One of Microsoft's worse nightmares is that one day ordinary consumers may wake up and discover that, fundamentally speaking, there's no real need for Microsoft at all. Microsoft received a foretaste of this during Vista's disasterous release; Vista provides no benefits to its users relative to previous versions of Windows, and companies clearly saw that the emperor had no clothes. This brings companies closer to the realization that Microsoft's inferior, bug-ridden, resource-intensive operating system and applications can be replaced — for free — with open-source software running on less-expensive hardware that's relatively immune to viruses and spyware. One way for Microsoft to avoid that dreadful fate is to capture children at a young age and indoctrinate them with the idea that computers mean Windows and vice-versa.
Microsoft hated the One Laptop Per Child initiative. The OLPC project puts computers into the hands of children in less-developed countries, places where computers are prohibitively expensive. OLPC distributes small, rugged laptops with easy-to-use software and child-sized keyboards; the cost of these laptops continues to drop towards the OLPC goal of $100 each. The criteria of easy-to-use and low cost led the developers to create an interface just for children based on the Linux operating system. Linux requires less memory, less computational power, and let the software developers exercise remarkable creativity.
While the OLPC project successfully distributed their machines in some parts of the world, in other places the educational authorities demanded that the laptops be available with Microsoft Windows. (Given Microsoft's history, I have dark suspicions about the possible sources of this requirement.) Recently the OLPC project agreed to provide Microsoft's Windows XP on their computers.
This decision spells the end of the OLPC project. Some developers immediately quit the project because they have no desire to work in Microsoft Windows' proprietary and frustrating environment (and some for other reasons). The cost of the laptops will increase by about 5%, which is a big step backwards. But most of all, I believe the utility of the OLPC will suffer in several important ways — even if the project survives, it will still be a failure.
First, a Microsoft version of this product will lose many of the remarkable pieces of software that are in the current version. For example, the innovative "mesh" networks that allow a classroom full of children to connect effortlessly to each other's computers is not compatible with Windows.
Worse than this, the children will become Microsoft serfs. They'll learn to believe that it's reasonable to go to the "Start" menu to stop the computer. They'll think that odd quirks, strange commands, annoying pop-up notifications, and "My This" and "My That" are reasonable methods to approach a computer system. A cesspool of viruses, spyware, and other dangers will probably infect entire classrooms.
Finally, the students and their teachers lose the chance to become computer experts themselves. The current OLPC environment, an open-source effort, provides all the right tools for experimentation with computers. The deal with Microsoft will snatch all that away.
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