How Windows on the XO Could be Bad

   
   
   
   
   

Allow us to start this entry by admitting that our heads are spinning just as much as yours. The events that unfolded over the past two weeks or so and all the responses, articles, comments, blog-posts and e-mails discussing them have been simply mind-boggling.

So some if not most of the things we're going to discuss here have probably been already mentioned elsewhere. However we do feel that an attempt to write a comprehensive text on why Windows on the XO isn't good for the educational mission at the heart of the project has to be made. And if only to help ourselves put things into perspective.

olpc windows

Translation and Localization

The first thing we want to discuss and a point that surprisingly hasn't received as much attention as one would expect is translation and localization. It really shouldn't be necessary to explain why translated and localized software is important when it comes to an educational project.

Now let's look at some facts: According to Microsoft "there are 24 fully localized versions of Windows XP Professional", 6 1/2 years after the operating system was introduced. Compare that to OLPC's Pootle server and you can find more than 40 languages in there. Admittedly, many of these translations haven't gotten very far, however everyone with an internet access can contribute to these translations.

Or you handle it like OLPC Nepal did and organize a Translation Nite-Out which resulted in them finishing the translation of 7 different packages in one go. All it took was some motivated people, pizza and a Saturday night. The barrier to entry is very low indeed and this will certainly add in making the software available in many different languages.

Compare that to Microsoft's approach, does anyone even know whether it is possible to translate it to languages such as Nepali? Are we going to see Translation Nights in Microsoft HQs around the world?

Software Performance

Next point, performance. Now this is somewhat of a tricky issue since few people have actually seen the tailored Windows XP running on the XO. Based on experience with the Geode LX800 platform running Windows XP it is however clear that it will run Windows XP just fine. As Christoph previously commented:

"Moderate multi-tasking does slow it down a bit but in general it's a very usable system for e-mails, browsing the web and office applications."
Plus admittedly Sugar doesn't quite offer the fastest user-experience at the moment either. However, and we feel this is a vital aspect, over time open-source software tends to improve in both performance and stability through an iterative development process. Windows XP on the other hand tends to become slower after just a few months of usage.


No long term support

Long Term Support

Moving right along to the question of long-term support. With the XO being designed for an estimated lifetime of ~5 years one might wonder how Microsoft is going to support their product a couple of years down the road. While Microsoft recently announced that "Extended Support" for Windows XP will be available until April 2014, it can be assumed that the overall level of support in terms of security and maintenance updates will gradually decrease.

The thing here is that once Microsoft decides to terminate its support for Windows XP there's very little that customers and developers can do to change that. With an open-source operating-system, on the other hand, any country could simply hire a bunch of knowledgeable developers and maintain their code-base until the end of time. Another key advantage that Sugar has over any other software solution, be it Linux or Windows based, is the tight integration of collaboration.

Now some might argue that this feature isn't or shouldn't actually be part of "Sugar", however the fact remains that re-engineering traditional systems to enable this level of collaboration would take a long time. As Walter Bender recently put it in an interview:

"...if you are going to collaborate with people, we need to make it a first-order experience."
Again, none of us has seen Windows XP on the XO however it would be very surprising to see Microsoft offer anything even remotely as capable and versatile as the collaboration features in Sugar. Things aren't working perfectly just yet but we're definitely moving into the right direction.

Sugar Advantages

The 'write'-activity on the XO is still by far the simplest way to collaborate on a text compared to any other solution that we're aware of. Other technical advantages that the Linux + Sugar combination can offer is the tickless kernel that aggressively reduces CPU power requirements where we don't see Microsoft catching up anytime soon.

Often Windows's power-management seems to be more effective than what even the latest Linux kernels offer, however adapting Windows XP to deal well with all the suspension / resume cycles that are happening on the XO is probably not that trivial. In fact it is our understanding that Microsoft will not modify the kernel for the XO but rather only make use of tailored drivers and software.


Python is free and Open Source

Another aspect to consider is that a lot of thought has gone into the overall design of the Sugar UI, especially when it comes to colour selections and the contrast between them, to ensure that the interface remains usable when relying on the XO's black and white display mode. One last point that does get mentioned a lot is cost.

We can only assume how much Microsoft would charge per license but it will probably be in the $6 to $10 range. That means that for a country deployment such as Peru the cost would suddenly increase by at least $1.5 million dollars. We believe there's many more useful things that can be done with that amount. Especially since the early reports from places such as Uruguay and Nepal indicate that Sugar works well once you actually let children use it.

