While the commercial sector weighs up the pros and cons of adopting open-source software, the education sector has taken the lead, using the free alternatives extensively. Lee Yat Ngok Memorial School, a primary school in Kwai Chung, has 10 to 15 servers mostly running open-source applications for everything, from the internet, e-mail and databases to the school's firewall. The school has only two Windows servers, because the mandatory school administration management system is based on this platform. The school is also testing Linux on desktops. Stability was the key concern, said the school's information technology co-ordinator, Chan Wai-kuen. 'Our school has more than 200 PCs. The system supports over 1,000 users, including staff, students, their parents and alumni. At times, more than 100 users will access the server at the same time.' The school has only one full-time and two part-time staff members to take care of its computers. In Mr Chan's experience, the Windows servers break down once every month or two. But the Linux servers will keep running for a year if there is no change to the system. Security is the school's next concern. 'Both Windows and Linux have security holes that require regular patching but there are fewer viruses targeting the Linux OS,' Mr Chan said. 'Fortunately, so far our school has not been affected by a single attack.' Improved performance had also influenced the school's decision to choose open-source software, he said. A key issue facing most local schools is a funding squeeze. From next year, the government will reduce its funding for school IT projects and the position of information technology co-ordinator will be terminated, together with its $200,000 budget. At present, a school typically has an annual IT budget of $150,000 to $200,000 for equipment, supplies and technical support and another $550,000 for non-teaching purposes including IT development. But the cost-cutting will put schools like Lee Yat Ngok in a difficult situation. Mr Chan said the budget cuts were 'a big setback for IT development' in schools. 'The government thinks that once the IT infrastructure is in place, they can reduce manpower. But there are a lot of things to do to maintain a system,' he said. 'I don't know how our school will cope when I have to teach full time next year. 'In the last five years, what the schools have done is set up a communication platform. We have not yet developed effective teaching materials over the platform. There are still many more things to do.' The prospect of budget cuts has ensured Lee Yat Ngok is not alone in its adoption of open source. A recent survey by the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers and training centre Sun Wah-Pearl Linux found that almost 85 per cent of primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong had used one or more open-source applications. 'Although the result is non-conclusive because ... only 101 out of the total 1,100 schools returned the questionnaire, it is still an encouraging result given that the government has put only very limited resources into promoting open source,' said Albert Chung, chief marketing evangelist at Sun Wah-Pearl Linux. So far adoption at schools has been generally limited to the server side. The most popular applications are Web server (70 per cent), database (47 per cent), e-mail server (46 per cent) and file and print server (35 per cent). Commercial software, particularly Microsoft Windows, still dominates the desktop. Only 24 per cent of respondents had tried Linux on desktops and only 8 per cent had used open-source office applications such as OpenOffice. Ninety-five per cent of the schools who responded cited cost savings as a key reason for choosing open-source software. Stability was considered important by 65 per cent. The change will not be plain sailing. Of the respondents, 73 cited lack of technical support and 64 per cent cited lack of know-how as hurdles in adopting open-source software. Another 40 and 36 per cent complained about compatibility and lack of manpower. Mr Chan agreed that switching from a user-friendly graphical environment like Windows to command line mode (still common in Linux) was difficult for administrators. Tony Ching, the federation's assistant IT manager, said schools needed more government leadership. 'The government should do more to promote open source. One thing it can do is to include open source in the curriculum of computer studies.' There was a social value to the use of Linux and open-source software, he said. 'Open source encourages knowledge sharing. Promoting it among students will be good for society in the long run. It also gives the society more choice and an alternative to commercial software.' But Microsoft's Peter Moore, public sector general manager and Asia-Pacific chief technology officer, argued that commercial software contributed equally to society. 'The commercial software model allows companies like Microsoft to reinvest a proportion of its profits back in local economies and in research and development. This year alone, Microsoft reinvested US$6.8 billion in R&D,' he said. 'It is also important to look at the issues that are important to customers, be they businesses, universities or schools, and they need software that is secure, has lower total cost of ownership, is reliable and is interoperable.'