Spreading Linux and other open-source software would have obvious benefits for Red Hat, but Szulik steered listeners' attention toward more altruistic and patriotic motivations in the closing keynote address at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo on Thursday.
"What's really happening is money is taking over how our children are being educated," he said. "The industry that has contributed so much to the GDP of this country is all of a sudden finding itself looking at education as a market opportunity and not as a fundamental responsibility."
For example, the city of Philadelphia school system, twice nearly bankrupt, is "being audited by a monopolist," Szulik said, making a thinly veiled jab at Microsoft. "Those teachers and administrators are spending time counting licenses."
Red Hat is working on setting up a nonprofit organization, led by Chairman Bob Young, that would help push Linux and open-source software in education, Szulik said. He likened the effort to the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the federal work programs developed during the Great Depression.
But Red Hat hasn't been focusing on one area key to using Linux in schools--making Linux easier to use. Red Hat has backed the Gnome user interface effort but largely has confined its emphasis to servers rather than mainstream PCs.
For desktop use, Szulik praised the efforts of the K12 Linux Terminal Server Project, which offers a free version of Red Hat's version of Linux and Sun Microsystems' StarOffice software. The project grew out of efforts at schools in the Oregon towns of Riverdale and Multnomah.
Programmers who have been working on Linux features such as asynchronous input/output or memory management need to take other measures such as volunteering to teach in schools and making sure Linux bids are submitted when schools are buying new equipment, Szulik said.
People also should find or donate computers for schools, especially because Linux can run on older machines, he said.
The average technology expenditure per student is $105 per year, he said--money that should be stretched as far as possible. Currently schools are "taking your tax dollars for inflated technology that simply doesn't work," he said, with national consequences.
"In 25 years or 12 years, your son or daughter (isn't) going to be competing against the person who is their next-door neighbor. They're going to be competing against a person from Tel Aviv, a person from Beijing, a person from Munich," Szulik said.