Last but not least the argument of "countries would buy XOs if it came with Windows XP" is also questionable. It is more likely that many countries are waiting to see how the current deployments work out before deciding to invest their own resources into such an initiative. The real issue here isn't money but the lack of conclusive research into just how effective a tool an XO really is - but that is a discussion for another day.

In the end we hope to have given a quick overview of some of the real reasons why we believe Windows on the XO is a bad idea. In our opinion an open-source operating system on the XO offers a vast array of advantages compared to any proprietary solution. Some of these advantages might not be so visible at the moment but in the long run they're going to make a huge difference.

This comment was co-authored by Bernardo Innocenti and Christoph Derndorfer. By the way, think twice before you start calling us names such as "open source fundamentalists". Most of this post was written on Christoph's laptop which runs, guess what, Windows XP SP2...

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19 Comments

These windows news get increasingly boring. Maybe this kind of discussion actually changes some peoples opinions, I don't know. But its the engineers that shape reality, not some stupid decision maker. FOSS is steadily gaining market share, against huge corporations and massive propaganda machineries. Not because the persuation techniques are better, but because our stuff works.

It's much simpler than the author's fantasy comparison between a yet-to-be-seen XP on XO and a yet-to-be-finished-or-useful Sugar on the XO.

The ONLY reason Prof. Negroponte is trying to get Windows on the XO is to see if he can get people interested in his product. So far, the anticipated large orders never materialized. So, this is a desperado move by Negroponte, and it has nothing to do with Wondows being good or bad for education.

The author, along with all other Microsft bashers, would do better by suggesting REALISTIC ways for Prof. Negroponte to sell the XO without Windows, without 3rd. party applications, without a mature OS and without technical support. Not an easy task...

The reason the XO does not sell is the same reason people don't want a great, secure, FREE Linux OS. Incredibly, people prefer to pay a LARGE FEE to Microsoft and Apple for "inferior" OS's.


Why?

Perhaps the picture is not as rosy as geeks see it...

Irvin wrote: "The reason the XO does not sell is the same reason people don't want a great, secure, FREE Linux OS. Incredibly, people prefer to pay a LARGE FEE to Microsoft and Apple for "inferior" OS's."

It has more to do with how customers are prevented from access to Linux an open source software. Egypt will not purchase Linux based XOs most likely because they have accepted 10's of million of dollars from Microsoft to use Windows. Do you doubt Microsoft has not done this across the board of countries who had MOU's with OLPC?

Microsoft has quite the profit stream with Windows taking in 75% of their total revenues. Even with billions per year in losses from products outside of Windows, Microsoft takes in billions in profits annually and with these profits, they will, and do, pay some customers to use their products instead of Linux and open source. This is what OLPC and Negroponte are up against and could be the reason why he is hoping they can sell millions of XOs to Egypt once Windows XP runs on it. Unfortunately, it far far more likely that Microsoft is creating a stalling tactic with this Windowx XP on XO hype. The reason being that they know if they can stall sales of XOs then they can stall XO progress and without sales, donations are not going to keep the OLPC project going. Removing a competitors income eventually removes the competitor and because the XO runs Linux and Sugar is not just another Windows desktop application, OLPC is a threat to Microsoft.

After all, how long has Microsoft already been working on this and they still do not have something shippable. It didn't take long for them to get a deal with Asus going and start shipping Eee PCs with Windows XP. We also saw Asus getting some kind of financial help from Microsoft and resulted in Windows XP based Eee PCs being priced lower than Linux based Eee PCs.

Doug wrote:

"Unfortunately, it far far more likely that Microsoft is creating a stalling tactic with this Windowx XP on XO hype. "

The only hype is coming frm OLPC and Negroponte himself. He is the only person promising Windows on the XO - for the reasons I mentioned.


Your long post ignores my simple question:

Why is is that people all over the world ignore a simple, great, safe, secure and FREE Linux OS? Why do people pay for "crap" like Windows and Mac?

Is Bill Gates putting his henchmen at the door of every BestBuy in the USA, forcing people to buy Windows?

Most likely the answer is that people like windows and Mac - they don't find Linux easy to use or beneficial to them. Yes, they save a bit in licensing fees, but them have to spend countless hours configuring crap and downloading half-baked software...it's a losing proposition for MOST people (I say "most" because there are those - a small, tiny minority - who can take advantage of the great things that Linux has to offer).

So, it takes far more than Microsoft-bashing to get actual orders for the XO. Any ideas?

Perhaps the reason about Windows XP support for XO is partially explained in this article:
http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/145719/microsoft_to_limit_capabilities_of_cheap_laptops.html

It appears the giant desperately tried to stop the inevitable: Linux presence in the ULPC world.

