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Most Useful OS For High-School Science Education? 434

Posted by timothy
from the why-in-my-day dept.
Clayperion writes "I teach at a high school program for gifted students which emphasizes math, science, and technology. Currently we have two computer labs for the students: A new programming lab (all Dell PCs running XP, MS Visual C++, Eclipse, and SolidWorks for programming and CAD) and an old general-purpose lab (all Macs running OS X 10.3, with software ranging from some legacy OS 9 science applications to MathCad). Most of our students eventually pursue graduate degrees in science and engineering, and we would like them to have experience with the tools they will find out in industry. As we look to replace the old machines, there has been a push to switch to PCs with XP so that there is only a single platform to support. There are over 5000 machines on the district's network and the IT department is very small (fewer than 10 people), so the fewer hardware and software differences between the machines, the better. Without opening a flame war as to which one is 'better,' I'd like to know what those of you in the science and engineering fields actually use more in your labs (hardware, OS, software), so that we can decide which platform to support. It will most likely have to be either XP or OS 10.6, with very restricted permissions to students and teachers, as that is the comfort level of IT and administration, but I'll push for whatever would benefit the students the most."
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Most Useful OS For High-School Science Education?

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  • Linux in our labs (Score:5, Informative)

    by King InuYasha (1159129) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @12:00AM (#32302712) Homepage

    Most of our labs in college use a mix of Fedora and Ubuntu Linux, with some Solaris speckled around.

    I'd probably go for Fedora, since a lot of students will likely be working on some Fedora derivative, and it is easier (in my opinion) than Ubuntu to administer. However, it's really up to you.

    I've also heard that many of the co-op companies our college partners with use some form of Linux. Though, for obvious reasons, a few design oriented companies use Mac OS X, though that may change in the future.

    Windows is a rarity, from what I've seen and heard.

  • by J3TP4CKKN1GHT5 (1764232) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @12:08AM (#32302768) Journal
    The question is asking about a high school district, meaning 1) most of these students, no matter how gifted, are not doing the same thing now as they will be doing, and 2) we are talking about a significant number of students, with at least some variation. So it doesn't matter specifically what kind of science and engineering, we're looking for the best general answer. As someone who took the science route, I will let the engineers debate the IT side. But I can say that my lab uses a mix of XP, Windows 7 and OS 10.6, and that either OS can be used effectively to teach. The main difference will be applications, so the best bet would be to choose the option that allowed the students access to the best and most varied access to applications
  • by dbarrycoyle (1817130) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @12:10AM (#32302780)
    I work at NASA and have many university colleagues I work with as well. A recent IP survey I had IT do at GSFC in MD showed a Mac OSX installation base of about 30%. This is similar at my freind's universities... at least in the physics and engineering depts. We recently moved our 20 or so PC's over to Mac a few years ago and have been very happy. I was able to show I saved the government approximately $60K-$90K a year in gained productivity and reduced IT support, salary, etc.... So, while Windows is used mostly now by the Best Buy consumer level base, which is 80% of the "market", the professional technical use of OSX is much higher. I suggest having a mix of new machines if possible and taking your own data. Track how often the machines are used, under repair, software costs, and how the students take to them and make your own conclusions. Good luck.
  • by jsepeta (412566) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @12:17AM (#32302830) Homepage

    macs are good for all kinds of tasks, not just art, electronic design, filmography, or music production. have you ever seen XCode? it's free with the OS and provides a fairly powerful IDE. don't knock it until you've tried it.

  • by tuxidriver (1472049) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @12:35AM (#32302948)

    It will depend heavily on what path your students pursue.

