I just finished reading a most interesting post from my colleague, Chris Dawson -- Russia installing Linux in every school in the country -- reporting that ...
... the Russian government is actively pursuing the development of a “Russian OS” to be available to every school in the country -- based upon Linux!
Chris raises an interesting point when he wonders why the Russian government is investing money for the development of this uniquely Russian OS when Edubuntu and OpenSUSE have already done the legwork for such an OS with all of the localization already in the works.
Of course, Chris's readers are quick to applaud the Russian government for choosing to base their new "Russian OS" on Linux -- ostensibly to "stamp out" the use of pirated Microsoft products. And who am I to argue that Linux is a poor choice. In fact, it is as good a choice as any they might make.
But what is the real reason why the Russian government has taken on such a project? Does the Russian government really care about Microsoft's intellectual property rights? I don't think so.
We would hope that the Russian government would have as their first priority to bolster their educational system tby offering as uniformly high-quality of education to their schoolchildren as they can but is that their primary goal? As Chris points out, Edubuntu and OpenSUSE can offer that to them with far less effort and at far less expense. Lifting from Chris's post ...
According to CNews analyst Sergey Shalmanov,
"the historically existing model to use software in education in Russia is sure to fail. It has already lost some of its advantages because of widely spread illegal practically free Microsoft software. The existing practice to install Windows software on school computers is not profitable both economically, because of discounts for client license, and strategically as it initially ties a young user to the platform and products of one company, although very popular and convenient in operation"
Taking this at face value, it suggests that the overwhelming choice of those running Russia's schools is Microsoft Windows -- even if they have to steal it to get it!
This argument suggests that, by choosing Windows, educators are somehow locking in Microsoft as the only choice in the minds of Russian schoolchildren. (Hmm... Where have I heard this argument before?)
Of course, I don't buy it! If this argument held any validity at all, Microsoft would never have been able to wrest control of the educational market out of Apple's hands. (Apple dominated this market throughout most of the 1980's.)
Yet, despite Microsoft's growing dominance, Linux development began in 1991 in an effort to create a complete UNIX-like desktop operating system built on an open-source framework. If the axiom suggested above were true, would Linux have become what it is today? I don't think so.
But I digress ...
The Russian government is not nearly as interested in keeping Microsoft out of its classrooms as it is in returning to the days when it had absolute control over the content provided in it's classrooms. What is presented as putting choice back into the classroom strikes me as replacing one dominant software provider (one which has been chosen by educators) with another -- mandated by government.
While squeezing out what choice exists today in the minds of Russian educators, the Russian government has the opportunity to introduce it's own "Russian-branded" OS in its schools. Whether or not this is a benevolent, but misguided, knee-jerk response because Edubuntu and OpenSUSE were "not invented there" we may never know but given the political climate in Russia today, I would much prefer that Russian educators make their own choices regarding the tools used by their students than I would have a monolithic federal government make those decisions.