It's funny comparing this article to the one above. The problem's not only the operating system, it's also the content. When all of this free educational content shows up there won't be a problem, until then thousands of XOs will sit in a warehouse in Peru.

People don't buy an operating system, they buy a tool to accomplish a task. If the XO provided educational tools in an easy to use manner there wouldn't be a problem.

Irvin, the answer was there and you just missed it. Sure 100% of computer users leave Best Buy with Windows but did you ever think of why they don't ship preloaded open source software on those? I'm not even talking Linux but instead, think Open Office, Firefox, Thunderbird, Amarok, Scribus, etc. What you probably don't know is that companies like Dell and HP are prevented from promoting Linux and open source software in various contracts they have with Microsoft. And every time Linux finds its way on a device which gets some momentum, we read about Microsoft coming in and dumping millions of dollars on the vendor to switch them to Windows.

There is an active practice of blocking Linux and open source adoption by Microsoft and those stated facts are in response to your comment. By the way, if Linux and open source software was so difficult, why do you supposed Asus has already sold over 3 million Eee PCs running Linux? They are not all geeks and my mother-in-law has used Linux for over 3 years and there are many others who could use it if preloaded and supported by the OEMs. Consider this, if Windows was so great, why is Microsoft constantly paying companies, governments, etc to use Windows instead of Linux and open source software? They have done this in the past and they continue to do this today. As I said earlier, the Egypt government seems to have been blocked from using Linux in the multi million dollar deal they signed with Microsoft over the past 3 years. Otherwise, they would have asked why Sugar was so important on the XO instead of asking if it ran Windows? Sugar is where everything is on the XO, not in Linux. The answer should seem obvious when you have seen Microsoft show up in deal after deal where Linux was involved only to have Microsoft purchase their way into the deal with millions in free or reduced cost Microsoft software and millions in training and services all wrapped around Windows.

There are some believe Windows is easy to use but that does not negate the fact that there are active and aggressive practices employed by Microsoft which are designed to prevent users from getting Linux and open source software. They are using their market power to block competition and this is not the only time they have done this. They've been in US courts many times for anti-competitive practices and in over seas courts also. So go to Best Buy, or HP, or Dell and ask them why they don't put free software like Open Office on their computers. Read up on the stories of the Thailand, HP, Linux cheap laptops and how Microsoft came in to fund the replacement of Linux with Windows. It is not often users actually have a choice in the market when product availability is controlled in one way or another.

Christopher makes some good points about why XP on the XO is a bad idea. However, I wouldn't worry about it too much. In a few years Microsoft is going to stop selling XP, and the XO will have shown itself a great success, so the XO with linux will become a big seller.

irving, you have a very low opinion of Negroponte, but I am wondering who you admire in the computing field. Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Linus Torvalds? Donald Knuth? James Gosling? John Von Neumann?

@eduardo:
"irving, you have a very low opinion of Negroponte, but I am wondering who you admire in the computing field. Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Linus Torvalds? Donald Knuth? James Gosling? John Von Neumann?"

Steve Balmer?

Winter

Eduardo asks:

"irving, you have a very low opinion of Negroponte, but I am wondering who you admire in the computing field. Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Linus Torvalds? Donald Knuth? James Gosling? John Von Neumann?"

Al Gore, who invented it all! ;-)

Eduardo writes:

"In a few years Microsoft is going to stop selling XP, and the XO will have shown itself a great success, so the XO with linux will become a big seller."

Allow me a faint smile of incredulity, my friend...

Are you so deluded that you think Microsoft will just go away if the XO becomes a "great success" with Windows as the OS?

If anything, Negroponte is telling the entire world: "Look, the truth is that we made a mistake. Linux does not cut it, in any incarnation/distribution/flavor. We need Windows on this machine ASAP"

That's a million-user slap on the face of all the retardos who thought that OLPC would be a great weapon to hurt Micrtosoft while advancing the Linux/open-source cause. They deserve it, though...

Irvin says:

"Allow me a faint smile of incredulity, my friend..."

And please allow me a big fat grin while I sit here reading your endless rants. You are quite the entertainer!

Maddie writes:

"People don't buy an operating system, they buy a tool to accomplish a task. If the XO provided educational tools in an easy to use manner there wouldn't be a problem."

For the longest time (actually up to the beginning of March) I also argued that the operating system didn't matter as long as the educational content and software was good. However after spending some more time thinking about the issue (which lead to the article above) I decided that an open-source operating system (or rather complete software environment) offers significant advantages when it comes to key factors such as localzation/translation and long-term support. Now I am convinced that open-source offers significantly more value and flexibility (especially in the long-term) than a proprietary software system.

