K/Ubuntu use by a college student

I’ve posted before about my conversion to a 100% Linux lifestyle. There were growing pains, but kernel and distribution updates have pretty much eliminated the issues I previously encountered.

This Fall (’07) I enrolled in the IT Specialist program at Rend Lake College. Yes, I know it’s only two years and whatever other jokes you want to make about it. Moving on, my two operating system classes (OS and WinXP Pro) have been 99.9% Win-centric (yes, I know that’s to be expected from the WinXP class, duh). Unfortunately, Introduction to Computers (don’t laugh, it’s required for the degree) was also Win-centric.

I understand the need for the Win OS to be covered, as it controls 90 – 98% of the desktop market (depending on where you get your information, and who you believe). What I don’t get is how Linux can be such a hindrance to all of these classes.

VMware offers free licenses. Microsoft’s VirtualMachine requires WinOS. The college only uses VirtualMachine to load XP so we can learn on it. This means that I can either load Win, or have to go into a computer lab to use a WinPC with VirtualMachine after hours to complete any homework that needs done on my “learning” virtual machine. I’ve spoken to a few instructors, and hopefully they will look at loading VMware so that the “learning” XP virtual machines can be more universal for people who use other operating systems.

The next complication is related to the CDs included in most of the books for my classes. They are designed to be run on Win-machines. That’s fine for 90% of students, but what about me or my family? Or the other 10% of people who don’t use Win? Shouldn’t we get to use these tools/aids as well? Maybe the publishers will offer a choice or the ability to use web-based resources for us some day.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t subscribe to standards. RLC has a great site where you can login anytime and get an unofficial copy of your transcript. This is especially helpful when planning what classes to take. The site does not work at all with anything other than Internet Explorer though. Firefox on Win, Linux, BSD, or Mac cannot login to the site. Way to go. To be fair, BlackBoard does work fine though, and Cisco did not support Linux access to its site until early this winter, so RLC isn’t the only one lagging behind supporting more than one OS/browser.

Also, I cannot email reports, assignments, or anything from OpenOffice to my instructors without saving it in an Office Word/Excel/etc. format that usually distorts the project. ODF documents are saved in an open format standard that anyone can support them. Sadly, Office does not support them out of the box, and hence most instructors do not know how to or cannot open them. Thankfully OOo does export to PDF, and most instructors do have the ability to open a PDF.

Overall, I’ve run into some issues using Linux as my only OS in college, but most have been overcome with a little bit of workarounds. Thankfully I will be taking 2 Linux classes next year (Fall/Spring). There should be a lot less pain with them, especially if VMware is instituted for virtualization.

Please understand that the issues I have had were not the fault of my instructors, and are mostly beyond their control. As a matter of fact, they have all been helpful and understanding with the issues. Maybe I’ve gotten lucky, but every single instructor so far has been great.

I do wonder how on earth I will be able to get through Visual Basic/.Net next spring though…

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