But will the rest of the world follow?
A few posters responding to my blog, SUSE vs. Ubuntu - first impressions, noted that they felt Linux was completely pointless in education. It wasn't so long ago that I shared their opinion. After all, 90% of the developed world uses Windows. Shouldn't students be using Windows in educational settings to be prepared for the "real world"?
As one reader put it,
"Just saying that we should use linux in education is silly, when you look around over 90% of the worlds desktops PCs in first world nations use Windows, we need to train people for what MOST of them WILL encounter in the workforce, not what the select few MIGHT use. Its just silly, its like teaching children how to do maths in binary or writing in acient hebrew, its simply not relevant to what is needed and more importantly DEMANDED by todays employees."
However, as should be obvious to those of you who have been reading my last several posts, Linux (and open source software in general) has been occupying quite a bit of my attention. I'm still a Windows user, too (at least at school and on the networks I run), so what's the deal? Because I believe that a fundamental shift is occurring in education, among young people, and ultimately in the industry at large. Windows isn't going away anytime soon. That's silly. Install bases of hundreds of millions don't just disappear because a few wayward bloggers think that Ubuntu is pretty sweet.
Yet as many of the said wayward bloggers have pointed out, rich Internet applications are quickly gaining importance, while one's choice of operating system is becoming increasingly arbitrary. If the choice is arbitrary, then would you rather pay hundreds of dollars (or many thousands or millions at the enterprise level) or would you rather use something free? What if the free products have arguable advantages outside of cost, as well?
Keep in mind that the students we are educating now have little concept of intellectual property or applications that don't center around the Web. Social networking, multimedia, and real-time communications have far more meaning to them than the very latest features of Windows Vista.
What do employers actually demand? They demand employees who can manage time and projects, who communicate well, and have the ability to swiftly deal with massive amounts of data and information. A firm understanding of computing concepts that allows them to step into a variety of environments (whether they are doctors entering prescription information into handheld devices or engineers accessing designs in the field or salespeople presenting the latest features of a new product to prospective clients) is demanded by employers.
If we do a good job as teachers of technology, our students should be able to use a Windows lab in school and be issued a Linux-based Nokia Internet Tablet by their employer to stay in touch in the field without any trouble. Similarly, they should be able to use an Edubuntu lab in high school and walk into any office job and be using Windows within 20 minutes. Sure, in SUSE we click a chameleon instead of a Start button, but Gmail is Gmail. Google Docs, MySpace, IM, Ning? Office now has a Web-based set of productivity tools as well.
The nature of personal and business computing is changing faster than many of us realize. Quite frankly, I stuck with a Windows-based solution in our school instead of moving open source because of the teachers and staff, rather than the students. Any of us who have worked with teenagers recently should realize that they can intuitively grasp and work with any computer environment thrown at them, whether it's a Wii (which will shortly be allowing users to develop and post games on a Web-based channel accessible from the console), Kubuntu, or Windows 98. All they really look for is a web browser.
Given that these students are very quickly entering the workforce, I think we can certainly expect these attitudes and abilities to translate to industry. Will industry follow trends in education? If educators and their students are flexible, then business will be flexible as well. Whether Windows is around for 2 years or 200, the irrelevance of the OS will became more apparent, as will the irrelevance of Windows marketshare, however large that share might be.