Do you have old hardware and software the kids won't use?  Did you buy them a new computer knowing that you'd be repeating this again next year?  Stop.  You can end that cycle, make them even more technology literate and save yourself money all at the same time.

Today, the leading database, MySQL, is open source.  The overwhelming majority of web server platforms are open source as well.  I have every reason to believe that front-end software will follow suit.

If you haven't made the switch, here's a list of reasons why you should:

  1. LibreOffice, a fork of Open Office, is completely compatible with Microsoft Office (it can be formatted as .doc or .xls, etc) and includes additional features like a database program comparable to Microsoft Access.
  2. LibreOffice is free:  No subscriptions, no outlay for upgrades.
  3. GIMP does almost everything the overly pricey Adobe Photoshop does.
  4. GIMP is also free, just add talent.
  5. Tired of bad Windows upgrades?  Consider Linux an upgrade for your hardware.  Everything runs faster on Linux.
  6. Can't choose?  You can make your PC both Windows and Linux.

That's just the start of the list.  There's much more.  As I've had time to contemplate what the real issue with education and technology is, I came to the conclusion that the real issue is training.  Truthfully, armed with just an old PC and free software, I could run circles around those that have spent considerably more.  Ask my kids.  They love geek mom -- especially on the day before their big presentation is due.

If you need more proof it's the user and not the lack of expensive tools, take a look at this image in GIMP Magazine by Luciano Freitas.  It's one of many amazing graphics produced with open source.

Image created with Open Source GIMP

If you're wondering where to get started, here are a few links to front-end software and training for it.

I installed Linux Mint on our PCs to extend equipment life and to give our keiki additional resources to do their homework with.  What I didn't expect was how happy the kids are with the new operating system.  For one, it runs flawlessly and rapidly.  Web surfing has never been faster or more secure than it is now.

Just to test it out, I also installed the Minecraft executable.  It's also fast.  The kids have now asked for Linux to be installed on all the laptops.

For those adventurous parents wading into the Linux arena, here's how to do the install.  First, go to the Minecraft download page at https://minecraft.net/download.  Select the Linux version.  The .jar file will download to your downloads folder.  Move the .jar file to your desktop using drag and drop.

At this point, the executable won't run when clicked.  To get it to run, right-click on the icon and select properties.  From the properties submenu, click the permissions tab and click the box marked "allow executing file as program."  Click the open with tab and pick the Java runtime program.  Make sure you select "set as default" before closing.  That's it.   From now on, when the icon is clicked, the Minecraft executable will run.

Chances are that April 2014 came and went without your alarm.  Sadly however, that is the date Microsoft stopped supporting its 12-year operating system, XP.  The biggest issue for me, was simply that the lack of security upgrades could put the rest of the household technology at risk.

I had a laptop that just wasn't good enough to make the cut to an upgrade.  The newer Windows 8 operating system cost more than the PC alone was worth.  I finally resolved, seven months later, to do something with it.  I reconfigured it with a Linux operating system.  I must say that I'm simply impressed by how well it runs now.

One of the nicest aspects of running Linux is that you can test it out before you make a more permanent decision.  The system is compact enough to run from a small flash drive.  Additionally, if you use a program like Yumi, you can boot multiple distributions of Linux from the same drive.

Linux comes in multiple distributions, or in tech jargon, distros.  Each one has its own benefits.  From a popularity standpoint, Ubuntu tops the list.  For my project, I chose two.  One is called Tails, and recently came into the spotlight because Edward Snowden touted its security and anonymity.  The other is called Linux Mint, and it's a fork of Ubuntu (the program updates come from Ubuntu) with the added benefit of default music and video apps.  I found both to be exceptional.

Linux distributions come preloaded with apps.  Both Tails and Linux Mint had LibreOffice, an office suite compatible with Microsoft Office, preinstalled.  Linux Mint has GIMP and VLC along with other well-regarded open source programs.  Frankly, I don't know that there was much missing that I would need for a student PC.  Oh, and did I mention that the system is fast?  I don't know when I recall feeling this unbloated.  I guess it would have to harken back to the days of command line DOS.

Linux is not DOS.  Thankfully.  Rather, it's a fully mature operating system running on a graphical interface, just like Windows and Mac OS.  My computer looks just like anyone else's these days. Here's the thing.  I liked the new Linux OS so much, I also installed it on another older PC -- and I did it with a dual system menu.  It runs both Windows 7 and Linux, albeit not at the same time.

If you have an older PC, save our environment and recycle it right in your own home.  The Linux distros are open source and free.  You may even be like me and find it so good that it belongs on your post-XP computers as well.