Sunday, April 10, 2011

Killer feature for big Education deployments: kiosk returns

Most of the people I've met that participate in taking the decisions in IT related to Education in public administrations related are not technicians. Many people around libre software tend to think that the decision to go for Windows or Linux based desktops (GNOME  or KDE) has a lot to do with technical, usability or the look & feel features. Throughout the years, we have concentrate a lot is these aspects hoping that winning the any of those wars, we would suceed in being chosen as the default desktop in education.

During the decision process made by those people, when considering KDE and GNOME as default desktop compared to Windows, three considerations play on our side:
  • TCO cost
  • Availability of many useful applications within a classroom.
  • Computer's lifecycle increase.
Thanks to our effort, most of the good applications we have in Linux plattforms, are already availiable for Windows. KDE has done a huge and succesful effort in this area (KDE for Windows project).

The TCO cost is a relevant one, but it is not the most important one. The experience tell us that it is the mainteinance and support the biggest piece of the cake in the medium term.

That cost has basically 3 sources:
  1. Communication (connectivity)
  2. Hardware
  3. Software

If we ask any user support department from a IT Education oriented organization, they will tell you that most of the software support queries comes from:
  1. Users that do not know how to use the software
  2. Teachers that report that the software do not work properly because an unexpected action from a student. 

The second queries are fatal ones since they are more difficult and more expensive, to solve.

When talkign about migrating schools from Windows to Linux based desktops, one of the major features KDE had to offer in the past was our ability to port in a more scalable and cheaper way many of the features implementd in schools related to user profiles and desktop lockdown offered with Windows desktop + Active Directory. We could do that because of Kiosk.

During the KDE Edu Sprint public event that is took place yesterday in Bilbao, two people from two different Edu projects, one from Portugal and another one from Spain, pointed out the strong effort that is taking to them porting what they usually did in KDE3 with Kiosk to KDE4. In fact, they both agreed that support queries will increase due to unexpected actions done by students with the new software (KDE4).

It is easy to think that for big deployments, not having fully implemented kiosk is a major obstacle for switching from KDE3 to KDE4. Without kiosk mode working properly, we cannot compete with the Adctive Directory + Windows desktop in most of the features related with user profiles and lockdown of unusable features either.

From my point of view, related to Education, our priority should be to have a  fully inplementation of kiosk mode for KDE4. If we want to beat Windows in Education, we have to think about the maintenance cost of having a huge number of desktops to take care of. Kiosk is in these situations is the best feature we can offer.

We have talked about this during the KDE Edu Sprint. Alex Fiestas  is already doing some previous work in order to know what is missing and what is the effort needed to bring kiosk mode back in KDE 4.

I cannot think on a better way of having in the near future more new deployments in schools based on KDE 4, and the ones we already have switching smoothly to KDE 4, than giving them a killer feature that has a direct impact in medium term costs. Kiosk was our strongest feature in this area. It is worth it to have it back, even better if we can.