    I've done a mixture of hardware design and firmware development for both storage peripheral companies and IC houses. What I mostly see is:

    • Embedded development: Roughly a 50/50 mixture of Windows and Linux. Most compilers for embedded applications (e.g. Green Hills and ARM) are available for either platform. The same compilers are not available for Mac.
    • Digital IC design: Linux and some Solaris on big iron. In my experience, there is 0 use of Windows in this space. Most companies appear to be moving towards Linux.
    • IC verification (validating the design prior to producing the reticules used to manufacture the chips) is also 100% Linux with 0 use of Windows.
    • Analog IC design: Also strictly Linux and Solaris on big iron. Again, no use of Windows in this space.
    • Board level electrical design: Mostly Windows.
    • Mechanical design (Solid Works, etc.): Mostly Windows. One company I worked for used IRIX on Silicon Graphics workstations for 3D modelling, although they did eventually transition to Solid Works on Windows.
    • The modeling work I've seen/done (modeling Mueller-Muller clock recovery, Viterbi decoders, LDPC decoders, etc. used in communications systems) has been a 50/50 mixture of Windows and Linux (in some cases with the models developed with GCC and written to be portable across platforms). I believe this is mostly due to the compute resources that the companies I've worked for had on hand.

    I have yet to see any significant use of Mac's, except as clients to log into Linux workstations. Almost all IC design and verification is done on some POSIX compliant OS because of the the requirements of the tools. IC houses I've worked for generally have large numbers of 32, 64, and 128 way multi-processor systems with huge amounts of RAM. Windows XP is simply not able to take full advantage of these large systems and the tools require this much horsepower to be effective. I also have noted that many IC designers generally seem to prefer the power of a good CLI over GUI point-in-click file managers. There is also a lot of scripting in these environments, mostly in Perl (although I've also need shell script and Python used). Linux and similar operating systems lend themselves more for this sort of work.

    As for tools, I would suggest that you seriously look at trying to give your students at least a taste of such tools as MatLab, MathCAD, AutoCAD, and S. There are free equivalents for MatLab such as Scilab and Octave as well as Python packages such as SciPy, NumPy, and MatPlotLib (which I sometimes use for modeling). I know that languages such as S+ (or the free R language) are sometimes also used for statistical analysis. If you want to give your more advanced students a taste of chip design, consider the free offerings from Xilinx along with a few of their FPGA evaluation boards (available through DigiKey).

    I hope this helps.

  • Re:Open (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 22, 2010 @01:02AM (#32303064)

    The first Apple computers were color. That was one of the big selling points. TVs were most often used as monitors to take advantage of the color and to keep setup costs down.

    However, TVs didn't have enough resolution for things like 80 columns of text. For this, monochrome monitors were needed. Depending on the type of monitor, they tended to be green or amber. The computer had no control over the was all in the monitor. Same thing with the first Macs, only their color was more black/white.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 22, 2010 @01:34AM (#32303242)

    this is for a *high school*. specialization comes many years later.

  • by eparker05 (1738842) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @02:09AM (#32303432)

    I work in a lab and every computer there runs Windows XP or Vista because most of our instruments use software written for windows and most of our data is analyzed in Excel or Mathcad.

    Several of the workstations will dual boot into a Linux distribution because one guy does simulations with software that runs on Linux (I wish I could remember what software he uses).

  • by sydneyfong (410107) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @02:22AM (#32303492) Homepage Journal

    Python and Sqlite work pretty well.

    The main problem with using PHP is that you'll need to have a server that supports it, or set up your own. And then there's the idiocy of MySQL (which usually comes with php), the lack of an interactive interpreter, and so on.

    PHP is marginally useful for web development, but really, rather crap for anything else.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 22, 2010 @02:45AM (#32303572)

    Octave is MatLab enough for someone who is just learning.
    For highschool or first year undergrad stuff it can be considered matlab without the fluff
    ie. graphical interface/array editor, built in clicky menus and ezplot. I can't think of how this would be a disadvantage when it comes to teaching people how things work.
    I've heard that its floating point isn't as good (second hand), but I've never run into any problems (in undergrad physics).

  • by Shag (3737) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @05:36AM (#32304204) Homepage

    mac mini (essentially thin client hardware)

    Let's see... Core 2 Duo at 2.26-2.66 GHz with 3MB L2 cache, 1066MHz FSB, 2GB-4GB of DDR3 RAM, GeForce 9400M video, Mini DisplayPort and MiniDVI video out (2 ports, so you can have 2 monitors) 160-500GB internal disk, 5 USB ports, optical digital audio in/out, 1 FireWire-800 port, and a DVD+-R/DL burner...

