% fortune -ae paul murphy


Here are two priceless bits from a long comment on problems within the one laptop per child community published on his personal blog by Ivan Krstic - he works for Sun now, I think, but was the long term go to guy on the programming and delivery for the OLPC program.

The truth is, when it comes to large-scale one-to-one computing programs, we're completely in the dark about what actually works, because hey, no one has done a large-scale one-to-one computing program before. Mako Hill writes:

We know that laptop recipients will benefit from being able to fix, improve, and translate the software on their laptops into their own languages and contexts. ... We can help foster a world where technology is under the control of its users, and where learning is under the terms of its students ? a world where every laptop owner has freedom through control over the technology they use to communicate, collaborate, create, and learn. It is the reason that OLPC's embrace of constructionist philosophy is so deeply important to its mission and the reason that its mission needs to continue to be executed with free and open source software. It is why OLPC needs to be uncompromising about software freedom.

This kind of bright-eyed idealism is appealing, but alas, just not backed by fact. No, we don't know that laptop recipients will benefit from fixing software on their laptops. Indeed, I bet they'd largely prefer the damn software works and doesn't need fixing. While we think and even hope that constructionist principles, as embodied in the free software culture, are helpful to education, presenting the hopes as rooted in fact is simply deceitful.


While we're on the subject

One of the favorite arguments of the free software and open source community for the obvious superiority of such software over proprietary alternatives is the user's supposed ability to take control and modify inadequate software to suit their wishes. Expectedly, the argument has been often repeated in relation to OLPC.

I can't possibly be the only one seeing that the emperor has no clothes.

I started using Linux in '95, before most of today's Internet-using general public knew there existed an OS outside of Windows. It took a week to configure X to work with my graphics card, and I learned serious programming because I later needed to add support for a SCSI hard drive that wasn't recognized properly. (Not knowing that C and kernel hacking are supposed to be "hard", I kept at it for three months until I learned enough to write a patch that works.) I've been primarily a UNIX user since then, alternating between Debian, FreeBSD and later Ubuntu, and recently co-writing a best-selling Linux book.

About eight months ago, when I caught myself fighting yet another battle with suspend/resume on my Linux-running laptop, I got so furious that I went to the nearest Apple store and bought a MacBook. After 12 years of almost exclusive use of free software, I switched to Mac OS X. And you know, shitty power management and many other hassles aren't Linux's fault. The fault lies with needlessly secretive vendors not releasing documentation that would make it possible for Linux to play well with their hardware. But until the day comes when hardware vendors and free software developers find themselves holding hands and spontaneously bursting into one giant orgiastic Kumbaya, that's the world we live in. So in the meantime, I switched to OS X and find it to be an overwhelmingly more enjoyable computing experience. I still have my free software UNIX shell, my free software programming language, my free software ports system, my free software editor, and I run a bunch of free software Linux virtual machines. The vast, near-total majority of computer users aren't programmers. Of the programmers, a vast, near-total majority don't dare in the Land o' Kernel tread. As one of the people who actually can hack my kernel to suit, I find that I don't miss the ability in the least. There, I said it. Hang me for treason.

And there you go - a whole bunch of my favorite themes rolled up in one nice rant - how could I not quote it? Ok, he didn't mention the joys of XP on a slow processor without enough memory, or suggest that the whole thing might be a plot to sell upgrades - but nobody's perfect.

As I've noted elsewhere, the OLPC never made sense in terms of its stated goals, but did offer Americans a chance to use the lifestreams derived "sugar" interface -something that posed a real threat to Wintel simply because it's obviously better for home and personal use than the Palo Alto derived, Apple enhanced, and Microsoft marketed standard GUI used on personal computers now.

That chance seems to be gone now, the reality-deprived left wing idealogues behind the thing met the suits and the suits won -big time. Sugar is almost certainly gone as a threat to Windows - and the Wintel duopoly inherits a ready made market for millions of cheap Wintel machines: all to be given to whoever wins the thug-of-war in the target countries and all nicely paid for by the American taxpayer via redirected aid monies.

Just makes you proud, doesn't it?

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.