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Interview with C.T. Leung about the LTSP and KDE

In a recent article for the Linux Journal, Mr Leung described setting up a computer lab in his his school with the Linux Terminal Server Project. Seeing that he mentioned KDE a few times, I decided to interview him to find out how he and his students were getting on with our favourite desktop environment.

Tom Chance: Hello, Mr Leung. First, could you introduce yourself for our readers?

C.T. Leung: I am a full time high school teacher and a part time instructor for Universities. At Sisler High School, I teach many diffrent computer courses from Programming in Java, Troubleshooting personal computers, networking, operating systems, and some physics including AP Physics. At the University of Winnipeg, I teach one evening per week on Telecommunications, Intro to Linux (System Admin and Networking).

TC: How have students and staff adjusted to a new desktop environment?

CTL: Students adjusted very fast and in fact, after one to two classes, even some slow students found it very comfortable and most of them like the terminal desktop environment much more than the Windows alternative in other computer labs.

However, I don't have much success with other staff members, as the LTSP is only available in my lab, and in fact the rest of the school, including all other computer labs, classrooms and offices are still running Windows.

TC: What is their most common complaint related to KDE?

CTL: Before I had my new Xeon server up, I tried KDE on my old server (An Athlon 1.2G Hz with 1.5G RAM, 40G IDE hard drive). KDE runs quite slow and in fact, with a bigger class, students who start late might take several minutes before KDE can be loaded.

TC: What was the biggest barrier for you in moving to LTSP in your lab?

CTL: The teacher must be highly motivated as you can hardly find any local or in-school support. If the teacher is competent and devoted the cost on hardware is quite minimal. I can hardly find another teacher in my city (Winnipeg is a medium city with over 600,000 population) that I can share my experience with.

TC: What would you say to convince other schools to use LTSP and KDE?

CTL: Several things:

TC: What are the cost savings, both so far and projected, in using Free Software?

CTL: The cost saving is huge, in my case.

The cost of hardware is just the power server ($4500 CND) and I installed all the Cat5 cables with the help of my students (it was part of networking class work), and I got all my workstations free from Computers for Schools. I believe most teachers can probably do something similar at a very minimal cost.

In my lab, I save $1000 for a copy of Windows NT/2000 server, $200 x 30 copies of Windows XP or equivalent, $1000 x 30 1GHz pc, $100 x 30 copies of Office, $100 x 30 C++. The total saving is about $45,000.

However, the greatest saving is confidence! We are proud to be the first computer lab in our city doing all kinds of computer teaching without Windows!

TC: You mention in part two of your piece that you had to revert to IceWM on your old terminal server. What made you switch back to KDE/GNOME once you had upgraded the hardware?

CTL: IceWM is quick, but the KDE/GNOME has much more features that make it a better desktop environment than Windows. In order to attract Windows users to Open Source, KDE/GNOME are much more convincing.

TC: Is there any software you'd like to see in KDE related to the LTSP?

CTL: If there were something similar to MS Access, I think it would be a killer. mysql is great for undergraduates but might be too difficult for beginners. I remember that Corel Linux has a network neighbourhood browser pretty much the same as the one in Windows. It would be great if we could have something similar in KDE.

TC: Do you make use of any of the KDE Edu software, and is there any educational software in particular that you think KDE would benefit from?

CTL: I use the shell a lot and in fact, I push all my students to learn some basic Linux commands and some simple shell programming in text mode. Other than programming languages such as C, C++, Java, the shell, I also teach students the three main packages Writer, Calc, and Impress in Open Offices. I have never tried any other education packages in KDE other than the aboove mentioned.

TC: Back when I was at school, we all used to hack BASIC on Acorns, until they migrated to Windows. Do you find students discovering the shell and hacking with Bash, Python or other languages more now?

CTL: Absolutely. Once students find out there is much more behind the "click drag, and drop", they start to see the "big picture" and many motivated students enjoy the shell and other languages available on Linux. In fact, many former graduates told me that they are way ahead than students from other schools as they know much more on Linux/Unix.

TC: Have you thought about promoting, or do you already promote, technologies like PyKDE and KDevelop to students?

CTL: Those are the things I am going to learn and promote in the future. I am 57 and close to retirement, but until I die, I see promoting Open Source, promoting Linux as my life-long career.

TC: Mr Leung, thank you very much for your time and answers.

CTL: Thank you for having me in your interview.

This interview was posted on KDE News.