NSW missed Linux opportunity

NSW missed Linux opportunity

Summary: By choosing the safe Windows XP choice for student laptops, the NSW Department of Education and training is turning its back on the chance to turn hundreds of thousands of students into armchair developers and handcuffing itself to a rocky Windows 7 upgrade path.

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commentary Once again, the New South Wales State Government has left Linux out in the cold after being knee-deep in speculation the open source platform would make in-roads into its desktop environment.

(Credit: Microsoft)

Flanked by heavyweights from Microsoft and Chinese PC manufacturer Lenovo, this morning the state's Premier Nathan Rees announced the Department of Education and Training would roll out some 200,000 laptops to students and teachers using Windows XP and Office.

I'm sure you can imagine the lack of shock in the ZDNet.com.au's bunker when this news came to light. The phrase "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" danced through this writer's mind.

Champagne celebrations will also be being held in Adobe's headquarters tonight, due to the software vendor's coup of inking a secondary deal with NSW which will see the laptops ship with the latest Photoshop Elements and bits and pieces of Creative Suite 4. Pays to get 'em young, obviously; they won't leave the fold later on.

The only problem with these cosy arrangements is that they represent a lack of gumption on the part of the NSW Government to at last capitalise on the open source opportunity it has been making eyes at for years.

In December 2006, DET information services director Tim Anderson claimed the department was taking Linux seriously. "The possibility of running Linux-based desktop platforms is real for us," he says in this video. "We have to consider [open source] very seriously," he continued, "because it is clearly an industry trend. We need to have genuine competition in the marketplace for desktops ... a lot of innovative educational solutions are coming out of the open source area."

That hasn't been the only example of the state considering the Linux option. Also in 2006, NSW issued a massive request for tender for desktops, laptops and small servers, noting in the desktop section that the ability to supply Linux-based systems was a highly desirable characteristic. That move had followed the appointment of a panel of open-source software suppliers back in 2005.

Fast forward to 2009.

After two years of frantic development, Linux (particularly Ubuntu) has achieved a strong presence in the now-mainstream netbook market courtesy of Asus' courageous early decision to focus on the open source platform, education-friendly derivatives like Edubuntu are well-developed, and few cross-platform or driver issues still dog Linus Torvalds' baby on standard hardware.

When your wife's friend's 60-year-old mother tells you at a Christmas party at a lovely Indian diner in Newtown that she loves her Xandros-based Linux PC and wants to buy more for her children, you know Linux has arrived.

With this in mind, and the cost consideration that clearly played a big part in DET's negotiations with vendors (DET CIO Stephen Wilson this morning said he was pleased with Microsoft's "innovative and flexible approach to software licensing and support"), it's hard to see why Linux wasn't given more serious consideration in the department's plans.

Then too, the department has not outlined how the laptops will be secured. I can't imagine the Atom-based Lenovo machines will have many spare CPU cycles or much spare RAM after loading up a security suite like Norton Antivirus in combination with Windows XP and chunks of Adobe CS4. You simply wouldn't face the same problem under Linux.

But my biggest beef with the state for choosing Windows XP actually doesn't relate to any of these issues.

Instead, I wonder how, given a plausible reason to, NSW could possibly refuse the chance to turn hundreds of thousands of students into armchair software developers by giving them Linux laptops armed with software development tools and all the room and encouragement to tinker and build great things that open source software offers.

NSW could have been the next Silicon Valley. Instead, the biggest legacy DET has landed itself is the task of sitting back down with Microsoft in several years to negotiate the upgrade to Windows 7.

Topics: Open Source, Government, Government AU, Linux, Software Development

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94 comments
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  • ?

    Ahh - the machines are coming with Visual Studio and Expression web. What's your problem?
    anonymous
  • Try grasping reality for a minute!!

    95% of the worlds computers run Microsoft software with the other 5% split between the many different flavours of Linux and of course Apple.

    Going any other way would massively limit the students employability in the REAL world.

    Who is going to teach the Teachers how to teach/administer Linux?? It would require years of training to teach them a system that is used by less than 3% of the worlds computers.

    Maybe they could offer it as an elective course, but it is certainly not main stream.
    anonymous
  • Linux is free if your time is free

    Have you ever tried to support even one unskilled user with a Linux desktop?

    No, don't bother answering that.
    anonymous
  • Give students a choice.

    I think the problem here is that students have no choice. Students should have the choice to put Linux (or both) on it if they want. Students are being forced to use Window's, this is what I think makes this bad.
    anonymous
  • RE: ?

