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Will OS be a problem for netbooks?

Regular readers know it, my wife knows it, Santa Claus knows it: I want a netbook. I think my MacBook is the best thing since sliced bread, but as I become increasingly mobile, I need (well, OK, I really want) a device that falls between my MacBook and my BlackBerry.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Regular readers know it, my wife knows it, Santa Claus knows it: I want a netbook. I think my MacBook is the best thing since sliced bread, but as I become increasingly mobile, I need (well, OK, I really want) a device that falls between my MacBook and my BlackBerry. I'm writing more than ever, I'm constantly in and out of meetings, and I'm moving from site to site and user to user. A netbook like Dell's new Inspiron Mini 9 would be just the ticket.

More importantly, though, these little laptops would be incredibly useful for kids; OLPC, Intel, and even Asus have shown us that they can work remarkably well in the right 1:1 settings. As I give some thought to piloting these devices myself, though, I have to wonder if the operating systems available on netbooks will be a problem.

Unfortunately, most educational software runs on Windows or Mac. Lexia, for example, which I expect will become a serious literacy tool throughout grades K-8 in our district doesn't support Linux (although it is available as a web-based product, it still requires a local client to mitigate bandwidth concerns). Anyone who has managed to get the Lexia client working in Wine, by the way, please post a talkback or email me for a guest blog.

So use Windows, you say, since most netbooks are also available running XP Home in addition to some flavor of Linux. OK, except XP Home is hardly a good choice for students who will be taking the device outside of our firewall/content filters and is seriously lacking in user management abilities.

I could set up an easy terminal server at the school and use RDP to connect to services like Lexia or Symphony Math (another biggie for us), but that won't help the kids when they get home and want to access the software.

So there's our choice for now: choose a robust, modern OS that loads well and is customized by OEMs for use on the netbooks and is incompatible with important curricular software or choose a dated, insecure, consumer-oriented OS that I wouldn't let my own kids use.

I think it's time to buy a Linux netbook and dig seriously into Wine.

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