Wednesday, April 25, 2007

FOSS Education

In my never ending search for some sort of common thread for this blog my latest idea is to make it about my job and specifically about what I'd like to do with my job. This I suppose means I would write about what I'm doing at my school and my struggles, successes and ideas. Recently of course I've been spending inordinate amounts of time trying to roll out Edubuntu on some sort of level. It's been really great for me to have both the power and the time to do such a project, and I suppose I realized today that this has come at the expense of some of my other duties, but nevertheless it has been an enlightening and rewarding experience.

One of the main problems in FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) education I've recently discovered is the lack of drivers for things like Linux. For example at work we have several different Canon ImageRunner print stations. These things do it all from scanning to copying to printing and stapling and 3-hole punching etc. Pretty sweet machines when they aren't broken. So naturally they will HAVE to work with whatever software OS we are using at the school. If I can't find a way for Linux to operate these things, it is a complete deal breaker. I might be able to skate by with still moving the student computers over to Edubuntu since there does seem to be better drivers available for small printers and laserjets and things. There's no way I'm going to realize my dream of being a totally FOSS school without this though.

I did find one site here that apparently makes drivers. I haven't had a lot of time to look it over yet so I'm not even sure if they are free to use or not. I'm guessing they are though. The good news is that I was able to decompress and install them. The bad news is that it didn't immediately work. Some RTFM work may be in order here, but really this shouldn't be that difficult to do. So I guess that is the worse news: that to even get to the point of having the program NOT work I had to use the terminal plenty, restart the computer a couple of times just to be sure that wasn't the solution to any of my problems, change the boot password (which ended up being my problem) and then finally trying to figure out this unnecessarily confusing UI on the program. Ugh. Unless these issues can be solved, Linux will NEVER be a viable alternative to Windows, much less OS X in the field of education.

So let's not go out on a sour note. The Really Good news is that within Edubuntu, setting up a networked printer was an absolute piece of cake! I've installed networked printers galore on Macs and PCs all over SDSU and I can say that the Ubuntu UI for this procedure is incredibly easy. It combines the best of both the PC and Mac worlds with a simple procedural wizard ala Windows with the brilliant functionality of OS X. Basically I just searched for a networked printer and it found several, even successfully guessing which one I wanted to install. Then the driver screen popped up and it knew the printer was Canon, except on the long list of available drivers only one ImageRunner was to be found. Unfortunately it was not the model I needed for any of my three print stations.

Thus, I'm trying to take away two positive ideas from the experience. First: Ubuntu has the right idea down pat for adding printers. If I had been trying to install a printer that a driver existed for, I have no doubt it would have installed brilliantly and I'd have taken a much different tone for this post. Second: Ubuntu and the FOSS community in general are assuredly adding to that list of drivers continuously, so some day soon (hopefully) installing these printers will not be anything to blog about (except for the ease with which it is done). Alas, for the time being, this is quite a stumbling block for me. Cheers -joe

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