Last week I wrote about using GNU/Linux, and justified why I use it. But, as I confessed, the main reason I started using it wasn't because I'm a rigorous political activist with a go-get-em attitude. I'm Australian, people! America might be the land of the brave, down here we're the land of the apathetic... Anyway, I started using GNU/Linux because it was put in front of me and my old system was taken away. And I could get all embarassed about the beginnings of something I am now a firm believer in, but then I ask myself, does the means justify the end? Does in really matter how and under what circumstances I became involved as long as I'm here now? Does it matter if I'm using it because it's cheap, or because it's better, or because I like the politics? What if I don't give two hoots about the politics? Is there a good way and a bad way to use FLOSS?
There were a couple of pertinent news articles from the last couple of weeks that prompted this particular bout of navel gazing. Firstly, there was the furore caused by Keir Thomas when he confessed that he was 'going back' to Windows for his work because certain elements of OpenOffice.org didn't cut the mustard. He was pretty reasonable about it really, and made certain we all knew he wasn't forsaking Linux forever but he got quite a lot press for it in the form of being dugg and linuxtoday-ed and publicly maimed. In response to this he wrote another entry where he said that it was stupid to politicise free software too much and we have to account for practicality and usability. Then a couple of days ago an article came out about a state grant project in Indiana that is providing Linux machines to high schools under the ACCESS program - because of affordability. So we have one guy who is emphasising usability, and some guy who is emphasising cost, and me, saying I'll just use whatever is in front of me.
So my argument might sound like the lamest. However, that's what the schooling one is all about. In the article, the technology guy at the Department of Education says that the thing is, they aren't emphasising that the machines the kiddies are using are Linux. It doesn't even come up. Isn't that weird but not weird? At first read I thought "that's weird, why wouldn't you stress the nature of the computer?" but then as I recall, they don't do that with Windows, they just assume, and the kids assume, that Windows is what you use. So there are now the makings of 22,000 kids who are being given a Linux platform to work off, and the fact that it isn't Windows ISN'T EVEN MENTIONED. And if you think about how normal that is making Linux flavours for these kids, that is pretty cool stuff. It's being put in front of them. And that's why they use open source.
Apparently, while the reception is pretty good, they are still keen to get a handle on what the kids think about using Linux. But during a survey done with some of the kids last year, the techie asked one of the kids what he thought about using Linux v. Windows. "Who cares?" was apparently the kid's reply. Which, if you think about it, is a far more positive response than "Linux is for geeks/Windows bites". By teaching kids who don't have preconceived notions that there is other stuff out there than Windows, and doing it in such a way that normalises the other stuff... isn't that great? So apparently my apathy isn't that bad after all!