ubuntu Linux, which comes with GNOME as a default desktop environment. About 5000 PC’s in all of the public schools in Macedonia, both primary and secondary, got Ubuntu and GNOME deployed on them.
As a part of a joined project called “E-School.MK”, US Agency for International Development (USAID), Education Development Center (EDC) and the Macedonian Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) decided to install Ubuntu Linux in all the 468 schools and some 182 computer labs all over the country.
Later on with the help of a GNOME user that worked at EDC (the organization responsible for the E-School.MK project) as a network administrator, I got in touch with Darko Arsov and arranged a one-on-one interview. Darko was working on this project since its inception. He is the Technology Integration Manager at EDC. In the interview he explained the decision to choose Ubuntu and GNOME and also their future plans and activities that are part of the ongoing project.
We met at a local cafe just opposite of the EDC headquarters in the west side of the capital Skopje. I started the interview by asking Darko what made them consider deploying Ubuntu and GNOME in the first place.
Darko: After a few meetings and some research, Ubuntu just came up as first on the list. The main factor that influenced our choice was the interoperability of Ubuntu with other operating systems. GNOME is really all about simplicity and usability. The simple and easy-to-use GNOME UI had a great influence on the final decision and to be honest we’re quite happy with our choice thus far.
Q. When was the project started and how long until it’s complete?
Darko: The planning started in early 2004 and the actual implementation began in June during the summer holidays. In about four months we’ve managed to clone 5000 PC’s and install high speed WiFi Internet in 460 schools.
Q. How do you like the Ubuntu and GNOME 6-month release cycle?
Darko: Well the 6-month release cycle has advantages, because it allows the software to be stable and well tested before it gets to the hands of the end users. Also, this gives some nice planning advantages because you know when you can expect a new version and you know that twice a year your software gets updated with new features.
Q. Are you aware of the existence of free software projects such as the education applications at gnomefiles.org and/or EDUbuntu, and do you plan to introduce them as a part of your project?
Darko: We heard about EDUbuntu – the educational version of Ubuntu and we are waiting for the official release to be released before we consider if this project satisfies the needs of the Macedonian educational system. I think that there is a strong possibility of implementing something like this in the near future. We’re also interested in localizing some of the educational applications for GNOME and implement them in the existing environment.
Q. Since the PC’s are running GNOME 2.8 on Ubuntu Warty, do you plan to upgrade them to a newer version of GNOME, and why did you install Warty in the first place?
Darko: Of course, one of our main project goals is sustainability and that’s why we’ll even encourage teachers to keep up with releases and upgrade regularly. Since GNOME 2.12 is fully translated into Macedonian we would most certainly upgrade all the PC’s as soon as possible. When we started planning the project, somewhere at the beginning of 2004, Warty was still the stable release of Ubuntu and because we had it tested we decided to go with it all the way. But, as I said previously, we’ll make sure that the PC’s are upgraded regularly.
Q. Do you plan to support the use of free software such as GNOME in the near future. Could you tell us something more about this?
Darko: Everything we did regarding this project was in collaboration with the MoES and we hope that the MoES will continue supporting the use of free and open source software in the educational institutions throughout the country. We are and will be supporting these kinds of projects because we consider free software to be the best tool that makes it possible for students to learn how things work in a certain software making them understand the process of creating a program far more easily. I would also like to mention that we’ve set up 82 wireless hot spots in these labs both in rural and urban areas around the country. We hope that the fast Internet connection will allow both students and teachers to learn more about the software they’re using, how to add software, play with the code and participate in programming projects. We definitely support and encourage both students and teachers to experiment in their newly deployed environments so they can get to know the desktop environment and the OS as a whole.
As a part of this project through seminars and some training we’ll also be providing some 10,000 teachers from both primary and secondary schools, the basic skills for working with GNU/Linux and GNOME. At the end, we’ll be analyzing the short and long-term effects of the project.
Q. Anything else?
Darko: 🙂 We’re also working on a web portal intended for students. The portal will definitely be an open source project where students could open accounts, upload their code, join up in teams to work together on software projects, share experiences and above all learn things from which they will all benefit in the future.
As a big supporter and user of GNOME, I hope that in the long run this project will be successful. I hope that it’ll help in transforming the new generation of coders into new GNOME developers that will continue to create, maintain, document and localize quality free software for generations to come.