Endless cuts to Public Education budgets are creating survival problems to many italian Public Schools, forcing them to ask more or less “voluntary” contributions to parents every year. How can you guarantee quality education in such conditions, especially when many teachers,

either because they only get very short term assignments, every time in a different school, or because their school has more than one campus, work every day in a different neighborhood?

Some italian schools just started to write their own textbooks to save their students money. As far as ICT is concerned, instead, many schools in Italy and abroad, may also use the method developed and already successfully applied by Ezio Da Rin (the italian entrepreneur fighting for against proprietary file formats in Public Administrations and Marco Clocchiatti, teacher in the Paschini Lyceum of Tolmezzo, in the Carnia mountain region of Northeastern Italy.

Netlive is a system to set up and use in just a few minutes a very flexible computer lab without spending anything in software licenses. I asked Ezio and Marco (E&M) to explain how much good Netlive and Free Software in general could do for italian schools (even if the Italian Government seems to prefer other solutions).

Stop: What are the problems that you want to solve with Netlive?

E&M: The first one is to help all the teachers that would want to set up a complete computer lab but have little or no budget for it. The other is the unease that teachers feel when, regardless of money, they would like to teach valid alternatives to the operating system (Windows) that too often is the only one made available by schools, but cannot do it, sometimes because the school itself doesn’t let them install Free Software like Linux.

Stop: Wait a minute. Couldn’t those teachers just run one of the live versions of Linux, that is one of those systems that boot and run entirely from a CD-ROM or USB key without installing anything on the computer?

E&M: Such systems are quite unpractical for short lessons in crowded classes, because plugging in and booting manually 2025 CDs or keys would take a good part of the lesson. Besides, there may be boot problems that not always can be fixed quickly.

Stop: What does Netlive do instead?

E&M: Netlive is a live version of Linux that contains in a folder a second live version of Linux, automatically useable by all the other computers in the lab via the local network. The teacher only needs to start Netlive on one of those computers. All the students will then find the second version on their computers (but without downloading all of it first!) and will be immediately able to start working.

(note from Stop: If you want to know how Netlive works internally, an english technical overview is available here)

Stop: Teachers can sure save a lot of time working in this way, but won’t they have to change something in the configuration of those computers?

E&M: Almost nothing! What’s great in this method is that even if all the computers in the lab already have Windows installed, there is no need to touch it, and at the end of every lesson is like nothing happened to it. The only thing that you must change once is the configuration option that makes the computer try to boot from the local network, instead of using the operating system on the hard drive. Once you figure out what the trick is, repeating it in another computer lab somewhere else is a piece of cake, since all the software you need has no license costs and always follow the teacher inside a single 1-Euro DVD.

Stop: Which software programs can the students use with Netlive?

E&M: The existing versions contain everything you need to surf the Internet and manage texts, spreadsheets and presentations, plus a lot of other didactical software, from accounting applications like the italian Gazie to Joomla for learning how to build an interactive website. Remember, however, that Netlive-served distributions can contain whatever Free Software you want to include.

Stop: What about hardware requirements?

E&M: Every lab with computers able to load their boot software from the network can use Netlive. These days, you can buy new computers suitable as Netlive clients for less than 200 Euros.

Stop: What are the other advantages of Netlive?

E&M: It allows every student to be the real master of his or her computer. You can let him or her have full administrator power and install any extra software without fear, since at the end of every session everything goes back to its clean, original state. Which other system can give you so much freedom?

Stop: How many versions of Linux are already available through Netlive?

E&M: Four, all designed for schools: ITIS Linux, two variants of SoDiLinux 6x and an italian version of Linux Mint.

Stop: Congratulations, and a final note to all readers: if you want to contact Ezio and Marco directly, please email at ezio, at linuxnetlive.org.