From $100 laptops to Ballmer's lapdance

Best of Talkback: A look back at the stories that got you all talking over the last week
Written by Best Of Talkback, Contributor

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) programme has sparked strong debate on ZDNet UK over the last week. The scheme, in which companies such as Red Hat and AMD collaborate with experts from MIT's Media Lab to create a cheap and robust laptop for children in the developing world, has readers divided on whether it's a brave and ambitious scheme or a wasted opportunity.

Forget $100 laptops, we need blackboards: The latest development in the project is that Nigeria has opted to buy one million of the devices, but India has decided not to participate. Our own take is that the reputation of the project's leader Nicholas Negroponte amongst the India tech community may have something to do with the project being snubbed, and that the money could be better spent on other, less risky projects. And it seems that some Indian tech workers agree.

However not all readers think Mr Negroponte and friends have got it wrong. One questioned the logic of the statement that "giving the country's schoolchildren a laptop each could harm their creative thinking", while another anonymous reader claimed that India has missed out on a real opportunity: "It's naive, to say the least, to imagine that the money that might have gone to this project will be better spent elsewhere, because it won't. The government of India pooh-poohed a dream. The children of India won't be better off for it."

Skills shortage not low on rhetoric: Closer to home, Microsoft's claim that the UK is facing an imminent and very real IT skills shortage continues to attract debate. The story was kicked off by the publication of a report, Developing the Future, commissioned by the software maker, which revealed that demand for degree courses in computer science, engineering and information systems and software engineering have declined to pre-1996 levels.

One recent Talkback to the original article shows that some of you have had a bad time at the hands of the vagaries of the market for IT skills. "Having worked in UK electronics, telecommunications and software engineering for over 27 years, I personally would not recommend any British youngster to pursue an engineering career in the UK. After a lot of tough work to qualify with an engineering degree, my experience has been one of low salaries, serial redundancy due to incompetent management, outsourcing of my job to cheaper Asian peers, and finally in my late 40s prolonged unemployment, as it appears that employers consider I am already past my 'use by' date."

Dance Monkey-boy, dance: Staying with Microsoft, the news that the software giant is finally starting to engage with the hosted software model has been greeted with scepticism by some readers. The success of players such as Salesforce.com and the ad-based revenue model executed by Google seems to have finally convinced the Redmond giant that it can't indefinitely ignore the potential of hosted applications. But it seems that some readers would rather Steve Ballmer followed Bill Gates's example and stepped down from the day-to day-running of Microsoft. Referring to the Microsoft chief executive's now infamous conference appearance when he leapt around the stage like a man possessed, reader Alain Zola suggested that Ballmer should seek an alternative career in the performing arts.

"Mr Ballmer would do well to stick to what he seems to know best: Monkey Dancing. In plunging ahead with its line of Live pay-as-you-go, tightly controlled Microsoft proprietary software, no doubt inspiring Ballmer to dance at the prospect of fleecing ever more 'Live Ones', Microsoft has chosen to compete with all the independent producers of software whom it has roped in, profited from and tied in licensing knots for years," Zola commented.

Anti-antivirus: Just as Steve Ballmer can never escape his dancing past, Symantec's Norton antivirus software continues to attract widespread derision from readers disappointed and frustrated by the service. Even though the original story, Why you should ditch Norton Antivirus, ran back in 2004, there is even now no shortage of readers who agree with the sentiment of the piece.

"Norton is out of the ballgame. Their antivirus is unstable in Windows XP and has cost us hours of downtime in repairing the messes. Their firewall is no better than the post-upgrade XP version, and running them both at once will cause a real disaster. Their purchasing and licensing routines are draconian, and their customer service is nonexistent. Basically, if you use a Norton product now, you're being ripped off," wrote one anonymous Talkback contributor.

Linus loses his shine: It's not only proprietary software makers who have come in from criticism this week. Open source guru Linus Torvalds' refusal to bestow his blessing on the latest update to General Public License (GPL) has frustrated some of you. Version 3 of the GPL, basically a framework that underpins how community-designed software is developed and distributed, contains a clause regarding digital rights management (DRM) technology, which puts controls on how computers can run software or supply content such as movies or music. Torvalds thinks the changes go too far and risk violating hardware manufacturers' ability to innovate around GPL software.

"Linus Torvalds, as I see it, is giving in to the corporate world of greed and [its] desire to control everyone. They would like to use GNU/Linux software as an efficient means to apply that control. The GNU GPL v3 will, in practical terms, effectively stop them from using GNU/Linux community software to shackle the masses," commented free and open source software (FOSS) advocate Zeek Greko. "My vote, if it mattered, would unequivocally be behind RMS [Richard M. Stallman] and the FSF [Free Software Foundation] on this issue. We must stand up for our freedoms, resist the shackling of our computers and digital appliances, or lose those freedoms. It's your choice, where will you all draw a line in the sand that you simply will not cross?"

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