Aussies give open source golden crumbs from Microsoft table

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.