My thoughts on Slackware, life and everything

Education and Open Source

I really need to rant and fume a bit about the dutch education system – and I will end with some free promotion for an Open Source centered conference in my own city.

I have a son, he is in Secondary School now. But even in Primary School, he was exposed to a Microsoft-dominated IT infrastructure. He would work on texts in MS Word, and create presentations in MS PowerPoint or even MS Visio.

The problems for parents would inevitably start when the kids were sent home with instructions to finish their school assignments at home, effectively forcing the parents to buy copies of MS Office Professional or “go illegal”. The LibreOffice suite did not exist back then, and OpenOffice was not able to cope with Visio files (and quite honesly, could not cope well with complex Word documents either). at the time, I used a web-based MS Office conversion tool to create PDF files of the stuff my son brought home for printing (because colour printing at school would cost money).

Asking the local IT guy about Linux based education possibilities or even opportunities (my own expertise counts for something, you’d think) would only return blank stares. Apparently Microsoft has invested serious money in SURFMarket (joint venture with KennisNet and SURF) to ensure that dutch educational institutes are being supplied with Microsoft software at bargain prices, so that there is no incentive to look for alternatives. Which is detrimental to the development of the children, because they are not learning about Information Technology… they are learning how to operate MS Office.

In comparison, look at the initiatives in the UK, where the government-funded BBC sparked the development of the Acorn computer (Acorn developed the ARM CPU -originally an acronym for Acorn Risc Machine), and a few years ago this concept was rebooted by a couple of awesome guys from the University of Cambridge in the form of the Raspberry Pi, an ideal target for Computer Education in primary school. I can only look at the British in envy, and seriously think that the dutch have made fatal errors in long-term strategic decisions regarding the education of new geneations.

Fast forward to Secondary School.

Every pupil in my son’s school is required to have access to a Windows computer at home. The only software used at school is Microsoft based. Luckily the Document Foundation has spent a tremendous effort at making the LibeOffice suite more interoperable with the Microsoft counterpart, so there are ways around the Windows office requirements at school.

However there is still one major stumbling block. An by major, I mean stupid policy-makers are apparently being bought. Our Secondary school, one of many similar schools, has moved its Student Registration and Management system to Magister. Magister is built on Microsoft’s Silverlight content creation sofrtware, which is of course not cross-platform.

On Linux, an open-source Silverlight implementation called Moonlight (part of Mono) has been available for a while but its development has ceased. Petitions (from school teachers even) to provide alternatives that would work on Linux and Mac computers have not been honoured. A lot of links prove how bad the situation is and I could easily produce a lot more (most are in dutch by the way).

I am forced to use Silverlight. That is bad, when you consider that the dutch government has pledged to promote the use of Open Software and Open Standards – first through ICTU‘s OSOSS program, and later through the NOIV program. When that program ended, the message was that the government would not divert from this strategy in future. Ha ha ha.

I have been using a Chrome plugin that renders Silverlight pages on-line but the company which ran the service has closed shop last year. I am now looking at Pipelight, which is a cross-browser plugin which uses a patched version of Wine to render Silverlight pages locally. Expect Slackware packages soon, if it impresses me sufficiently. I want to be able to monitor my son’s progress on my Slackware computer dammit!

I am not venting my anger just because I can not bear it any longer. I wanted to take the opportunity and do a bit of PR for an event that will be taking place in Eindhoven, mu home town. There is a lot to learn there about proper and effective use of Open Source and Open Standards in eduction.

t-dose-square If you are interested, consider visiting  T-DOSE in the weekend of 26-27 october. T-DOSE is a free yearly recurring conference to promote the use and development of Open Source Software. I did a talk about the history of Slackware at the 2009 edition (I was so terribly ill and ran on paracetamol… but the talk was OK). This year the conference will run a full “track” consisting of several talks related to education and Open Source – I do not even mention all of them:

And for those who are interested in hands-on experience on top of the talks, an Open Source Class Room demonstration enviroment will be available during the whole event.

It’s free entry people! And if you are planning to go, leave a note here and you may meet me during drinks.

Cheers, Eric


  1. Jen

    I didn’t use Linux until most of the way through my Master’s, but my field (music) is still Mac-dominated. I routinely get people wondering if one can even do most audio-related tasks on a PC. (It’s been possible since the 1990’s…) If I mention Linux, people give me blank stares, or wonder if it even has a graphical interface now.

