[sf-lug] Fwd: help moving a public middle school in San Francisco to FOSS

jim stockford jim at well.com
Sat Sep 1 12:00:17 PDT 2007

    the following is a request for expertise in getting
Open Office spreadsheet program to load a .xls
file quickly and to allow working with it with complete

Begin forwarded message:

> From: "Christian Einfeldt" <einfeldt at gmail.com>
> Date: September 1, 2007 11:46:00 AM PDT

> Subject: help moving a public middle school in San Francisco to FOSS
> hi,
> I need some help figuring out how to make OOo handle a massive 6 MB 
> .xls file better.
> Here is the background:  As some of you might remember, I have been 
> volunteering as a level one (meaning low level) tech support for a 
> public middle school in San Francisco.  I have been trying to move the 
> whole school to FOSS, and I have been filming the process for the  
> Digital Tipping Point documentary film. 
> I now have a vexing problem that is posing a rather serious obstacle 
> to that migration. The problem is a massive .xls spreadsheet that the 
> school uses to track the students' behavioral development, meaning do 
> they do their homework, do they arrive to school on time, do they 
> participate in classes, are they misbehaving, and so forth.  This 
> document, called the "paychecks" Excel spreadsheet, is reported every 
> two weeks.  This spreadsheet is a mission-critical tool for the 
> school.  We will not be able to move the school to FOSS unless we are 
> able to convince the principal that OOo can handle this 
> mission-critical document. 
> The document is 6 MB large.  I has the name of every student in the 
> school, and their performance over stretched over a period of time. We 
> will not easily be able to persuade the school to move their teachers 
> to FOSS boxes unless OOo can open this file as seamlessly as Microsoft 
> Office.  We are currently running this as a pilot project, and so I am 
> not really all that hopeful about convincing them to save the file as 
> an OpenDocument format, because we are currently considering letting 
> only one teacher try to use the document, and only on one box.  
> Unfortunately, the document will need to be printed from a Windows 
> box.
> Currently, the school does allow me to place FOSS boxes in a few 
> classrooms for simple word processing and simple email and simple 
> Internet browsing.  Plus, the school has dedicated an entire classroom 
> to a GNU Linux lab running edubuntu.  For the school to dedicate an 
> entire classroom here, in San Francisco, where space is ALWAYS an 
> issue, is a major miracle.  So we are making some progress. 
> But the teachers remain entirely on non-Free Software computers, and 
> the principal is extremely skeptical about FOSS.  She is the biggest 
> technophobe I have ever seen.  I typically have to train her multiple 
> times on the same tasks whenever we introduce a new technology.  She 
> is highly resistant to any change in any teacher-facing device.  Her 
> resistance is somewhat understandable:  she is forced to fundraise 40% 
> of her budget every year!!!  California schools provide less than half 
> of what Delaware and New Jersey, for example, provides to their 
> students, in terms of annual budgets.  Her budget means that she is 
> understaffed by about 10%, which means that the teachers who are 
> willing to work here, must pick up the slack.  So she is stressed out.
> I am currently writing this email on a system that the school bought 
> from Zareason, Inc., with funds from the Microsoft Anti-Trust 
> Settlement, and this box is a dual-core 2 ghz chips with 2 GB of RAM, 
> and it actually takes 110 seconds to load the "paychecks" .xls file on 
> this box.  I am thinking that the teachers will consider OOo to be 
> broken if we give them FOSS boxes to load that file.  I had no other 
> apps open at all when I loaded that file.  I was running it on an 
> openSUSE 10.2 box, and I am about to test the file on a Ubuntu Studio 
> box with similar hardware.
> We have received a donation of some decent computers with 256 MB of 
> RAM and with 1.2 ghz chips running PClinuxOS 2007, and it takes those 
> boxes a full 12 minutes to load the file, even if there is no other 
> application open at all.
> I am actually really rather vexed about this problem.  One of the few 
> remaining defenses for Microsoft at this school is this spreadsheet.  
> This spreadsheet is, as I mentioned, a mission-critical tool that the 
> school uses to assess kids' behavior.  The big pay-off for us as FOSS 
> advocates is that if we can get this spreadsheet running on FOSS 
> boxes, then that is just one less obstacle to us moving the whole 
> school to FOSS.  Lots of the teachers boxes are getting old and buggy, 
> and the principal is going to have to do something about it in the not 
> so distant future.  I believe that if we can solve this problem, we 
> might be able to make them an all-FOSS shop eventually.
> But the teachers will probably not accept a box that takes even 110 
> seconds to load this spreadsheet, and they will get a negative 
> impression of FOSS, which might actually set us back, rather than move 
> us forward. 
> Thanks tons,
> Christian Einfeldt

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