XP meets XO: Will Linux get an equal shot?

Updated: The One Laptop Per Child program will put XP on its XO laptop and children in the developing world will have a choice between Windows and Linux.On the surface, a little choice isn't going to kill anybody.

Updated: The One Laptop Per Child program will put XP on its XO laptop and children in the developing world will have a choice between Windows and Linux.

On the surface, a little choice isn't going to kill anybody. In fact, choice is good. And if some poor kids can get a laptop, learn a bit and be exposed to the world I don't care about the operating system.

But here's what gives me pause about XP coming to the XO (statement, Techmeme): There's no way Linux will get an equal shake on OLPC's XO. In fact, I reckon that more XO units will ship with XP than Linux in the not too distant future. Why? Governments are making the buying decisions. Not kids.

As Mary Jo Foley reports XOs will go with either Linux or Windows based on the preference of governments. Quoting an OLPC spokeswoman, Mary Jo reports:

"Laptops will be installed with one of two operating systems - Microsoft Windows OR Linux-based Sugar OS at the factory, based on the preference of governments and NGOs. In the case of these trials, the XOs will ship with Windows. In addition to these choices, in the future OLPC intends to develop ... the ability to have both on the same machine."

How quickly will the OLPC (all resources) have both on one machine? Probably not quickly.

The big question: What OS would the kids choose? I'd argue that the Linux interface would win. I've seen my own daughter navigate the XO Linux operating system even though I couldn't. Kids just get it. Let's compare and contrast:

Microsoft's opening screen:

xoxp.png

The XO opener:

My daughter went from that opening "X" to drawing and goofing around in seconds. The XP screen is colorful, but a child that has never seen a laptop before is going to look at those icons and be instantly overwhelmed. My daughter could figure out XP too, but that's because our home computer has it. Nevertheless, I'd have to explain the start menu and direct her to her shortcuts. If she had no previous exposure to the Linux OS or XP she'd gravitate to the Linux XO interface all things being equal.

You have to assume that a child has never had a computer before and Windows doesn't play to that market. Perhaps Microsoft simplifies XP's interface down to four icons, but it's doubtful. There's a lot of inertia to overcome--the parents and governments know Windows--to even give Linux a fair shake.

The big takeaway: The kids actually getting these XOs won't be making the OS call--at least not initially.

Update: Walter Bender, former president of software and content at OLPC, is helping to launch Sugar Labs, which will take the XO Linux OS and continue the mission on other platforms. This move does two things: First, it solidifies that the OLPC project will most likely stick with XP. And second, Sugar Labs may wind up on the eeePC from Asus. Here's the Sugar Labs announcement and Xconomy's take.

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