Posts Tagged ‘GNU/Linux’

Microsoft tacks the winds of change

November 2, 2009

Microsoft have done two important things this year. The first, Windows 7, you will no doubt have heard all about. Indeed, judging by the number of TV adverts for the launch last week you may be starting to get heartily sick of hearing about it. The second, though, is less well known but much more controversial: they’ve recently committed some of their hand-crafted-in-Redmond code to GNU/Linux. I’ve been writing about different aspects of this for a few people, but the first to publish is Prospect magazine. It’s quite a short piece in terms of the complexity of the issues, but will give you a taster of what’s to come.

Richard Stallman challenges education

June 30, 2008

I recently mentioned an interview I did with software pioneer and happy hacker Richard Stallman, when he was on a rare visit to the UK. The resulting piece has just been published as Richard Stallman on the road less travelled. The reference to Robert Frost’s poem was an attempt to sum up the way in which Stallman has always flown in the face of the mainstream. And his views on education are no different.

For the first time, Stallman outlined his views on the role of proprietary software use in schools and universities, which are less well known and could prove pretty controversial. One of the things we discussed involved commercialisation of software produced during the research process. He called on university research staff to actively resist moves to develop proprietary software during these projects, saying:

“Here is what every person developing software in a university must do when necessary. When the program is just vaguely starting to work, go to the administration [management] and say ‘If I can release this as free software, then I’ll finish it. Otherwise, I’ll just write a paper about it’ “.

Several years ago I had a job in computer-related technology transfer at a university and had a lot of day-to-day contact with the commercialisation and IP ‘protection’ staff. Although a lot of computer science researchers will agree with Stallman, I can’t see this going down too well with the IP department.

Learning Windows – is this really a life-skill?

June 13, 2008

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.