    That having been said, I thought the Microsoft-dominance at my alma mater for my doctorate was just because of its proximity to Redmond. While there were templates available for using LaTeX for one’s dissertation, the final turn-in HAD to be in .doc format using MS fonts. No exceptions. (Thankfully winetricks downloads corefonts, and Libre Office will produce doc and docx files.)

  2. Niki Kovacs

    +1 on the Microsoft misery in public schools. Same here in France, where only universities and private schools get to use Linux, sometimes. Still, I’m quietly being optimistic, because since Windows 8 came out, I can really see people won’t cope with Microsoft anymore (it’s even worse than GNOME 3, if you ask me). Best think that could happen to the Linux sphere.

    Asides from that, here’s a complete Unix & Linux history in a nutshell, with some information about Slackware. I completely rewrote the chapter:



  3. Mike

    Good to read a positive piece about British education and what they are doing. As an expat Pom I get a bit fed up about the knocking the ‘old country’ gets.

    Having spent the last two days trying to get pipelight working ( as it happens so I can watch the International Rugby Sevens) to no avail. I’ve never come across anything with so much misinformation, out of date stuff, discontinued stuff, etc etc., Your pipelight package will save me from pulling my hair out. Good onya Bob.


  4. KingBeowulf


    Dude, don’t even get me started….I’m glad my kids are well past public school age. The Microsoft centricity here also drove me nuts. It was a horror to have Win98, Win2K or WinXP boxes for them to do homework. Ugh. Bad enough to have to use them at work…bad enough I had to have them for my gaming addiction…

    Though I feel your pain, just be glad you aren’t in the USA. Most kids (and adults!) here can’t find Europe on the Freaking Map. Bunch of freaking fruitcakes keep getting elected (How freaking hard could it possibly be to build a decent health care web site!) sigh.

    Wish I could swing by the conference. Not enough airline points from Portland, OR. USA!

  5. Willy Sudiarto Raharjo

    The same situation happened here also in Indonesia…

  6. Alan Aversa

    This is really neat: a directory of open source textbooks

  7. Gabriel Yong

    It is good to learn about Slackware.

    @Niki Kovacs
    Can i have the copy in English version?

  8. Niki Kovacs

    @Gabriel Yong. I’m writing the book in french. This is the manuscript of the actual work in progress. And there’s no english version (yet).

  9. Robby

    Hey Eric, I think this issue is pretty pervasive all over the world. We here in SA have just had a fairly big debate on the recent decision by DBE to use Delphi and MS Office ( details here: ) for CAT assessments. Microsoft have their claws hooked into everywhere and try to indoctrinate children as young as possible into the Microsoft family.

  10. LoneStar

    Yes, I was looking at Piperlight too, some weeks ago, and I had started making some packages on my laptop. But I suddenly stopped when I realized that it needs Wine, which means 32bit libraries, and I want to keep my laptop as a pure Slackware64 without multilibs.

    I guess it wouldn’t work with a 64bit Wine, or is there a pure 64bit MS Silverlight plugin?

    I have other machines with 32bit and multilib installs but haven’t worked on it because it’s not such a big necessity.

  11. ecoslacker

    Well, same history here in Mexico. In Private Primary Schools the kids learn to use Windows 7, Paint and Word from a “special book” where Linux is barely mentioned as another OS. In public schools the kids didn’t know any about computers until secondary level, and that is only in a few schools. By the way at university (for engineering at least) you learn to use Excel, Pascal/Delphi, AutoCAD, ArcGIS, Matlab, etc. Not only Microsoft products. Still people knows about OpenOffice, Ubuntu… but they never give it a chance.
    Good luck on conference!

  12. Niki Kovacs

    I was a bit surprised to find out the domain name was available, so I bought it on a whim.

    The message means “Tired of Windows? Switch to Linux” and contains a link to my company’s website.

  13. alienbob

    Hi ecoslacker.

    I liked the bitmap of the Slackware-current I saw on your blog, so I created a vectorgraphics file of it:
    Do you know who created the graphic, so that I can give credit? Was it you?

    The command I used was “mkbitmap -x -t 0.8 -o – slackware-linux-current-branch-logo-v3_free-mono_512x512.pnm | potrace -s -o slackware-linux-current-branch-logo-v3_free-mono” and then I used karbon to paint the letters at the bottom grey again.


