Shiny open source software for the next generation in schools

I just read a press release announcing a Linux alternative to Microsoft’s Multipoint server. Basically the concept is that up to ten PCs can USB-into the server and act as plug and play thin-clients. The advantage of this set up is that...

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I just read a press release announcing a Linux alternative to Microsoft’s Multipoint server. Basically the concept is that up to ten PCs can USB-into the server and act as plug and play thin-clients.

The advantage of this set up is that the workstation PCs can be of varied origins and vintage and only the server will need any TLC. In other words, cheap, reliable, easy to set up computing.

The advantage of a Linux version of MS Multipoint is that by using free open source software, cheap got cheaper. The press release emphasised the cost savings of Linux and how poor people would benefit children in African schools or something like this (as long as they had power). The problem however is the usual one, being poor sucks. Sharing a PC is like sharing a bed with a sibling, you long for your own.

Our relationship with cost is very complex and often counter intuitive. For example it was a surprise to many when it was discovered that knowledge workers do not work harder when money is used as the incentive. Perhaps just as surprising is that saving money is not a primary incentive to a choice of purchase unless you are very hard up, otherwise at best it’s a bonus which accrues from a choice made for other reasons than cost.

The second whammy is that if you do get sales this way then, because the buyers are those that have so little money that they are forced into this option, it further devalues any cachet the product may have had.

Don’t get me wrong the Linux Mulitpoint product is a great product and does what it says on the box but having spent years trying to promote Linux into schools and having lost to shinier rivals I am a little sceptical about whether it will sell. One consolation is that twice I lost out to shiny XServers… tee hee, must give them a call.

Buying Open Source because it’s shiny.

A recent survey showed that the main reason given for so many firms migrating to Linux on their servers was because the product was seen as being better than its rivals. Price did not really figure prominently at all but the engineers concerned were of course more than happy to pass the savings onto their bosses as personal ‘brownie points’.

By ‘better,’ respondents to the survey meant things like higher performance, more stable, easier to customise and so on. These things are all very desirable and (in an engineer’s eyes) very very shiny.

Shiny sells and having ‘one of your own’ sells. The mobile phone market is entirely driven by ‘shiny-me’ kudos and so will the upcoming slate market. We will soon have the slates from a plethora of rivals; Blackberry (RIM), Dell, Toshiba, Samsung, Apple, Acer, Asus, Google, the OLPC etc etc.

The netbook market started off as largely Linux and fuelled a lot of hopes until Microsoft fought back and clobbered not only the Linux netbook but ironically netbooks per se (not so sexy now).

The same may not happen with slates thanks to shiny. The iPad paved the way for Android powered slates. Android is undeniably shiny and when Win 7 enters the market it will find out just how unshiny it is.

For fun let’s take three slates with strong brand images and different operating systems and take the shiny test:

Apple i-pad: Software: Apple proprietary OS, Apple store apps only
Google-pad: Software: Android OS. Thousands of apps (some good!).
HP Slate: Software Windows 7 Apps?

Imagine you have not handled any of the above (you won’t be alone) and that they have similar basic features (capacity, gesture driven UI, 3G/wifi). Given what you ‘know’ about the three brands and three OSes which device will:

  1. Look the coolest?
  2. Have the slickest software?
  3. Be most fun?
  4. Be a bit embarrassing to own?
  5. Have speech recognition software that works?
  6. Be affordable?

Yes, you are quite right, well chosen.

It looks to me like Android, thanks to the phone market, is set to join server Linux as being ‘shiny’.

So I predict that the first school slates (as trailed in my previous blog) will be Google-Android powered (...or possibly the OLPC) and that young Africans will prefer them to multipoint ancient hardware....or did you pick the Windows 7 slate?

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