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Re: Commercial involvement of SLX Debian Labs in Debian Edu market

Hm, this email ended up a bit long.  I'm sorry for not taking the time
to make it shorter.

[Ragnar Wisloff]
> Today there has been a thread on the mailing lists about various
> projects and tasks that it seems SLX Debian Labs is involved in, and
> that some of the project developers and others might get involved
> with as well. I am not impressed by the lack of answers to explicit
> questions that have been asked.

I am not sure what the fuzz is all about, but obviously there are some
areas where the general knowledge is not up to date.

I'll try to summarize the general principles in use by the project, as
well as the state of the various plans/contacts/applications I'm aware
of and/or remember at the moment.

An important thing to remember is that the Debian-Edu/Skolelinux
project do not make exclusive deals with anyone.  We welcome every one
interested in making this project a success, and try our best to make
sure everyone work together on a equal terms.

First of all, for the Debian-Edu project to be a success, there needs
to be a well functioning marked for people supplying services to
schools.  The project supplies a complete software solution and a
foundation on which others can build their work.  But only the
software is free (as in speech and beer).  For schools to have a well
functioning computer installation, they will need access to
knowledgeable people monitoring and fixing their network of computers
when a problem appears.  It will also need people locally doing the
day-to-day maintenance.  The goal of the project is to _reduce_ the
time needed to do maintenance, but I believe it is unlikely that the
need will be removed.

Another goal of the project is to make sure most of the maintenance
can be done remotely, to make it possible to administrate a school
over the net.  The idea is to make it possible for commercial entities
to provide such maintenance services for several schools.  This is
needed because a single school is unlikely to be able to maintain a
staff of highly skilled computer administrators (after all, most such
staff want to work in an environment where there are other highly
skilled computer people, not alone in a school).  If regional centers
can be established to monitor and maintain the computer installations
of several schools, those schools are more likely to receive high
quality services.

In short, we want several entities providing Debian-Edu consulting and
maintenance contracts to schools in competition with each other.  We
want to provide those entities with the tools out of the box to make
their job easy, to make sure the schools don't have to pay a lot to
get this service.

At the moment I'm aware of a few companies providing such services,
but there is room for more.  Size is also an issue.  A school or a
municipality might prefer a local provider, but larger government
agencies want large deals with large companies.  We need to get to a
point where both large and small companies are available and compete
with each other on a level playing field, where prize and the quality
of their work, not their lock-in strategy is the main selling point.

This is the basis for the project to make contact and accept contact
with all service providers on a non-exclusive basis.  We try to
encourage companies to start providing services based on Debian-Edu.
We give recommendations and try to explain how companies can
participate in the Debian-Edu market.

Of course all companies basing their work on the Debian-Edu effort
should give back to the community as well.  There is of course the
ethical side of it, but there is also the more pragmatic side.  If you
want the project to move in a direction which is good for the company
(fix your bugs, improve the system to make the work easier), the
easiest way is to hire someone to do it.  And the easiest way to avoid
having to maintain the solution all by yourself, is to get the fix
included into the official Debian-Edu distribution.  Also, if a
company wants to earn money based on Debian-Edu, it is important for
Debian-Edu to become a success.  So it is smart to improve the
Debian-Edu base to increase its quality and thus improve the chances
of Debian-Edu to become a success.  In addition, those companies with
people participating in the development process increase their
visibility and their credibility, and thus are more likely to get new

Ok, enough basic principles.  On to the plans/contacts/applications
currently in the works.  I will probably forget some of them, as Vidar
and Knut are the ones doing most of this work.

 - We have sent an application to the department of education (KUF),
   trying to get funding for a project testing the Debian-Edu ideas
   for centralized administration of schools.  UNINETT ABC is also
   involved/informed/interested in these plans.

 - We have been in touch with USIT (the central IT staff at the
   University of Oslo), checking if they can help us improve the
   distribution when it comes to centralized administration and also
   to get access to more of their knowledge on large scale system
   administration.  (Disclamer: I work at USIT)

 - We have been in contact with the municipality in Oslo trying to get
   them interested in using Debian-Edu.  I think we sent an
   application for funding to run a few schools on Debian-Edu.  I am
   uncertain as to the details.

 - We have been in touch with several HW distributors, trying to get
   them to sell machines with Debian-Edu preinstalled.  A lot of talk
   has taken place, but nothing has come out of this yet.

 - We have been successful at getting the used HW seller In/Out to
   sell complete Debian-Edu packages with preinstalled and tested
   servers and a pile of used machines as thin clients.