  14. Arslan

    Thanks! Good post.

  15. fgcl2k

    The situation is not different here in Italy. I saw exactly the same events with my son, except, luckily, for the Silverlight thing. Recently some specialized schools began at least mentioning Linux and offering some basic training, but this is limited to students of Computer Science classes.

  16. Niki Kovacs

    The Slackware Current logo is nice indeed :o)

  17. V. T. Eric Layton

    Excellent rant, Eric.

    Oh, and I don’t even want to open the can of worms that is the U.S. public education system, particular the condition of it in the southern states.


    ~Eric AKA Nocturnal Slacker

  18. ecoslacker

    Hi Eric:

    The image don’t belong to me, I have used it in two posts but only one have a link to the source, anyway here is the link:

    And nice work! 🙂

  19. Barry

    Hi Eric, I just wanted to let you know that the BBC isn’t funded by government, and is all the better for it!

    Good luck and thanks for all your packages


  20. alienbob

    Hi Barry

    as far as I understand, BBC is funded through television licenses. This is a form of taxation which is also used in the Netherlands to fund the public broadcasting services. I call this government-funded – it’s the government which mandates that you pay your tv license.


  21. micko

    I hear you loud and clear.

    Here in Australia there is absolutely no concept of open source in government. MS has it completely locked up tight. It is really sad as far as education is concerned because the term “IT” here does not mean what the acronym suggests. It means “MST”.

    I have a teenage son myself and get this, the government supplies him with a damn win 7 netbook! Any wonder our country is on a severe down hill slide. Oh, it may not look like its ok to the outside world, but unemployment is hidden by the artificial “part-time”, “casual” and “contract” jobs which barely supply 20 hrs a week.

    The irony is that they (gov) are still refusing to let go of XP in health care ( I know this because I had a short term contract a few weeks back) and other government departments.

    Can you see the craziness there? Isn’t health the most important thing? Closely followed by education?

    I’d be happy enough if school would allow byod then I’d send my son with a Linux loaded laptop with LibreOffice. If the stupid school system just boycotted MS office that would save a small fortune in itself.
    /rant too

  22. Ismail Demiral

    Hi Eric,

    I maintain Slackware Linux related graphics as source SVG files. Some of the graphics including “Slackware Linux Current Logo” in the archive designed by me. You can obtain all of the SVGs belonging to bitmap images in my archive from the below links.

    Best regards,

    Download the latest version of archive:

    Slackware Linux Graphics Blog:

  23. lighans

    Well, I am a teacher in the Netherlands who is using linux (very small letters: Crunchbang en Mint, bit bigger letters: sometimes Salixos) and I am promoting pipelight a bit.

    Not that I like being dependent of Silverlight and Microsoft, but to be able to let the Ipad users on my school see how I can use Magister. They can’t. Only via an cripled app. And there question is like always. Ah, you have Windows? Nope, because Silverlight on Windows 8 is also crap. And it works more stable on Linux. And the pipelight team is very active at this moment.

    So the dominance of Microsoft is getting smaller and there is some other dominant player, called Apple. And somewhere in between there are chromebooks. And me. Promoting Linux as a better system for running stupid software like Silverlight.

    As a side note: Our school considers Byod. I try to convince them, that it’s only possible if the software of the schools are platform agnostic. At least that is a reason that they choosed to start working with Google app for education. It is again another closed source mess, but at least it works everywhere. Actually: stupid that Google doesn’t support odf files, or doesn’t use odf for there own applications.

  24. alienbob

    Hi lighans

    FYI, I have pipelight working here, on slackware64-current. I successfully accessed my son’s school’s MagisterWeb site.
    I will be building packages for 32-bit Slackware-current next and then I will upload the lot, and write a blog article on how to install and enable SilverLight (and netflix) support.

    Thanks for your feedback. I am glad to see a dutch teacher posting here.

    Cheers, Eric

  25. WaytoomanyUIDs

    Unfortunately, apart from the Raspberry Pi, the situation with MS dominating the educational sector is very much as you describe it in the UK as well. The schools don’t even tell parents they are entitled to educational discounts on MS software, so they end up paying full price or, most often, pirating.

    The government unfortunately just uses the Raspberry Pi as an attempt to distract us from the MS branded elephant in the room. Lots of publicity but very little effort to get it out to the schools.

  26. Robby Some new ( or old ) info

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