As netbooks continue to soar in popularity and we look at the issues surrounding bringing them into schools, I feel that one particular issue comes to the fore: the choice of OS.
For many people, this isn’t a choice at all. Most are happy to use XP (which now runs as standard on over three quaters of the netbook market) and are at least a little afraid to explore other possibilities.
Having had my own (Linux-based) ASUS eee PC for some time now, I’m starting to direct my school towards buying some netbooks for our kids. To begin with, we have bought five Acer Aspires pre-loaded with XP. I’ve been interested to see how they’d perform, specifically in relation to the basics of boot time, connecting to the internet, opening a document and so on. Needless to say, XP’s performance was lacking in all of these areas, taking a whopping two minutes to load and being bogged down by the usual anti-virus software and other RAM hogs.
As an experiment, I wiped the hard disk of one aspire and replaced it with Acer’s custom Linpus – which boots up in about 15 seconds and points you straight to the basics of Firefox, Open Office, etc. on the one screen. Most kids and teachers I know who have never used Linux are able to do the most common things with this distro fairly easily. The same could be said of eee’s Xandros. The opening screens in both distros are extremely simple to follow – and when your main focus is the web, there’s little more you need to worry about other than clicking on the ‘web’ icon:
I think bringing Linux into the mix is – part and parcle with netbooks generally – about focusing on the ‘less is more’ principle. Seeing that all the applications are mostly web-based brings the focus on collaboration.
At the same time, focusing less on say making a song or editing swathes of video makes you appreciate simple things like online forums, RSS feeds, wikipedia pages and so on. There’s so much to be gained from the simple things on the web, and the more we look at the simple things, the more we realise how sophisticated those things can be.
Finally, I’d like to suggest that bringing Linux into a school and/or individual classroom is to some extent a political choice, regardless of our views. I think there’s a lot to be gained simply teaching others about the world of open source especially given that the vast majority of computer users don’t really know what the term is and have been reared on Microsoft or Apple products from day one. The fact that open source represents a viable and powerful alternative to proprietry solutions is amazing in itself – not to mention the fact that Linux is the technology backbone of the developing world.
For more thoughts on Linux in education, check out Clarence Fisher’s post in Remote Access.