    Have you ever tried getting debugging symbols for the windows DLLs? What about the source code so that you can actually do something when there is a problem?

    _THAT_ is the point. And _THAT_ _IS_ software development. Development is more than the ability to run a compiler.
    anonymous
  • The future is looking up for my kids.

    Looks like my "secret" linux knowledge will be valuable for years yet. I love charging all you "linux is difficult, geniuses" uber dollars for SFA. Looks like my kids can too...
    anonymous
  • Do you know what a netbook is?

    Would you like a lesson?

    I have helped many unskilled users, have you?
    anonymous
  • Learn to spell then learn to debate.

    What is "Window's"?

    I think you will find that it is the syllabus that dictates what the OS of choice will be. Try running an education department and I think you will see why. Students are no more forced to use Windows than they are forced to wear a tie and fasten their top button.
    anonymous
  • Do you know what a netbook is?

    A grossly underpowered laptop? Thankyou, please hold the applause and just wake up to yourself.
    anonymous
  • Wow, this goes to show how stupidly bias ZDNet is

    This has to be in the top ten all time illogical and stupidly bias whines I have seen on ZDNet.

    94% of the worlds desktop computers run Windows, 5% Mac and 1% run Linux.

    "NSW could have been the next Silicon Valley" ROFL...ha ha ha ha..this made my day!
    anonymous
  • Cool

    I get to watch the linux bigots work themselves into a silly soapy lather! This will be so much fun. Meanwhile - the rest of us move on

    BWOAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!
    anonymous
  • NSW missed Linux opportunity

    Most of the 95% users does not know what a Operating System is or for what it is for. (not joking).

    So, for most of them it could be MS-DOS in the laptops..

    And the day will come that the brave admins,who are more occupied in defending the IT-departments from the encroaching penguin than anything else, are going to accept the following facts.

    MS-skill = outsourced to Hungary/India/China
    Non-MS skill = more job security and growing demand.

    Really sad, BECAUSE Linux is getting huge.

    But in the other hand, is our duty to keep Mr.Gates money-fat and make sure that NSW does not compete with Silicon Valley.

    AMEN.
    anonymous
  • Why?

    Why play the man and not the ball, because you don't agree with Myke?

    Obviously you have never helped anybody and because you haven't, maybe it is you who needs to wake up to himself?
    anonymous
  • Again?

    Again playing the man. Learn to spell and then learn to debate?

    Who made you the Caesar of what is acceptable?

    Why don't you just accept people's thought's, warts and all, instead of having a hissy fit over ettiquette?

    Some people shamefully, have no decency to their fellow man's thoughts and reasoning.
    anonymous
  • Uh-huh

    Getting huge huh? Have you looked at what PC's are shipping with? Even the much touted netbook world (supposedly perfect for linux) is Windows all over. Face it. It ain't ready. And may never be
    anonymous
  • It is a lot easier

    Moved my mom to Linux about 1 1/2 years ago.

    She learned XP about 6 or 7 yrs ago.

    Her calls for help dropped from 2 X a week to 1 every 2 months. Usually installing new HW on her home network.

    Only thing I do is log in remotely to update her laptop and desktop (she got a virus on the desktop and asked me to migrate to Linux because it is far superior - her words).
    anonymous
  • DET Laptop roll out.

    I don't seriousl know how anyone could expect anything different. Given Microsoft's juicing up XP's life-support it would have been a given that if the NSW governemtn went with Netbooks it would be machines that run Windows XP.

    Sure Linux is far superior has better security inherently but XP is a solid platform that has stability Vista can only dream about. Linux never had a look in because when governments need to spend money they go for what costs the most as opposed to what is the most effective.

    Its sad the Microoft has plugged a very real market hole that had given Linux and opportunity for even more mainstream recognition. But such is the nature of the industry at the moment.
    anonymous
  • Geez Editor

    So NSW DET does an evaluation and selects what they want.

    And you have a hissy fit. Perhaps it was not up to the job?

    I've gotta say, your Silicon Valley coment was laughable.
    anonymous
  • Oh dear

    To think that the reason Microsoft's operating system is on all netbooks is because that's what the customer chose is just plain wrong.

    Microsoft bought the market.
    anonymous
  • Oh dear

    NSW DET did their evaluation and were going to go with Linux - Microsoft recognised this and bought out their decision - effectively making it for them.
    anonymous