Interview: Migrating a school from Windows XP to Ubuntu 14.04

The end of support for Windows XP runs a real crossroad for hundreds of educational institutions and their computer systems. Ubuntu is the change that cutting edge education needs.

Fernando Lanero, for those who you don't know, is teacher and ICT manager of Agustinos School in León (Spain). A free software activist entangled in the migration of a school with 1200 students to the Ubuntu operating system.

Fernando & Costales

I'll talk to him in person so he can tell us firsthand how this interesting eXPerience is being, as many factors come into play.

Costales: Hi Fernando, How are you? Can you tell us how you started in the world of computers and when your awareness for free software and particularly Ubuntu was born?

Fernando: Hi! Good morning. Well, I started in the exciting world of computers with an 8086 computer that my parents bought me in 8th grade after passing all subjects. It was an Olivetti that had something like 16KB of RAM, a 20MB hard drive, green monochrome monitor and came with MS-DOS which after a month I inadvertently wiped away (del *.* in the root directory. You know). At that time I had friends with computers and then is when my interest popped, so imagine how many hours and hours I spent.
And in free software I started in 1997 or 1998. Those were years with a boom in Linux, with a lot of magazines including distributions in CD. I already had a Pentium 120Mhz. The installation experiences were a total disaster, I was still in high school, there was no Internet and all you could do was read and re-read the magazine and try to make some sense of it. Entering commands and although I came from MS- DOS, was a disaster. So at the end I could install some, but I can't tell which one. Probably Slackware or Fedora.
Then I left it and went to the dark side of Microsoft and its Windows 98. 10 years later, around 2007, I returned to Linux via Ubuntu, thanks to the good experiences commented by Ricardo Chao, teacher, schoolmate and close friend.

Costales: Have you already started the migration?

Fernando: Not yet, we are still waiting for the final version of Ubuntu 14.04. We are testing, starting with alpha versions and with betas now.

Costales: What operating system are you currently using and why you decided to change it?

Fernando: At school, all computers have Windows right now, 90% are Windows XP and the newest are Windows 7. With Windows 8 only the Director's, because it is the last one we bought. The reason for using this software is no other that it came preinstalled.

Costales: How many computers are we talking about and which are their characteristics?

Fernando: There are 2 computers, which are those of the Secretary, that are not being migrated for administrative reasons and the remaining 98 computers will be migrated. From my point of view, it is a very considerable amount of machines in an environment as the province of León, a small capital without major technology companies.

Costales: On which tasks are those computers used?

Fernando: They are used for teaching duties, for use by teachers in video projections, use of interactive whiteboards, technical drawing, etc.. And there are another 60 computers spread across the computing and languages classrooms.

Costales: Which programs do you use now with students? Do you have an idea of ​​the estimated cost for the school for using these programs?

Fernando: The flagship program is Microsoft Office, no doubt. And we have to renew licenses every year, as in a lease. The annual cost of renovation of the Office Suite is around 3,000 - 4,000 € for all computers.

Costales: Do you think that students can use these programs in their homes paying their licenses?

Fernando: That's the problem. That is the trap of proprietary software. In your classes you teach with the software you need for teaching. But what happens? If you teach students to work with a proprietary program, the kid is learning to use the program, what you're doing is creating a user of that program for that company (potential customer). The other natural part of the process is that you encourage to crack that program and therefore to bypass the law when it doesn't suit that person (potential offenders). There is no possible alternative to these two options with proprietary software.
You are forming a multinational company consumerist or a cracker, teaching students to break laws when they're not convenient. This is the greatest danger. People complain in Spain's society culture of cheating or stealing. And it is what is done in many schools, teach to cheat indirectly through proprietary software. If for example you are teaching Photoshop, the center has a purchased license, perfect. But will the student buy that program to do their homework? Impossible! And what happens then? Or you pass it under the counter or you encourage to download it from a page with a crack. You are already creating criminals, because you are inciting them to break the law.

Costales: Have you checked if there is free software that can replace the use of the proprietary software that you currently use?

Fernando: At 100%. With Photoshop or MS Office you switch to Gimp or LibreOffice without any problem. We have also begun to contact publishers. Now all textbooks come with support software for digital classrooms. This way you work with students in the classroom interactively, especially with idioms and history books, Pre-school education and Primary school. What happens? All of them have Windows software, but none for Linux. When speaking with them, I tell them that we are going to migrate to Linux and if their software doesn't work on Linux we need to change those textbooks with ones that makes it easier for us or simply that they have multiplatform software. Or they get the ball rolling to run on Linux or we will seek alternatives.

In class

Costales: Have you detected any other problem with using Windows XP other than the cost of licenses?

Fernando: Yes, the biggest problem for migration is the Junta de Castilla y León Administration. What happens? The Junta signed in 2011 an agreement with Microsoft to use its software for 5 years (obviously without any tendering process). It appeared on news media, the director of Microsoft Iberia came, there was a meeting with Bill Gates...
The problem of the agreement is that all web applications that are developed must run Microsoft software and are accessible only with Internet Explorer. Which is a huge problem; it is our biggest problem and the reason why the 2 Secretary computers are not being migrated, it is the only way to communicate with the Junta: through Internet Explorer which obviously only works on Windows systems.

