foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

Astonishing example of what FOSS software is up against: Teacher confiscates Linux CDs

, posted: 11-Dec-2008 03:57

(Please note the updates at the bottom of this posting...)

From this blog here, we learn about a case where a school teacher sees some kids sharing free Linux disks at school ... and proceeds to confiscate the disks, claiming them to be illegal. The teacher then writes to the father (who provided those disks to the kids):
"... at this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline... putting linux on these machines is holding our kids back...

This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older version of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them..."
So, the teacher doesn't understand the concept of free software and scuttles attempts by students to learn about it. Wonderful! Pure and unadulterated ignorance at work in the school system.

In fact, if you read the comments to that blog post you will find that some readers simply can't believe that this story could be true. However, other commenters then chime in to relay similar experiences:
"I can attest to this behavior. I have been working with a few high school students in Orlando, FL who were SUSPENDED for sharing Ubuntu disks. The comment was that there is no such thing as a "FREE" operating system, this is pirated software."
And also:
"Unfortunately, the story is definitely true. I had a very similar discussion a few months ago with a teacher at the local High School. She insisted that the kids MUST be taught Microsoft Word, as 'it's the only legal word processing software'."
And from a teacher in the same school district:
"We are 'encouraged strongly' to discourage the use of anything other than Microsoft products in the school district... I have been trying to get our school district to use Linux for 3 years and I've been told that I am to desist with this quest if I want to keep my job."
Whether or not the particulars of this story are real, every FOSS advocate is familiar with strong push-back and ignorance by decision makers and educators. It is saddening how deeply ingrained the believe is that proprietary software is the only 'real' software. It is amazing how successful Microsoft and other proprietary software vendors have been in spreading this myth. And it is sobering to see how forcefully students are introduced (indoctrinated?) to Microsoft software by the school system that should instead teach the students to learn and to keep an open mind.

If you have similar stories to share, please feel free to do so.

Update: The story is now also discussed on Slashdot.

Update 2 (Dec 15, 2008): The story generated a lot of unfriendly, rather hateful comments about the particular teacher in question. The original blogger who posted the story has a thoughtful follow up posted here. Before forming an opinion on this, please read the follow up as well.

Other related posts:
Iceland's public administration and schools moving towards open source
xfmedia player for Ubuntu - bye bye Audacious
DRM all summed up in a comic strip

Comment by freitasm, on 11-Dec-2008 09:01

Florida... There's a reason why there's a special tag for Florida in

Author's note by foobar, on 11-Dec-2008 10:17

@freitasm: Actually, if I'm not mistaken, this took place in Texas. Austin, to be precise, no?

Comment by freitasm, on 11-Dec-2008 10:42

I am referring to the second quote...

Author's note by foobar, on 11-Dec-2008 10:49

@freitasm: Ah, yes, I see.

Comment by draco, on 11-Dec-2008 21:53

This is a remarkable tale of ignorance, but ignorance is universal.

It's not uncommon to also see ignorant FOSS supporters say similar things against others, particularly the dreaded evil commercial software, else that seem equally ignorant.  

You said:
> It is saddening how deeply ingrained the believe is that proprietary software
> is the only 'real' software. It is amazing how successful Microsoft and other
> proprietary software vendors have been in spreading this myth.

I wonder, can you give a few concrete examples of Microsoft saying that proprietary software is the only real software, or are you creating a myth of your own?  Extra points for recent examples, say in the last five years.

Author's note by foobar, on 12-Dec-2008 01:02

@draco: Hm. I don't know if I want to let you turn around the discussion like this. However, I believe it goes without saying that Microsoft (and others) wouldn't use these words directly. It is more a steady and subtle message that is constantly being reinforced. For example, claims are made that Linux violates hundreds of Microsoft patents. As you recall, this is quite recent, definitely in the last five years. This is not further substantiated, or any evidence is given by Microsoft. The rumour is just released in a very typical FUD campaign. It is implied that Linux users will be liable for this and are more or less doing something illegal by using Linux. So, there, without using the specific words, the message was very clearly delivered.

Did I earn extra points for it being a recent example?

Comment by draco, on 12-Dec-2008 22:31

It all depends on whether you define that as Microsoft saying proprietory software is the only real software.  IMHO, it's not saying that but I can see why you interpret it that way. 

The patent thing seems to be saying open source suppliers should play by the same rules as any other business.  Which seems more like an acknowlegement open source is real software, right?

Patents are public record so there's nothing to stop anyone from looking up what's there if they want to form their own opinion. 

I don't think in the business world Microsoft is doing anything unusual with the patent claims.  Actually no that's wrong, they're actually treading much more carefully than other businesses would, apparently in an effort to not offend and make deals like with Novell rather than sue.  But like I said I can see why you see it as FUD, even though Microsoft are far from the first to say Linux infringes others' IP.

But that's just my 2c, you obviously have a different view.   As for turnign around the discussion, I thought it was about software myths and you seemed to be creating one of your own.  Now, I doubt anyone but you and I are reading this so it's little more than a private chat.

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New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
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