Aiming to make further inroads into the education market, two leading providers of Linux-based software have announced major discount programs targeted at United States schools. The promotions mark an attempt to shift education customers from proprietary operating systems such as Windows to less expensive, open-source alternatives–an increasingly alluring option for school technology leaders in light of waning budgets.

Last month SUSE, a German provider of open-source software applications, launched the SUSE Linux Education Program, which provides students, educators, school districts, universities, and nonprofit organizations with 40-percent discounts on a variety of SUSE solutions, including the company’s Linux 9.0 and Linux Desktop applications as well as its Standard Server and Enterprise Server products.

“The SUSE Linux Education Program provides the education sector with the fastest growing high-end computing technology at an affordable price,” said Holger Dyroff, general manager of the company’s Americas division, in a statement. “We think this will help drive the penetration of Linux even further by exposing the next generation of programmers and computer users to the benefits and versatility of open-source software.”

By running Linux 9.0 on workstations, SUSE claims, schools can benefit from a variety of applications relevant for lessons, such as text processing, spreadsheets, eMail clients, internet browsers, and graphics and video editing software.

Schools with large IT infrastructures might opt for Linux Desktop, a SUSE-maintained desktop operating system that enables users to install Microsoft’s popular Office product on Linux-based machines. On the back end, SUSE’s Linux Standard Server and Enterprise Server can be used to run file, print, eMail, and web servers from a Linux platform.

The discounts currently are available through SUSE’s United States resellers, CCV Software and RICIS Inc.

On Dec. 3, North Carolina-based Linux provider Red Hat Inc. responded to rival SUSE’s announcement with a similar promotion of its own, intended to make its open-source software more appealing to school customers.

According to the company, students, faculty, and staff members of qualified institutions now can access Red Hat Academic solutions either as individual subscriptions or through a site-based program.

For students, Red Hat offers its Enterprise Linux WS Academic Edition, which provides a desktop environment–including the operating system platform as well as personal productivity applications–for a subscription price of $25 a year.

Schools can purchase Red Hat’s server software for $50 a year. The Enterprise Linux AS Academic Edition includes applications for network infrastructure, web hosting, and High Performance Computing (HPC) server farms.

If a school or school system is considering a large-scale deployment of Linux, Red Hat recommends its Site Subscription. Priced at $2,500 per year, a basic package includes unlimited service subscriptions to Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS Academic Edition for all systems personally owned or operated by students, faculty, and staff. It also includes a Red Hat Network Proxy Server and Red Hat Network management entitlements, enabling institutions to simplify and standardize their support of all systems.

“These new academic solutions put the technology that is shaping this century in the hands of tomorrow’s leaders at a fraction of the cost of proprietary alternatives,” said John Young, vice president of marketing at Red Hat. “Red Hat continues to strengthen the ties between academia and open-source development by putting open-source technology within easy reach of educational institutions, students, and faculty.”

Supporters of the open-source movement in schools have praised the initiatives.

“This is a welcome move by Red Hat to enable universities to use premium Red Hat Enterprise Linux at a very low cost,” said Frank Starmer, associate provost for information technology at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). “We see this as a very rational pricing structure and are eager to deploy the Red Hat Academic Editions at MUSC.”

What makes Linux different is that unlike most proprietary operating systems on the market today, including those offered by Microsoft Corp., the source code for Linux is shared freely among users, who are allowed to add to or change it at will. This communal approach, proponents contend, can save schools thousands, if not millions, of dollars in total cost of ownership.

But while the operating system is free to users, skeptics of the open-source movement caution that integrating a Linux-based platform does cost money. Unlike a Microsoft OS, for example, the Linux platform does not come readily equipped with applications for word processing, eMail, and web browsing. Instead, companies such as SUSE and Red Hat sell these and other tools as bundled distributions to schools and businesses. The companies also offer service and support options to customers–all of which add to the total cost of the solution.

In theory, schools using Linux could develop their own brand of applications for the OS. But in most cases, especially in the K-12 arena, educational institutions have neither the time nor the resources to build their own Linux-ready solutions.

Emily Trask, an analyst with Boston-based Eduventures Inc., doesn’t think the discounts alone will be enough to lure most schools away from their proprietary Windows systems.

“There are some interesting things happening [with Linux] that could offer potential benefits for schools, but we’re not really seeing widespread adoption as of yet,” she said.

Trask points out that while a number of universities already have adopted Linux for its versatility as a research and teaching tool, K-12 institutions exist primarily in a culture where reliability and support are far more important than flexibility.

Trask questioned whether using Linux would be any less expensive than a traditional operating system in the long run, saying the ongoing cost of support, along with the price of applications, has yet to demonstrate a true cost savings for schools.

“It’s not about the up-front costs; it’s about the total cost of ownership,” she said. “Is it really less expensive in the long run?”

Links:

Red Hat
http://www.redhat.com

SUSE
http://www.suse.com/us

Eduventures Inc.
http://www.eduventures.com