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Open season

John Osbourne's Tips

* See open source in action in a school. That way, you'll get a clear idea of how it works.

* It isn't a case of Windows or open source - you can run your Windows software on an open source platform and vice versa.

* Children will take to open source software in no time.

* Timing is the key. If your network is getting old and you're thinking of upgrading it, then it's a good time to consider moving.

* Staff may need a little training, but mainly because the desktop looks slightly different from what they're used to.

* You may need to alter your schemes of work. For instance, some of our schemes of work were Microsoft-specific; we have now changed them.

* Find a company that will install and manage your open source system. The number of companies offering this service is increasing.

* You don't have to go for a "big bang" approach. You can run OpenOffice on a Windows platform, for example, and get people used to it before making the switch.

* You can always change over in a piecemeal fashion, say, converting one computer suite at a time.

* Thin clients are not suitable for intensive multimedia, so you'll still need "fat client" machines. For example, we've put Sibelius, the music creation program, on a suite of PCs in our music department. We also use Apple Macs for video editing. But you don't need powerful PCs for most classroom ICT activities.

* Do the sums - then you'll see why open source should be seriously considered by all schools.

Links and contacts

* Orwell School

* Becta's report "Open Source Software in School" can be downloaded from

* Cutter Tel: 0870 870 1694

* Linux Useful links include:

* Ability Office

* OpenOffice

* StarOffice www.sun.comsoftwarestarstarofficeindex.xml

Trouble with Regional Broadband Consortium

Orwell High School isn't just blazing a trail with open source - it also decided to leave its Regional Broadband Consortium (RBC) and go it alone. Ten RBCs were set up in England to help schools acquire high-speed broadband links at favourable rates. While many schools are happy with their RBC, Orwell was less than satisfied with E2BN, which serves the east of England. "They went for dedicated BT lines into school to give us a 2mbps (megabits per second) link. The charge was pound;10,500 a year. Two years down the road, we still had no content, the network was incredibly flaky - we regularly had down-time in the day," notes deputy head John Osborne. There were other problems and they opted out 18 months ago.

Orwell selected a local ISP, which charges the school pound;900 per year for a 2mbps ADSL line. "It has not gone wrong once in 18 months, and we do all our filtering on the Cache Pilot [a web cache developed by Equiinet]. There are some very good RBCs, but my advice to schools that are unhappy with theirs is to go outside - there's so much choice out there," says Osborne.

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