Costales: When you thought about the migration cause of Windows XP obsolescence, I guess you considered the option of switching to the Windows 8 operating system. Did you have any kind of pressure from the school or the Junta for, among all the possible options, you to opt for Windows 8? Could Windows 7 work too?

Fernando: The migration process was brought up after the publication in the news that Windows XP was obsolete and would receive no more updates from Microsoft. At school the highest security problem resides in the malware that is spread through removable storage devices, because people basically works with USB sticks for the transmission of documents, being an authentic greenhouse for viruses. A few years ago we had a serious problem with malware that was transmitted between USB drives and sneaked though the antivirus program in our school; it was crazy until completely eradicated.
I had no pressure, I had a lot of freedom and when the management asked me what to do with the problem we had, I told them that we could not stay on with XP. My first choice was to switch to Windows 7 which works well, I got the nod and we requested a quote. The surprise was that Windows 7 is now discontinued and Microsoft no longer provides software licenses...

Costales: Can't you buy Windows 7 anymore?

Fernando: You can't buy it, Windows 7 is no longer sold. And obviously you can't install it pirate for all what I explained above, in addition to the legal issues.
Then we asked a dealer for a budget for changing to Windows 8, which was a completely rip-off: Around 12,000 € to change all licenses, which represents half of the school budget for the entire course. That is unaffordable for a school. And that price is once applied the 50% discount for education.
Neither the mosaics interface Windows 8 Metro has is appropriate for a teaching environment. An interface with which when you are working you can see the weather in León, the horoscope and latest news. That makes no sense in a classroom. I saw Windows 8 completely useless for education. It doesn't seem useful.
On top, computers don't have the ability to seamlessly run that version, and adding a hardware upgrade, which is required to successfully migrate to new versions of Windows 8, budget could quietly raise to 25,000 €. The school was willing to pay if there were no choice (we were at a dead end) and that was when I proposed switching to free software.

Costales: How much does a single license of Windows 8 costs for a school? Is there a discount?

Fernando: 120 € with 50% discount for education. Unbelievable.

Costales: Many administrations in Spain support and promote free software, do you know the position of the Junta de Castilla y León about it?

Fernando: The Junta supports free software at a rate of 0%. They don't want to know anything about this topic. We are David against two Goliath: the Junta de Castilla y León and Microsoft.

Costales: What other alternatives did you consider for the migration?

Fernando: Taken in care the hardware, I also considered Xubuntu and Lubuntu. When Canonical published the first alpha of Ubuntu 14.04, I tried it on the oldest computer (CPU Core 2 Duo with 2GB RAM) and Unity was completely fluid and so, I chose to install Ubuntu 14.04 on the rest, when it's released.

Costales: What is the biggest advantage of using Ubuntu at school? Why Ubuntu and not other distros?

Fernando: The biggest advantage is that the entire school community associate free software to Ubuntu, all of them know and have heard of Ubuntu at some point in the latest years.
Another great advantage is the drivers support that Ubuntu provides. I have tried many distributions and no one gives such a broad support. In a hundred computers with different hardware you can't have troubles if the graphics card doesn't work, the audio, the network connection... We need a distribution that works 100 % from scratch in all computers.

Fernando Lanero Barbero

Costales: Any particular problem for choosing Ubuntu?

Fernando: Yes, people. People are reluctant to switch to Linux. They are reluctant to any kind of change. "And how will this affect me?". I reply that it won't disrupt them, they will do all their tasks exactly the same way and even more efficiently. The office suite LibreOffice can give some problems because everyone works with Microsoft Office documents and when importing, the latest versions misplace things and that drives them crazy. But I don't worry too much, we have a good support in school!

Costales: What will be the economic cost to migrate to Ubuntu? Have you thought about paying for the official support from Canonical? Why?

Fernando: For now we won't pay the official support, although it may be a good option. The real cost is 0 €, as we are installing it ourselves.

Costales: 100 Computers is a lot of equipment. Will they all have the same configuration? How will you do it?

Fernando: We will make a custom ISO for all the school unifying certain things. Those who are on the same network will be installed by LAN, and for the rest we'll have to do it one by one.

Costales: How long will the migration take?

Fernando: Approximately 2 months.

Costales: Do you have problems with the interactive whiteboards drivers?

Fernando: Yes, we have problems, but Hitachi gives us the source code and it's much simpler. There is a group from another school in Barcelona with Francisco Javier Teruelo leading that is helping a lot with this issue, and the final idea is creating an installation package to automate everything.

Costales: In addition to saving money, what will teachers, students and parents gain with Ubuntu? Is there any advantage over the use of Windows 8?

