What's your school project? An alternative to Microsoft Windows!


The final year of all Italian High Schools (1819 years age students) ends with a formal State Exam. Depending on which category of school they attend, all students are tested in a different group of subjects and the final vote also depends on personal projects prepared for each subject. This year, among all the final year students in Italy there are two who are preparing a project that is as unusual (at least for Italy) as interesting.

Andrea Lazzarotto and Stefano Signori, of the State Technical Industrial Institute (Istituto Tecnico Industriale Statale ( or ITIS in italian) “E. Fermi” of Bassano del Grappa will build for their software project a Linux distribution, that is a complete environment for desktop computers alternative to Microsoft Windows. This distribution, called ITIS Linux http://itislinux.it whose alfa version is already downloadable, contains all the Free Software programs usable to study and teach the subject of the three branches of italian ITISes present at Fermi: mechanics, electronics and software.

Replacing Windows?!? Why?

Andrea and Stefano chose this project to prove what Free Software can do for education and to fight an unpleasant, but unfortunately very common situation in italian schools and Universities.

Very often, even when there would be valid and cheaper alternatives, schools only teach students to use very expensive software programs. In order to do homework, students should then ask their parents even more money after all that is needed for textbooks or (especially when there is no other way to do what **the school* asks them!) violate the license of those programs. Stefano and Andrea, instead, maintain that schol cannot be a source or an example of unlawfulness, it would completely subvert its meaning. They also say that (even if the Italian Government seems to think otherwise…) software discounts and free offers, like those available to Fermi students thanks to the Microsoft MSDN program, should be avoided due to their long-term effects: if your school itself limits you to only know the most expensive programs “because they're free for now”, later on you'll be almost forced, on the job, to use the same programs even if the discounts are over. Andrea and Stefano would offer to italian ITIS students and teacher a simple, safe, complete and free alternative to all this. Here's what they told me when I asked to know more about ITIS Linux.

Stop: What else do you do besides promoting Free Software?

Andrea: I am interested in graphics, especially with the photo retouchin and image authoring program Gimp, karate and volunteer services (Stop's note: Andrea is also trying to get a refund for something that many people are forced to buy even when they don't want it: Microsoft Windows!)

Stefano: I'm a great fan of videogames and like to read novels of all kinds.

Stop: How did you work to produce this first version of ITIS Linux?

A&S: We focused on technical and scientific applications, interviewing all the teachers to know exactly what they need and testing many programs to find the best ones for the job. Later on we'll add software for video, music, email and many other things, in order to provide a really complete computing solution without any licensing cost, but still completely legal.

Stop: What has been the greatest difficulty so far?

A&S: Choosing the best program for each subject and managing time: having to download hundreds of megabytes means staring at the computer for hours until it's done! Even spreading around the word about our work wasn't easy, but we put a lot of efforts into it, in order to attract potential users and get feedback from experts.

Stop: How did it work out?

A&S: Very well! Now we cooperate with LinuxLab, a small software company in Puglia, Southern Italy, that will also offer direct support for ITIS Linux.

Stop: How did your teachers and classmates react when they heard about the project?

A&S: Luckily, several of our teachers already knew Lilnux. Some classes, especially those of Software Systems, already use Ubuntu, a popular version of Linux. Generally speaking, the teachers liked the idea of having new tools for their job without spending money in licenses. The other students didn't looked particularly interested. However, several of their projects depend on Linux in one way or another, so they may end up using ITIS Linux in the future.

Stop: Which ones of the programs that you included in your distribution are already used at Fermi?

A&S: The most popular are those used in software and data network courses, like software development environments, Dia for diagrams, (NetKit for network simulation and Wireshark for traffic analysis.

Stop:* I read on your website that “using exclusively 100% Free Software was not an option”. Which non-Free software did you have to add and why?

A&S: Some drivers and plugins for 3D simulations and video streaming over the Internet (see “Technical info” paragraph below).

Stop: What will happen to ITIS Linux at Fermi nexxt year?

A&S: We don't know for sure. Of course we hope it will be used, but we also hope to not be there to see it: it would mean that we didn't pass the State Exam!

Stop: Surely that won't happen! Best wishes for your exam and, to Andrea, for his Windows refund!

ITIS Linux technical info

ITIS Linux is built with the Ubuntu Customization Kit and Reconstructor from the last stable version of Ubuntu: minimum hardware requirements are a 700 MHz processor with 384 MB of RAM. The included proprietary software consists mostly of 3d drivers for some graphic cards, flash players and MoonLight codecs. The full list of included programs is available on the website.

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