 - We have succeeded in getting companies to help schools set up and
   maintain Debian-Edu, both as consultants and with maintenance
   contracts.  Most of these are in the Oslo area.  Ragnar at Linux
   Labs and Finn-Arne with his one-man company are the most prominent
   members of this group.

 - We have been contacted by a larger service provider, interested in
   providing services on Debian-Edu, and are currently assisting them
   in understanding how this could be done.  One of the ideas is that
   they do day-to-day work with their own staff, and they pay SLX
   Debian Labs to provide second/third line support.  SLX Debian Labs
   will then have to hire some skilled Debian-Edu people to provide
   this support.  I don't remember what the company is called, and as
   far as I understood, they did not want to have their name published
   until they were actually ready to announce this service.  This is
   the company Knut mentioned in his email.

 - We are working on providing security patches for Debian/Testing, to
   make it easier/safer to use testing, and thus make Debian/Testing a
   more comfortable base for the next version of Debian-Edu.  We have
   discovered that this is interesting for several companies using
   Debian, and are in touch with HP and a company in England (forgot
   the name) to try to get them to fund part of this work, or hire
   their own people to work as a team with us.

 - We are in contact with startup in England, funded by Mark
   Shuttleworth which is also funding development of the SchoolTool
   project.  They are going to make a commercial Debian/Sid based
   distribution, and intend to be a part of the Debian community
   pushing fixes and improvements back to Debian while still being
   able to make a new stable release based on a subset of Debian/Sid
   (aka unstable) every 6 months.  We are trying to make sure their
   subset includes all the packages we use, and also try to get them
   to reuse our configuration settings.  The idea is that if their
   approach is working, we can base a future version of Debian-Edu on
   their packages instead of waiting a long time for the next version
   of Debian/Stable.

 - We are also in touch with Mark Shuttleworth trying to get him to
   sponsor our development.  He said he might be interested if we
   could provide schools to test and improve SchoolTool.  I haven't
   been able to find any such schools yet.

 - A recent idea is that we could get paid to fix release critical
   bugs in Debian, to speed up the release of Debian.  Nothing
   specific here yet, just a random idea.

 - We are working with UNINETT ABC and USIT to get the Cerebrum
   package integrated into Debian and Debian-Edu.  I'm told UNINETT
   ABC already got the funds to do this, but I'm not sure about the
   current status.  This will be done by Andreas Schuldei from us and
   probably Mathias Meisfjordskar from USIT (he is the one involved in
   the Feide2go project at UNINETT ABC, which is basically the same
   thing but without the automatic out of the box configuration. :)

I probably forgot something.  Back to your questions:

> It seems that SLX Debian Labs, which is a foundation funded by another
> foundation as far as I understand, and which has paid the lions share
> of the money spent on the project so far, is about to get or already
> has an agreement with "a large private Application Service Provider"
> which is setting up a "day-to-day operation center of operating many
> Skolelinux-installations at schools in different municipalities".

I guess this is covered above.

> If this is correct, then I think SLX Debian Labs should come clean
> about this and explain what this agreement really is, and with which
> company. There has always been pressure from people in the core of
> the Debian Edu project to keep information in the open, also when
> this information is commercial.

Yes, it would be good with more summaries like I made above.  But it
takes quite a long time to write them, and I normally want to spend
that time working on the technical side.  I'm sorry for being mostly a
technical guy. :/

I try to leave this administrative stuff to Vidar and Knut, and try to
make sure they keep the mailing list informed on what is going on, but
it is hard to know when enough info is communicated and when too
little is communicated.  The weekly summaries are intended to make
sure information is more easily available, and they are slowly finding
their form.

> There are several companies that have contributed either directly,
> or through their employees, to the development and spreading of the
> solution, in various stages of the project. There is also an option
> to become a support member of the Skolelinux organisation, which, to
> my knowledge, is necessary in order to use the Skolelinux name and
> logo commercially.

Yes, this is true.  This should be promoted more.

> My own employer has a number of customers that we support on Debian
> Edu. Others are in the same situation. This means there is a market
> for providing various solutions, products and services based on
> Debian Edu. SLX Debian Labs should acknowledge this and explain what
> is going on. As things now stand there is considerable uncertainty,
> and should SLX Debian Labs become involved with a single large ASP
> this will tilt the level playing field considerably.

I hope my summary explains what is going on, and reduces the
uncertainty.  The intent is not to tilt the playing field, but to
increase the available options for those interested in using
Debian-Edu, as well as improving Debian-Edu for those providing
services based on it.

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