Can Moblin wean universities from Microsoft?

I read a very interesting email today that came through the Moblin developers list serve. It resonated with another comment I received from yesterday's post on university IT.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

I read a very interesting email today that came through the Moblin developers list serve. It resonated with another comment I received from yesterday's post on university IT. Both related to a "forced diet" of Microsoft products in many universities and the role that open source software can play in students' lives.

As one reader put it, referring to the UK university where he works:

...the mindset is MScentric . So Macs and Linux are tolerated if they conform. The students simply don't get the important information that they need as nascent IT citizens in the world: they are data children, pre-teen info' consumers. For example MS Office is expensively forced on them (Word is the default format), but they are never told about OpenOffice. This monoculture is costing students money that could be usefully spent on better things.

I'm inclined to agree. Most universities provide extremely inexpensive licensing of Microsoft software to students via campus license agreements. However, once students leave the university setting, they're stuck paying for the software themselves at full retail. Even while they are in school, someone is bearing the licensing costs (albeit drastically reduced from retail). One has to wonder why when there are utterly viable free alternatives.

This is where the email from the Moblin list comes in. It's a bit long, but I'm going to reprint it in full because I think it's both relevant and important. Thanks to John McHugh for permission to quote his email:

Just wanted to send a quick message to the guys of Intel/Open Hand and everyone who is working and who has previously worked on Moblin.Thank you for your great work thus far, it has gotten me excited about the future of Linux as a platform again from both a users and a developers perspective and I look forward to seeing Moblin evolve on both the Netbook and Desktop in the future.

I am incredibly grateful for the work Intel has done on the kernel itself and the UI work Intel has achieved thus far. I think Moblin will be an important player in the next few years in the evolution of the desktop and how we interact with it and I appreciate the vision and understand that this is still just a beta of a first release and how much has been accomplished on multiple levels.

I am also very excited about new oppertunities Moblin gives hardware manufacturers and appreciate that rather than restrict hardware manufacturers ability to change how we interact Moblin has taken the first step for change.

When Intel gave talks in my secondary school a few years ago and I posed the Intel representatives with questions on opensource commitment I had no idea how much they would contribute later on as I progressed through college.

On a side note, I live about 15 minutes away from Intel's European Headquarters in Shannon, Ireland. Does any Moblin magic happen here? And if so is it possible that maybe, just maybe Intel, Ireland can give some talks around colleges about their work and commitment to OSS.

Its kind of discouraging to have players like Google, Sun and Intel in Ireland yet the only talks that are given in colleges are from Microsoft marketing their proprietary solutions. Having such a biased view imposed on students on a regular basis in my view is not healthy for the future progression and growth of the industry. The only thing which it proves useful for is the adoption rate of closed standards and uneducated opinions."

I don't know about the future of Moblin. There are Ubuntu, Android, and, invariably, new mobile products that will emerge from Microsoft. What I do know is that Moblin as both a concept and a project have excited this recent grad and given him a perspective on software that many of his peers simply don't have.

Visibility, marketing, and branding are all key. Why is Microsoft the only one bothering with any of them in the university space? Will Moblin and the rapidly changing mobile space finally be what a new generation of consumers, developers, and end users needs to look past Redmond to satisfy their computing requirements?

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