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John Spencer

Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

Ysgol goes FOSS

It may be, at last, happening.

Article comments
It could be the most significant escape act since David Blaine dangled over the Thames in a cage. It would be a turning point in school ICT. 

What exactly? Why, only the great escape from XP and IE7, that’s all! And as you know the ‘XP-trap’ is the most depressing, most effective incarceration outside Guantanamo. Thousands of educationalists are imprisoned through little fault of their own ... wrong place wrong time.

It’s so simple. A school bought all its computers during a New Labour spend-fest. These, no longer beige but now black, are XP boxes with IE6 and with MS Office included ... a wonder of the age. Time passes; MS Office goes from XP to 2003 to 2007 to Office 10. IE goes from 6 to 7 to 8 and to 9. XP upgrades to Vista then to Windows 7 ...and 8 is coming.

Ah, but schools ran out of money years ago, and given the spec of their ageing stock they have to stick to XP because their machines slow to a halt with any bigger OS. Ok, no-problem, they can still run later versions of Office and IE on XP. Yes, true...most schools now run MS office 2007 and IE7 on XP.

Hang on a mo’. Don’t many websites now need IE9? And aren’t we migrating stuff into the Cloud which demands top notch browser ability? Hmm. IE9 won’t work on XP. We’d better install Chrome or Firefox. Office 10 works on XP (Sp3) but support for 10 on XP is not there. Cloud-based MS Office 365 requires IE8 or later but no support is available for it on XP or Vista ... oh dear.

In reality, edu-land is an open-prison populated with XP-lifers running Office 2007 and IE7: worse though is that not only has in-jail support been cut there is no longer any bail money. That’s the software trap. There is no parole date and it is a bit of a shame I think.

But my despair vanished as I read a press release of a daring breakout engineered by arguably the UK’s best known open source software apologists, the Sirius Corporation who are based in Weybridge, Surrey, England.

Reading on in the release, I find that by using the best of technologies based on free, open source software, Sirius has successfully deployed Linux reliability, Cloud trendiness and tablet sexiness into public sector education. 

They won their client over by using Google Docs and Apple iPads ‘samba’d’ with Debian servers. The PC desktops and laptops were also Debian and so must sport Linux desktops but the GUI was not made clear. Surely it was KDE? KDE the most magical and Druid-like of all desktops. It would be appropriate as this all happened in Wales (for US readers Wales is a westerly part of the UK where it rains a lot).

In Wales the lucky plant* and 27 athrowon** at Ysgol*** Maesydderwen based in Ystradgynlais (near Swansea) got the full benefit of new technology.  Here in the valleys they will be better able (as a result of the improvements in computing) to teach the school’s new Welsh Bagloriaeth****. Altogether it’s a release from the XP tyranny that saves money.

You may mock this little pioneer, maybe because you have never even heard of Ystradgylais let alone Maesydderwen, but you’d be wrong to do so: the revolution has to start somewhere boyo.

And above all it proves that the XP trap can be broken ... all it needs is will, vision, a bit of magic, the willingness to lock into the products of mega-corporations that aren’t Microsoft and a good consultant with a flexible definition of FOSS.

Gweithiodd yn dda***** as we would say in Surrey if we weren't in Weybridge and couldn’t speak Welsh. 

* children, ** teachers, ***school ****Baccalaureate *****well done/made
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