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14 Mar, 2008 03:43

Down with Windows! Russian schools turn to free software

A free online alternative to the Windows operating system is set to be introduced in schools in three Russian regions by 2009. If the pilot project proves successful, all schools across the country will make the switch a year later.

Linux is a piece of open source software, free online to anyone who wants it, and Russian schools are switching to it to save cash.
Using pirate software is common in Russia and for schools who need word processing, the alternative is to pay Microsoft over a hundred dollars for every computer.
Aleksandr Ponosov, a former headmaster in the Perm Region, is a strong supporter of the move. He was prosecuted for using a pirate version of Windows on the school's computers.
“The problem that I've faced threatens most of my colleagues across Russia. The use of pirate software is common. And often there's no choice. So I've started a non-profit organisation to tell everyone about the advantages of free software,” Aleksandr Ponosov explained.
And some experts say that Microsoft faces a major challenge as more people move towards free software.
But Microsoft remains positive about its market leading position.
“We are glad that people will have a possibility to choose different operating systems. But we try to make our product the best one. We want to make it easier for the user to realise one's potential. And perhaps this is the most important for schools,” said Vladimir Gabriel from Microsoft Russia. 
The Armada Company is the main developer of Linux in Russia. It recently won the right to introduce the software in schools.
It believes working with an alternative programme has major advantages.
“Linux could be better for teaching children at school. The programme consists of multiple blocks like LEGO. It's open for everyone to see how it works. And the pupils can even learn how to modify such programmes,” said Igor Gorbatov, Armada deputy general director.
Russia isn't the first to look at this open source operation system as a classroom alternative.
Some schools in India, France and even in the U.S. are already using Linux.
Teachers and pupils are quite positive about the innovation.
“I didn't work with Linux myself. But I have friends of my age that use it. They say that Linux is much more comfortable. But adjusting many programmes to it could be a big problem,” said Roman, a pupil.
“I've tried the programme. It's a bit difficult to switch over immediately, because we all grew up using Windows. But it's just a matter of experience,” believes Elena Nedelina, a teacher.