Learning Windows – is this really a life-skill?

A few weeks ago I mentioned the imminent release of the £99 ONE laptop which runs a version of the open source GNU/Linux operating system. The reason these computers are so cheap is largely due to the fact that the GNU/Linux operating system is essentially free, which takes out a lot of the cost. There are other cost factors, though. The ONE also requires less memory and hard-disc storage to run the system whereas Windows XP, for example, requires a whopping 15GB of storage.

The point I was making was that the low cost of the ONE laptop could pose a threat to the dominance of the Windows operating system, and indeed, it seems that Microsoft is not about to let this go unchallenged. It has reacted, in part, by getting involved in the One laptop Per Child project (OLPC), initially set up by MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte, to design and produce a sub-$100 machine for use in the developing world. A version of Windows will be available on the OLPC XO low-cost machine.

This has caused a considerable stir in the free and open source software communities who assumed that, since OLPC’s goal was to reach the poorest children of the world, very low cost operating systems would be the answer. The intention is that the XO will still be shipped with a GNU/Linux option, but what I think is interesting is the reasoning given by some commentators for also providing a Windows version.

The IEEE Distributed Systems online magazine quotes an IDC analyst, Bob O’Donnell, who argues that OLPC has had feedback from their target countries who “understood the theoretical appeal of the open source software, but they said, ‘We have to teach our kids life-skills.’ And whether anybody wants to admit it or not, learning Windows is a life-skill. It trains them for something they can use on the job.” (my italics).

This is one of the arguments used in favour of Windows and other proprietary software that Richard Stallman highlighted when he spoke to me the other day in Manchester. Stallman counter-argues that this kind of thinking is a trap which ends up with proprietary software being continually perpetuated through the system and means that deeper issues surrounding software and its effect on human freedoms are not explored. There’ll be more on this shortly when my interview with Stallman is published – I’ll keep you posted.

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One Response to “Learning Windows – is this really a life-skill?”

  1. whyamistilltyping Says:

    The part about Windows is completely untrue. Whilst Vista may take up about 4Gb or HDD space for a full install, it can comfortably fit into about half that when pruned down. XP is the same, a full install taking up about 2.5Gb. Of course, you do need to give Windows a bit of swap room as well as a bit of ‘backyard’ HDD area, but to say you need to write off 15Gb to Windows is complete nonsense. Even 10Gb would be pushing it.

    If you don’t believe me, install Windows yourself with all the feature you need, add an Antivirus/Firewall program as well as the drivers. Remove the temporary files and take a look. Its only when you buy a computer from a manufacturer that you lose so much hard disk space because they fill it with wanton crapware which they are paid to install.

    I should say on the flip side, I am a huge Linux and F/OSS fan and I don’t think too much of the Windows idea for the XO. However, for the EEE PC, it has turned out to be quite a popular option. At the end of the day, I believe once you own the hardware, you can put anything you want on it to suit you, manufacturers be damned 😉

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