Teacher's Linux lunacy provokes derision

When Austin-based Linux distributor Ken Starks received an email from a local teacher suggesting he was breaking the law for handing out free copies of Linux to local schoolchildren, and threatening legal action, he could have been forgiven for thinking it was a hoax.

The teacher, only identified as "Karen", wrote that she "observed one of my students with a group of other children gathered around his laptop. Upon looking at his computer, I saw he was giving a demonstration of some sort. The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks [sic]."

Karen then confiscated the discs and confronted the student, who pointed out that there was nothing illegal about handing out copies of Linux. But Karen didn't believe this.

"No software is free," she ranted, "and spreading that misconception is harmful." She continued: "I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows."

Later in her lengthy email, Karen appeared to have confused Linux with a type of illegal narcotic: "Mr. Starks, I along with many others tried Linux during college and I assure you, the claims you make are grossly over-stated and hinge on falsehood."

Whatever it was Karen smoked in college, it seems to have given her a rose-tinted view of the world of commercial software, writing: "I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older verison[sic] of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them."

Starks, whose HeliOS Project gives free Linux-based computers out to disadvantaged and promising children, wasn't going to let the issue lie at that. In a blistering email riposte, which he published on his blog, he wrote: "First off, if there was even the slightest chance that I was doing something illegal, it would not have been done. To think that I would involve my kids in my "illegal" activities is an insult far beyond outrage. You should be ashamed of yourself for putting into print such none sense [sic]."

"And please...investigate to your heart's content. You are about to have your eyes opened, that is if you actually investigate anything at all. Linux is a free as-in-cost and free as-in-license operating system. It was designed specifically for those purposes. Linux is used to free people from Microsoft. The fact that you seem to believe that Microsoft is the end all and be-all is actually funny in a sad sort of way."

The string of derisory comments aimed at Karen by blog readers was predictable, and the attempts by a few self-appointed Linux vigilantes to work out and post the full identity of the teacher online were depressing in equal measure.

However, it seems that Karen may not be an entirely lost cause. Twitter updates on his blog yesterday indicated that Karen had subsequently called him, and after 45 minutes of explaining Linux and free/open source software, "apologies flowed, she is in awe of the Linux/FOSS Community". A civil lawsuit Karen's colleagues had talked her into launching against Starks is now on hold, and he is installing Linux on her computer tomorrow.

Can we expect a New Year engagement? Watch this space.

Graham Taylor

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