Linux is a free computer operating system that offers the potential for true multitasking and greater stability than Windows, its proponents say. But will Linux catch fire among K-12 educators who are already comfortable using the Windows platform on school PCs? (At the moment, the question isn’t germane for educators using Macintosh operating systems.)

Corel Corp. thinks Windows-using educators are ready for a switch. At the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando in early March, Corel demonstrated its own desktop version of Linux, which, the company claims, is easy to install, easy to use, and simple to integrate within existing networked environments.

The software can be downloaded without cost from Corel’s web site and be installed in a separate partition on the hard drive of Windows-based computers, so the machines can run using either system.

Unlike earlier versions, Corel’s version of Linux employs a graphical user interface. Installation is as simple as clicking through a few prompts, Corel said.

Users can create up to eight “virtual desktops” at the same time, which means they can print files on one desktop, surf the web on another, and create a multimedia presentation on a third desktop simultaneously. The virtual desktops can be managed from a single tool bar at the bottom of the screen.

So far, one of the biggest barriers to widespread adoption of Linux—the open-source operating system first developed by Finnish student Linus Torvalds in the early 1990s—has been the lack of applications developed to run on it. But in April, Corel will take a huge step toward solving that problem when it launches a Linux-based version of its WordPerfect Office 2000 suite with word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software.

Educators who previewed the software at FETC generally were impressed. Some also said Linux could be a great fit for the education market, because of its low ownership cost and flexible deployment.

“Schools are spending thousands of dollars a year to license Windows,” one Florida educator said, “and with Linux, there is no planned obsolescence every few years.”

Most attendees also agreed that Linux might be a tough sell to educators who are already using Windows.

“What we’re going to have to see is a grassroots movement” for Linux to catch on among K-12 schools, said Derik Belair, director of strategic applications for Corel.

Belair said schools can use existing applications on Linux machines by employing a Citrix server. He also said students could benefit by working with Linux, because they’d be able to contribute to its evolution by submitting their own lines of code to the Linux development community.

Market research firm International Data Corp. predicts Linux will be the fastest-growing operating system during the next three years, with a 25-percent compound annual growth rate through 2003.

Portal wars

The 12,000 or so educators who attended this year’s FETC were greeted by a host of companies vying to become the next big education portal site on the web.

Some of these sites offer tools, such as templates for posting student and class information on the internet. Others provide content, such as curriculum resources and links to relevant educational sites. But they all have one thing in common: They’re jockeying for educators’ eyes—and web clicks—as they seek to become the launching pad for internet exploration in K-12 schools.

New K-12 upstart bigchalk.com, formed when Infonautics Inc. and Bell & Howell Co. combined their education business units, announced its purchase of HomeworkCentral.com, a web site made up of links to free learning resources on the web.

The acquisition bolsters bigchalk.com’s content and gives the company an additional gateway to hundreds of thousands of web surfers. In February alone, HomeworkCentral.com hosted 320,000 unique visitors and logged 4.5 million page views, the company said.

Bigchalk.com also introduced three new fee-based products at the conference:

1. Bigchalk Retriever, an integrated library search engine that searches across all of a school library’s electronic data sources simultaneously;

2. Bigchalk Classmate, a curriculum tool for teachers that delivers targeted source content from the company’s reference databases and selected web sites; and

3. Bigchalk Assessment, which tests students’ abilities, provides instant evaluation for teachers, and guides parents to the best curriculum resources to help improve student performance, the company says.

Highwired.com, a Massachusetts-based company that started as a host site for online student newspapers, recently expanded to include free web publishing tools for high school classrooms, extracurricular activities, guidance departments, and athletics departments.

At FETC, Highwired.com demonstrated its SchoolCentral service, which competes with other school web site-hosting communities such as FamilyEducation Network and nschool.com, with one major exception: It’s targeted exclusively toward high schools. Highwired.com claims to be used by some 10,000 schools.

Another new portal site, Riverdeep.net, merges the science content from Logal.net and the math content from Riverdeep.com to provide a core curriculum of multimedia courseware and interactive simulations for students in grades six to12. Some of the content is free and some is available only by subscription.

At FETC, Riverdeep announced it has inked an agreement with EDVantage Learning to license EDVantage’s language arts curriculum, and a company spokesman said Riverdeep plans to develop its own curriculum for elementary school teachers by next year.