    Geez, thin clients have an awful lot of features nowadays.

    (In other words, the Mac mini is essentially laptop hardware, only with more ports than you get on an Apple laptop, and I have no idea where you got this "thin client" idea from.)

  • Re:Windows XP? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Diantre (1791892) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @06:41AM (#32304450)
    Did your son try Windows XP Mode? [] It's a free virtual XP machine for Windows 7. Also, what was the program?
  • Re:any linux distro (Score:3, Informative)

    by not-my-real-name (193518) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @08:56AM (#32305160) Homepage

    MacOS as a second choice (I hate mac) however it still does lack in some places. Examples are software libs, sparse matrix solvers, r, sage, latex, root(physics) .

    I'm not sure about the other applications, but I have native R and LaTeX (TeXShop) sitting in the toolbar on my Mac.

  • by FoolishOwl (1698506) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @12:55PM (#32306864) Journal

    There's also Sage Math []. You could use the Sage Notebook [] to try it out. The programming interface is based on Python.

  • by Warbothong (905464) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @02:41PM (#32307822) Homepage

    I agree with the Linux remarks. I'm just finishing a 4 year Physics+Comp.Sci. undergraduate. All of the seats in the place use XP, except a few in the CS lab which can dual-boot Fedora, but the only software used outside the CS department is Microsoft Office, Excel and Firefox. In fact the further through my course I got, the more Linux systems I was shown how to use: the Astronomy lab has 2 Debian servers with remote desktop & SSH, the staff have a choice for their office machines and all I seen use Linux except one Mac (and I had to SSH into these regularly), the University's cluser is Linux of course, the Physics department uses live CDs when it needs to teach specialised software and most of my course mates have got some Linux availability in order to run software for their project (data analysis, simulation, etc.).

    The use of Windows is usually Excel+Word+Firefox, but even Word gets used by fewer as they progress once they're shown LyX. Any non-tricial number crunching usually gets done by scripts (eg. Python), so that spreadsheets are all fine as CSV (and this is what applications usually dump out anyway) so any program can be used to make graphs from it (I prefer Gnumeric).

    They do use Bloodshed C compiler in the second year, but I used by Linux laptop for the whole course since Bloodshed's a mess compared to something like Geany, or even Gedit+terminal. I've done fewer courses in the Computer Science department, but those I've done all use Eclipse which works fine on Linux.

    tl;dr: For my degree course Windows was only used for familiarity reasons, and everyone switches away as the course progresses as it becomes too much of a burden. If kids are taught Linux then, IMHO, they will have a head-start since they won't need weaning off Windows throughout University. They will arrive with the basic skills to get stuff done and focus on what their meant to be using the computer for "compile it with 'gcc filename.c -o filename'"; rather than trying to understand the basics which stops them focusing on the real task "use 'cd' to go to the directory. All directories start with /. etc. etc."

  • by TimSSG (1068536) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @03:43PM (#32308416)
    Scilab is another FLOSS Matlab like application.
    Octave tries to do everything just like Matlab.
    Scilab does not try to do it all the Matlab way;
    I find it easier to use; since,
    Scilab syntax is closer to C Language.

    Tim S.
  • Re:Linux in our labs (Score:2, Informative)

    by OneAhead (1495535) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @08:50PM (#32319052)

    Pretty much the same thing here. We have 16 workstations and 7 servers in our lab, all of it running Linux. Oh, we do have 1 Windows PC and 1 Mac too. They are sitting idle most of the time, being used only if somehow wants to try out some mac-only program or access an IE-only website (which is getting increasingly rare). Making someone use Windows as their primary operating system for doing science would be like requiring them to ride a bicycle with one leg and both arms bound. Max OSX is better, but still barely adequate.

    One might argue the Linux is a niche OS, but even it that were true, science *is* one of Linux's niches!

"It's when they say 2 + 2 = 5 that I begin to argue." -- Eric Pepke