You are forgiven for saying ‘what?’ I picked up on this latest wheeze from Redmond when browsing a rival publication after a webinar entitled ‘Open Source Software in Schools’ was unexpectedly cancelled leaving me at a loose end.
In a nutshell, Microsoft have picked up the radical GUIness of Office 2007 (which now I can use really quite well) and morphed it into the whole OS. Genius, it means the type-writer/word-processor/Office-processor is back. Oh you don’t remember the pre-Amstrad days do you?
When in 1980 we saw the first word processors installed in our typing pool at Unilever PLC none of us had any expectation that the glowing boxes would do anything but office stuff; the PC revolution changed that completely.
Now it seems that the universal generalist device that was the PC is maturing into diverse, dedicated (in marketing terms at least) tools.
Maybe this should have been obvious: for a long while the server market had increasingly differentiated itself from the PC market (mostly by being ‘headless’ and costing more), and soon we will have the Office Computer, the Movie Computer and the Net-Computer recognised and marketed as distinct entities.
Such a move neatly divides the computer world into four software spaces in which Linux, Microsoft, Mac and Google respectively can be pre-eminent, very comfy.
Naturally enough, the trend will allow the GUI to develop. It will move from being all things to all people (or if you are KDE no things to no people), to being device-specific. This is happening in the Smartphone-App market and soon we will separate users into screen-prodders, mouse-clickers and command-typers.
In Darwinist terms, this part of natural computer evolution and is analogous to speciation. Gradually, as with diverging life forms, computers will no longer be able to interbreed and may even have their own diseases. There will also be extinctions of course...my favourite candidates for an early bath are Windows 7-phone and the Linux Desktop.
However, this is an education blog so what’s the deal for schools?
Well, in a flash I saw everything clearly! I had just finished an A level Chemistry Lab Class. We had been using equipment unknown outside schools, such as Bunsen burners and burettes both of which originate from the mid 19th Century but are long extinct in commercial labs.
Do you know where this is going?
Yes, of course, the Windows XP PC which utterly dominates school computing (90+ percent) is the present day computer analogue of the above equipment. It is patently obvious that schools are not about to re-buy all their kit to match the upcoming market differentiation descried above, but this does not matter. Schools actually need a multi-function computer that will do a bit of Web, multimedia, Office etc etc.
So, far from being obso-lete they are becoming pedagogi-lete. Think of schools as Galapagos Islands that can preserve creatures that otherwise would perish... for teaching purposes. Here XP will be alive and well in 20 years time.
What a relief, no more angst about upgrading to Windows 7, or debates about whether Linux should be the OS of the future in schools. No more BESA reports about schools not meeting their technological targets or worries about upskilling reluctant staffers.
Best of all the technicians that I have habitually maligned for holding back innovation will now have an important, permanent role; curators.