Ben Thompson over at Half Life Source is reporting on the ever increasing talk about the OLPC project’s XO laptop moving away from Linux in preference of Windows. The argument goes along the lines of it being better to expose children to Outlook, Office and other Msoft packages, as these are the software that run by and large in the commercial sector – and most other employers of note. Ergo time spent producing material Open Office is less valuable than time spent producing material in Microsoft Office if you want to be employed in the developed world?
It’s a short-sighted logic. As many job selection criteria for skilled labour positions include something like “Familiarity with Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook” commentators on the OLPC project feel that because the XO is a ‘laptop’ there is an opportunity to load it with software that you’d be using if you weren’t an impoverished 12 year old from Mongolia. But most of the users of XO laptops are indeed disadvantaged. And when you’re struggling to just get power to your device, worrying about a consumer oriented crash prone operating system is the last thing you want to be doing.
The OLPC project rests on the underlying principals of open source, whereby the device as a whole is supported by a community, for free. As Pia from OLPC Australia is clear to point out in an article published in May, running windows on an XO doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
“It is completely irrelevant to the value of what the whole project is all about. OLPC Australia has been set up without that ever being on the agenda. The core principal that’s repeated often about the project is that it’s an education project not a laptop project. Part of delivering on that idea is the open source platform. The community built around the not only the technology but also the content and the use of the device. There is a community angle that permeates everything on what the device, how it works for kids and that sort of stuff…I have no idea as to why Windows is regarded as relevant to this and some of the stuff in the press about running Sugar on Windows and things like that – well Windows is just an operating system that doesn’t deliver on the vision of OLPC.” [source]
We’re not far off from streaming applications as the mainstay of our computer experience and when you think about that you start to wonder about the value of that old Office 97′ disk. Add to that the potential increased cost of the XO should it run Windows (projected as around an additional $10) because of new hardware requirements and the deal is looking like less and less appealing all the time. In the end, understanding the OLPC project not as a laptop project but as the development of a broadband enabled learning tool (that just happens to take the form of a laptop) is critical if you want to contribute to the stated goals of the project.
Just because Windows is available on the XO doesn’t mean that anyone is moving away from GNU/linux or sugar. One doesn’t preclude the other.
To clarify, I worry about “letting Windows in” lest the community’s ability to develop for the platform be hamstrung. Porting apps sounds like it adds a whole lot of work for people who are already strung out as it is?