A Source for Schools

Local techies promote open-source software while benefiting Hawaii schools

November, 2003

Like most sensible people, high school teacher Rudy Lopez had never believed in “something for nothing.” Then again, most people haven’t met R. Scott Belford, founder of the Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation.

Lopez took his computer to Belford, a local technology coordinator, for some basic repairs. During that first meeting, Belford asked Lopez if he’d like to try out some “free software” known as open source. “I basically felt that I’d probably get what I didn’t pay for,” Lopez recalls.

Belford is all too familiar with that perception. Last year, he founded the nonprofit Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation (HOSEF) to dispel such notions about open-source technology and, in the process, provide a valuable resource to Hawaii’s cash-strapped schools.

HOSEF promotes the use of open-source software, which is a cost-saving alternative to operating systems such as Microsoft Windows. The nonprofit solicits computer donations from businesses and individuals, refurbishes the hardware and installs open-source operating systems in those units. The final, revamped product is then donated to a local school or nonprofit. HOSEF also teaches staff how to use these open-source programs and provides continual technical support, all free of charge.

Unlike proprietary systems, open source allows users to access and modify its code freely. Most programs can be downloaded from the Internet for free and users don’t pay any client-licensing fees.

Warren Togami, HOSEF’s chief technology officer, says: “That’s why open source is ideal for schools, because they’re the ones with the tightest budgets.”

Linux is the best-known example of open source. With support from tech titans such as IBM and Intel, Linux has become part of mainstream technology for corporations across the globe. Local companies such as First Hawaiian Bank and Architects Hawaii also use open source.

Despite such corporate endorsements, it hasn’t been easy for HOSEF to promote this revolutionary concept. Take Rudy Lopez’ first reaction to Belford’s proposal, for example. But once Lopez tinkered with a few Linux programs, he “immediately fell in love with open source,” he says. So much so that, a few months later, Lopez asked HOSEF to build nine Linux-running computers for his digital-imaging students at Kailua’s Redemption Academy.

“If we had actually bought all of this software for word processing and photo editing, that would’ve cost the school at least $3,500,” Lopez says. HOSEF also donated nine monitors for the school’s new Linux lab.

So far, HOSEF has received more than 125 computers from local individuals and companies, including Finance Factors, Hickam Air Force Base, Haseko Hawaii and Pricebusters.

In addition to Redemption Academy, HOSEF has launched Linux labs at Mid-Pacific Institute and St. John the Baptist.

At the time of this writing, technology coordinator Michael Bishop had just requested 60 computers from HOSEF. He intends to build a Linux lab for ESL and GED students at the McKinley Community School for Adults.

“As all schools are, we’re limited on budget,” Bishop says. “So being able to have 60 computers donated, plus support from the HOSEF community — it kind of blows me away.”

HOSEF’s 25 volunteer members assist school tech coordinators in maintaining their Linux labs. The organization also hosts a free online mailing list, where more than 250 subscribers swap advice on Linux operating systems.

As for Rudy Lopez, he plans to eventually expand his school’s Linux lab, as well as add on more applications. “I’ve really just scratched the surface of what Linux can do,” Lopez says. “This is just the start.”

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