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
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
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
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
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
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