Aussies give open source golden crumbs from Microsoft table

Aussies give open source golden crumbs from Microsoft table

Summary: These may be crumbs from the Microsoft table, but they are important crumbs. Get enough crumbs and you have the whole loaf.


Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has begun fulfilling a promise to give every high school student a laptop, offering Lenovo machines with Windows 7 and some open source applications.

Most reporters covering the story down under are focused on the fact that at least 70,000 kids will get Windows 7 before the rest of us. But I would rather focus on those open source applications, which are not what you would call the usual suspects:

  • GeoGebra is a package for teaching high school math. It starts with geometry but also branches into algebra and calculus. Created by Marcus Hohenwarter for a master's thesis at the University of Salzburg, he now runs the project out of Florida State University.
  • Audacity is a sound editor also available under Linux. It was launched at Carnegie-Mellon 10 years ago by by Dominic Mazzoni and Roger Dannenberg (Mazzoni is still on the team) and now makes its home on Sourceforge.
  • FreeMind is a mind mapping program written in Java. Mind maps are a great way to outline and brainstorm, especially for those of us with ADD. It is not yet at Version 1.0, and it also lives at Sourceforge.
  • MuseScore is a music composition and notation program, which has also yet to reach Version 1.0. It recently delivered its first stable release for the Macintosh, and its developers have just begun working on a branding program.

We are often obsessed in technology by control of the operating system, and in the business press by questions of money. But these fine programs are the tip of a very large iceberg, based in academia, that is slowly transforming education and the education process.

The reason you probably don't hear more of this is because it is subject to what I call Moore's Law of Training. There is no Moore's Law of Training. People learn at the rate they learn, and knowledge is spread at a similar rate.

Any teacher interested in any of these Windows programs has to learn to use them, and has to develop coherent lesson plans for them. Both take time. Given how open source eliminates marketing budgets, it also takes time for news of such programs to spread.

But news does spread. News of these programs has spread all the way to Australia, and apparently to the highest realms of the New South Wales government.

With tens of thousands of Australian kids going to class this week carrying these programs they will spread even more quickly. So will curricula based on them. And, unlike 1990s' multimedia curricula, these will be fairly stable, so long as the programs retain backwards compatibility, as most do.

These may be crumbs from the Microsoft table, but they are important crumbs. Get enough crumbs and you have the whole loaf. That is why I call these golden crumbs.

Almost makes me wish my kids were babies again. Note that I said almost.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Swine Flu...And now this!

    Swine flu, Windows 7...

    What other diseases are kids picking up in school?

    Maybe home schooling with low cost FLOSS systems ain't so bad after all!

  • Dana, just to set the record straight,

    [b]FreeMind[/b], just like [b]Audacity[/b] is also available for [b]Linux[/b] ; I have it installed on my 64-bit [b]Ubuntu Jaunty[/b] setup....

    • That's correct

      I'm sorry. I should have mentioned which of the
      programs are also on Linux. It's interesting that
      they are being distributed in Windows versions was
      my point.
      • You seem to have missed the "GeoGebra".

        That is for linux and Mac too according to their download site.
  • all they could do

    Here in Australia, when you read a job add that says "basic computer skills required" here that mean you have the skills and ability to do basic WINDOWS and MS OFFICE functions on a PC.

    Thats it, I know it's not want to want it to be, or even what it should be. But it is what it is.

    No responsible education system would be able to get away with forcing students to use applications (office) and and OS that was not considered the industry standard.

    Regardless of the common statement about students being able to adapt with good education, mabey in a perfect world, but in the real world schools especially primary and high school here teach the kids basic adult and work related survival skills.

    Higher learning, is more (surprise) in the higher education segments (universities, colleges etc).

    Students leaving high school need to be able to show an employer basic skills, reading, writing, math, and basic computer skills.

    Linux and open source does not really enter the equation.

    But it is good to see, that NSW Gov has taken the path of regardless of the source of the product they got the best available for the student.

    With no pushing of idealogies or politics on them.
    • You couldn't help yourself could you...

      It looks like the article is talking about music composition and audio editing. What does this have to do with Office?

      Second...maybe all thats required down under is a high school diploma to get a job but that doesn't fly here. Theres are no companies handing out jobs to high school grads with MS skills here.

      Third....normally if you are asked about computer skills that equate to MS software skills is a low paying job. For any job making real money you'd have to know how to apply the basic concepts of word processing to any word processing package placed in front of you. So if you want to teach kids to aim for the bean counter jobs so be it. It looks like these kids will be taught to think and manage the kids that you want to train on MS products.
      • Qualify for employment in Australia

        There is a LOT more required to qualify for employment in Australia. For starters, we have higher average and median ages for secondary school leavers than the US.

