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

Tom Haddon tom at greenleaftech.net
Sun Sep 2 08:30:27 PDT 2007

On Sat, 2007-09-01 at 12:00 -0700, jim stockford wrote:
> 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
> confidence.

Certainly don't count myself as an Open Office expert, but I'd mention
three points:

- If it's not working immediately under Open Office, getting a quick
hack in place in a very short time frame for something so "mission
critical" is probably not a good idea. Migrating the school to FOSS is a
great idea, but trying to push it through when all the kinks haven't
been worked out will do more harm than good. I'd suggest working out the
issue til you're 100% confident before presenting it. Even if that means
missing this particular deadline.
- What does the spreadsheet contain? Could you export it as .csv and
then try opening that in OpenOffice, or are there macros and such in the
spreadsheet that prevent this?
- Have you tried any of the other FOSS applications that support .xls
files (gnumeric, Koffice, there may be others).

Thanks, Tom

> 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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Tom Haddon
mailto:tom at greenleaftech.net
m +1.415.871.4180

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