The Universal School Desktop

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The one thing that you really need when teaching something to a group of children, students, adults, whoever, is to ensure that they are 'singing from the same hymn sheet'. Put less metaphorically, they all need to be accessing the same text book or work sheet during the lesson.

If not chaos is sure to follow. Any teacher who has blithely asked a group to 'turn to page 22' only to find there are two versions of the text book in the class will know what I mean. If in an ICT context for example you are demonstrating the use of formulae in a spreadsheet or mail merge in a word processor/database with the aim of transferring these skills to the class, then this means everyone needs to be able to continue using the same spreadsheet/word processor.

And at this stage in the process I mean the very same product and the same version of that product. It does not matter in terms of teaching the principles of spreadsheet formulae which software you are using.

For most school-work on, say spreadsheets, MS Excel, OpenOffice Calc, or Gnumeric will do the job equally well, but it really does matter for any teaching or training scenario that everyone is using the same software. The need for the 'same hymn sheet' for teaching/training purposes simply will not go away... so it is the notion of the standard desktop that forms the basis of this post.

A Windows-Proofed Future, so no standard desktop there then

Desktop PC sales have stalled world-wide, in schools they have more or less stopped the only area of real growth in any area but especially schools are sales of the new netbooks or mini-laptops.

A quick survey of current netbooks however reveals just how diverse is this early part of their evolution.

The list below sets the scene. All computers here have their own custom Linux OSes installed; some better than others.

  • EeePC:x86 CPU
  • Dell Mini:Intel Atom CPU

  • InkMedia:Via C7 CPU
  • HP mini:Via C7
  • Elonex ONEt:32 bit RISC CPU
  • Dium-Mandriva:64bit MIPS CPU

You might get Windows XP working on a few these devices but in effect the future has been proofed against MS's products.

I mean, good grief, such a range would tax even the Debian nuts who are obsessed with platform compliance...Win CE anyone?

Why bring this up now? Well, way back when, thanks to Microsoft for a while we almost arrived at a standard, albeit a de facto standard, desktop in schools and this was of course good old Win 2000/XP -Office 2000-2003.

During this time (as it happened) most examination syllabuses were also created. Now understand this: schools would be very happy if stuff simply did not change. They had 'done' computing like they had 'done' chemistry (mostly late 19th century if you want to know) so small changes could be tolerated as 'modern' but not big ones. Schools now had ICT suites with standard desktops (thank you Norton Ghost), all was well.