        Based on the spelling and grammar used in these forums, I suggest Americans could use perhaps more time learning to spell and less time using spell-check.

        I could go on but it would sound like a rant.

        As for preferred OS, my daughter grew up in an essentially Windows-based environment. Our Linux-based home network of eleven computers is half and half. However, her first computer ran Linux (as does her new one). She came home from school at the start of last year and asked "what's Linux?".

        She didn't know (or care) that that's what she'd been using for the previous two years. The subject only came up when one of her friends explained it to their group at school because they were going through Compiz envy.

        Her IT teacher next year has stated that she doesn't care what OS is used - the students will be marked on the basis of their work.

        So I guess Macs will be okay too.

        PS. The 'Computers in schools' program is a federal government initiative, not a New South Wales one. NSW is just a state. Albeit the largest by population.
      • RE: Aussies give open source golden crumbs from Microsoft table

        So will curricula based on them. And, unlike 1990s multimedia curricula, these will be fairly stable, so long as the programs retain backwards compatibility, as most do.<a href=""><font color="LightGrey"> k</font></a>
    • Verbal flailing

      You appear to be a victim of the system you try to define/defend

      "Thats it, I know it's not want to want it to be, or even what it should be."

      Any other high-school grad, non-english majors see a few problems with the above example of linguistic incompetence?

      "But it is what it is."

      This is a tech forum, is it not? Am I wrong in holding techies to a slightly higher logic standard? "It is what it is"?
      "No, it isn't. It's something else entirely."

      WTF. If you are going to say something, then by all means, SAY SOMETHING.

      You are dismissed.
    • So I guess Macs are out, then?

      Because they're "non-standard."

      There is really very little difference between
      using Open Office and MS Office. The learning
      curve is not steep. Same thing with Linux. Once
      you use a GUI like Gnome you know the drill.

      I think the issue here should be the taxpayers'
      money. The NSW government gave kids some heavy,
      and fragile kit.

      No one there has heard the good news about
      • Perhaps a stick and clay tablet would be good then

        If you are not going to get kids to learn and use the global and business OS and have access to the most software - even the open source kind, then I suppose they could use a Mac.

        I mean kids can use a toy can't they, rather than something they might use in a job. They can always do Windows classes when they are waiting for their unemployment stipend.

        There's certainly no difference between Open Office and MS Office if you were living in 1997. You may not have noticed but it's 12 years later and the rest of us have moved on. Oh but I forgot, it's just kids, who don't apparently need modern software.

        Netbooks? Apparently all the world are bloggers for ZDNet. So all they need is a browser to get to Google and some web-based email and second rate blogging software ;-)

        • Aussies give open source golden crumbs from Microsoft table

          For the vast majority of high school grads, they are not getting jobs that directly require them to be proficient MS Office users. I can bet that any student that learns to use Linux or more importantly other office software, or any non-MS software, they wouldn't have hard time learning anything Microsoft (it works both ways).
          I'm not against schools teaching students to use MS software or any software, as I can remember learning DOS, Lotus 123, Accpac, WordPerfect, and using a MAC & whatever software that was on that. And I can tell you that when it was time to learn MS Office and other more industry specific software, the learning curve was very small.
          As long as the students are taught the basics and how to transfer that knowledge to other software, there is no reason for schools to feel like they have no choice and be forced to use all Microsoft products.

          At the very least it would take less than one school year to teach MS Office & Windows, to a high school student, so there is no reason for it to be installed on all computers, if there are cheaper and more secure operating systems that they can be used.
  • RE: Aussies give open source golden crumbs from Microsoft table

    MuseScore is actually kicking goals now. It's pretty stable, and is way more powerful than any other free or even cheap music notation application currently available.

    My only worry is that I hope the laptops aren't sufficiently locked down such that updating these applications is still possible.
  • Minor correction - Australian School Calendar

    Aussie school year is getting out for summer break in
    about two months, and the new term starts at the end of

    Also, NSW uses a four term calendar that keeps kids in
    schools for a few more days per year than the US calendar

    Ad Astra
  • RE: Aussies give open source golden crumbs from Microsoft table

    I highly disagree.. many tertiary institutions in Australia are looking away from Office.. as are businesses.. as working with office 2007 and office 2003 are 2 completely different beasts .. I work in a major TELco in Australia and there are multiple versions of Office in use...
    As for the use of Audacity, this is in use in corporate environement (I work in the CTI/IVR world...) and Audacity is commonly used due to cost.. it's ability to handle most audio formats (including common PABX types)..
    Further more SAE (which is multinational but started here in Australia) has put in significant investment to the Ardour software for use in their schools....

    A lot of businesses are now stramlining communication through inhouse or customised CRM and groupware applications.. which also puts Office out of the equation..