In addition to curriculum resources, Riverdeep.net offers an up-to-date listing of grant opportunities by region through a partnership with SchoolGrants.org. The Riverdeep.net web site also includes an eCommerce section, where schools can purchase supplies from Riverdeep partners—including Dell PCs, N2H2 filtering software, and McAfee virus protection software—at discount. Riverdeep.net claims to have 700,000 individual subscribers; about 80 percent of them are students.

Other conference news

Acer America Corp. unveiled its WarpLink wireless communicator card, which, the company said, is intended to ease the deployment of wireless computing in the classroom. The cards use 2.4 GHz frequency-hopping spread-spectrum technology to transmit data wirelessly. It has an indoor range up to 500 feet and speed up to 1 Mbps. The cards, which are offered through Acer’s NeWeb division, support PCMCIA, ISA, and USB formats and start at $199 per pair.

Acer also demonstrated its WT 300 Windows-based terminal, a thin-client device with optional smart-card security that lets users log into a school’s network by inserting a card into an external smart-card reader. The WT 300, which retails at $529 per unit, is similar to Sun Microsystems’ Sun Ray device, with two exceptions: It doesn’t run on a proprietary platform, and it doesn’t let users resume their sessions where they left off by inserting a smart card. But a company representative said Acer is working to develop a wireless version of the WT 300.

Apex Learning announced it would offer five additional fee-based Advanced Placement courses online this fall: English Composition, U.S. History, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Together with Apex’s existing line of U.S. Government and Politics, Calculus AB, Statistics, Macroeconomics, and Microeconomics, Apex’s offerings will account for 75 percent of the advanced placement (AP) exams taken each year, a company representative said.

Apex also has expanded its free AP review site this year, which is available at the company’s web site.

Apple Computer showed its iMac DV edition, which comes with all the features of the iMac, plus a 400 MHz G3 processor, slot-loading DVD drive, 10 GB of disk storage, and iMovie video-editing software for $1,249.

Chancery Software said its K12Planet school-to-home internet connection is set to launch in April. The service, which will be bundled for free with the company’s Open District student information system, automatically imports data from Open District to a secure web site hosted by Chancery, where parents can log on to see their children’s grades, attendance, and other information. K12Planet is being tested in five pilot sites, and the software needed to use the system will be shipped to about 7,500 schools that already use Open District at no additional cost.

Gateway introduced a small-form, network-ready PC called the Astro, which combines a 400 MHz Intel Celeron processor and a 15-inch monitor into a single unit for just $799. A special promotion for schools will equip the Astro with an easy-to-install USB Ethernet adapter at no additional cost, for a limited time.

Knowledge Adventure announced that its Classworks Gold curriculum software library is available in a special Florida edition that is correlated to the Sunshine State Standards. The Florida edition is the second state-specific edition of Classworks Gold that Knowledge Adventure has published in the past year, and spokeswoman Julie Gates said the company will continue to develop other state-specific versions.

Knowledge Adventure also introduced a satellite-based, on-demand professional development resource called the Dynamic Educational Workshop. The product comes with a satellite dish and content box that sits next to a school’s server. Through a satellite feed to the internet, full-motion video training modules can be downloaded to the content box at speeds up to 6 Mbps, where they can be stored and accessed at teachers’ desktop computers whenever needed.

Training modules, based on software from Knowledge Adventure and other popular titles, consist of an overview, a step-by-step guide for using the software, and suggested classroom applications. Pricing is $30,000 for a three-year license, with an option to renew at the end of three years. If a school chooses not to renew the license, it would return the satellite dish but keep the content box and existing modules.

Macromedia Inc. also launched a training product for educators. Called Web Design 101, the kit contains six hours of course curriculum, example files, and 90-day free trial versions of five popular Macromedia web development products—Director, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash, and FreeHand—for an entire classroom.

Acer’s NeWeb Division
http://www.acerneweb.com

Apex Learning
http://www.apexlearning.com

Apple Computer
http://www.apple.com

bigchalk.com
http://www.bigchalk.com

Chancery Software
http://www.chancery.com

Corel Corp.
http://www.corel.com

Gateway
http://www.gateway.com

Highwired.com
http://www.highwired.com

Knowledge Adventure
http://www.knowledgeadventure.com

Macromedia Inc.
http://www.macromedia.com

Riverdeep Inc.
http://www.riverdeep.net