Fernando: They will get 100 % peace of mind, especially for removing all malware, that at school becomes a paranoia. The typical conversation in the school is:
  • All computers are full of viruses.
  • No sorry, your computer at home, how long haven't you updated the antivirus?
  • I dont know. When I bought the computer the antivirus came with it and I never touched it again.
  • And how old is it?
  • Six years.
  • Okay, so where viruses are coming to school is from your computer. 
 At school we have the antivirus fully updated and even so, we had the problem that I told you with USB infection.
More benefits? Network speed. After the recent migration to fiber optic and with Gigabit network configuration all will be much faster with Linux. Because I honestly don't know what Windows does, but turns any network 10% or 15% slower compared to a Linux network. Or maybe it is the NSA spying on us.

Costales: You were saying, teachers were a little reluctant to change, but what about students?

Fernando: It is getting students attention. Kids are naturally curious. Among them there is a very pro-Linux culture. Throughout these years I have managed to create the idea that Linux is cool, that it's used by people who are really interested in learning and who know the real functioning of things and that really attracts their attention. They are not at all reluctant to change. They seek novelty and change.

Costales: It appears that citizens' initiative takes light years to the Administration, especially reading news that the Administration will migrate to Windows 8 without tender. What would you say to those who say that a migration to Ubuntu is complicated, just as expensive as Windows, unfeasible or other tales?

Fernando: Tales, you said it. The exact phrase is "Tales told by the propaganda of the multinational companies". Those circumstances you just commented on is what Microsoft sells, who has made an amazing subliminal advertising to make you see that what is good is Windows. Windows gave me thousands of troubles for years in school computers for their lack of support for older ATI cards. With Linux you have much more compatibility with older hardware. Everything is much easier.
Regarding cost, we know well. We have passed from 12,000 € to 0 €. It's true that we are here to migrate it and if we weren't you would have to hire a company to install it, but they won't charge anywhere near 12,000 € for installing it.

Costales: If you had to hire a company, local employment would also be promoted.

Fernando: Sure. Much better. You'd have people around you working and not collecting benefits cause of lack of jobs.

Costales: Did this end of support helped to consider which technologies to acquire in the future in order to be more open and less dependent on a particular company?

Fernando: Sure. All this has led to think of other alternative technologies. An article in the Diario de León on this migration has drawn much attention in our environment. It allows to see that there are other alternatives. Much superior and with an open philosophy of sharing among equals. Linux has begun to be tied to advance, avant-garde... cause of the work of the entire community. Android has also done much good for Linux. Although not a 100 % free alternative, people is already hearing about Linux. Their phone works very well and that's good!

Costales: When I was young there was luckily a computer per home. I had a passion for movies like WarGames, Internet didn't exist and I would fervently read the few magazines relating how real hackers bypassed mainframes time limitation to program at universities...
Now we have a couple of computers per person, a lot of documentation, easier access to technology... the real digital natives are current students... Do they have the same interest in computers as we had formerly? Do you create them passion for Ubuntu? Do they use it at home?

Fernando: Yes, it is true that now a much larger volume of people use computers and is much more accessible, but the level of use is more superficial. When we were young we would reach much deeper inside, I remember that I had a 300 pages manual for MS-DOS commands and I studied it because I loved that. That is now unimaginable. Most guys are mostly devoted to social networks, it is not the interest in computer science itself we had. It is interest focused on applications. With the 8086 computer it's true that I played Monkey Island, but if you had a problem with the sound you had to find out how to solve it. Now, if something doesn't work for them, they change.

Costales: Let's say that the ones that were before, it was because they wanted, and now they are for obligation...

Fernando: Now it is cause they have it and as they have it, they use it. The "pioneers" essence we lived is lost someway.

Costales: Although I checked in situ with Linux & Tapas León that many of your students came and they have a passion for free software...

Fernando: Yes, it is true that I tried to show them as well to others, the benefits of using open systems. To view that the path is to share with others, to help each other. The Ubuntu spirit whitin an educational system is fundamental. At the end of the course, around 10 students install it on their own always; as long as i know.

Costales: Thank you Fernando for sharing this experience with us and best luck with migration.

This translation from the Spanish is available thanks to the effort of Fernando Gutiérrez Prado.
Interview under Creative Commons CC BY-SA license.


  1. Great article.

    The deployment/reinstallation issue could be addressed with a simple PXE server on each segment of the LAN launching something like Clonezilla to deploy a pre-prepared image - much faster than a regular install from scratch (even with a custom ISO). Enable multicasting and you could image all 100 machines simultaneously.

    For the standalone machines, you could carry a USB stick with Clonezilla and the image. Being Linux, one image will work on everyone's machine regardless.

    You could also script something to launch on first boot that will rename the machine based on the MAC address or something similar (perhaps grep a list on a public network location), thus automating much of the rollout.

  2. Hope many institutions are taking note, this is the way to go

  3. Hola Fernando,

    Congrats for this nice initiative, very inspiring!

    I was wondering why you did not used Edubuntu rather than Ubuntu for this deployment?

    Best regards,

  4. French translation is available:
    Thanks Goofy for the tip!

  5. Nice interview. Good luck and hold on to use Linux everywhere. At our school in Hamburg, Germany we use Linux Mint on nearly 70 % of all (old) computers and counting. Linux Mint is been told »looks simular as Windows but with better feeling«.

  6. I think this is very interesting and knowledgeable information. I appreciate your great stuff about the windows migration.