Which doesn't mean that an XO running Windows XP (or Vista for that fact) is useless as an educational tool. However due to some inherent characteristics going the open-source route would be a smarter choice.

At the end of the day we can discuss about the topic for hours... The fact is that I personally will put my own efforts and contributions towards support of an open-source approach, regardless of what happens.

I think open source software is ok but this article (http://www.olpcnews.com/countries/peru/wanted_peruvian_folk_heros.html) points out the problem, people want content. Open suorce content would be ok but right now it doesn't exist. If the content were there Sugar wouldn't be as much of a problem. Sometimes I think OLPC insists on selling sewing machines (which you can use to make a coat) when the people just want to buy a coat.

"I think open source software is ok but this article (http://www.olpcnews.com/countries/peru/wanted_peruvian_folk_heros.html) points out the problem, people want content. Open suorce content would be ok but right now it doesn't exist. If the content were there Sugar wouldn't be as much of a problem. Sometimes I think OLPC insists on selling sewing machines (which you can use to make a coat) when the people just want to buy a coat."

Actually if there was no requirement to do full Sugar implementation of educational activities, Linux would have same or greater set of software usable in education -- see http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Linux_education_packages for the list of packages. The problem is, those packages aren't ported, and even though they can run in a "sugarized" form, user interface would be inconsistent and get in the way. The quality is all over the place, but things like, say, Kalzium and Celestia are examples of great non-CS-oriented educational software.

With Windows the best you can get is educational software that exists for it now -- most of it of poor quality, and none of it will ever be converted to kids-friendly interface because it's all closed. If someone wants to match that, he can simply make packages and startup configuration for Linux software mentioned on that page, and he would be far ahead of his Windows-using counterpart already. This may be a valid solution if there is some real urgency and lack of people capable of producing full Sugar ports, however the original idea was that there are enough resources for Sugar ports, and the quality of the result would be far superior to merely including things as they are.

@teapot
With Windows the best you can get is educational software that exists for it now -- most of it of poor quality, and none of it will ever be converted to kids-friendly interface because it's all closed.


That's just not true. You can write open-source programs on a windows (or linux) platform, that's the way most of the world does it. What's different here is the effort to port these existing applications to Sugar.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_open_source_software_packages, also http://www.schoolforge.net/ and http://sourceforge.net/softwaremap/trove_list.php?form_cat=71

"What's different here is the effort to port these existing applications to Sugar."

Except that if the goal is merely to support more and better applications than Windows-based configuration, porting to Sugar is unnecessary, they run on XO already (under Sugar, no less), just their interface is -- surprise -- too Windows-like and therefore less straightforward for kids. Porting them to Sugar, so they have consistent interface makes XO-with-Sugar vastly superior to XO-with-Windows, as opposed to simply superior.

I live in Brazil, and here the MEC (Ministry of Education and Culture) have
installed about 40.000 computers (not the OLPC...) in public schools of the country. so there are will be 39 milion users using LINUX by 2010
from the official website (portuguese only) http://www.seednet.mec.gov.br/noticias.php

here... our universities (public) all use Linux.. the Govern (only accepts documents in format ODF)... Now for the rest of the schools that do not have computers, there are special TV Sets with a small linux computers inside only to play media that the teachers can produce (dvdstyler, avidemux, gimp, openoffice...) and play from any pen-driver... those TV are not in internet and are target to small shcools in remote places.. Using Linux the theachers (and the children too) can easly produce midia (DVD) that the children can seen at home.. Even an inexpensive mobile phone with a small camera can generate midia.. that can be edited and put on a cd/dvd...

For the rest of the schools (those who have money....) offers "fulll information tables" whith a complete set of anti-virus, office, messenger... where they can experiment the woders of those 5000 features of the last version of word... excel, powerpoint... waste precious time typing in the messenger, watch TONS of wonderfull flash animations advertising in the hotmail site.. play foolish games, and choose the right button to press... Just like "brain damaged monkeys"... that are tought to push the right button to get its bananas...
The parents (that pay a lot of money to get all this thing done).. are happy too, because their children are "learning" and getting good grades...

Well. this is a free world, where we can make our choices (and pay the consequences of).... I have yet make mine...

Have you made your ????

[email protected]

While this article makes a lot of good points about why Linux is better than Windows for OLPC as an educational project, I still think XOs should be *able* to run Windows. I have the sense Wayan Vota and others never want to see Windows running on the XO. What are you afraid of? A little competition?

Of course Windows shouldn't be put on the computers for children. It'll raise the price, it'll reduce the battery life, purchasers would probably have to buy extra memory for it, and there may be support problems a few years down the road. But as long as education ministers and other people are informed of these problems, won't they make the right choice by rejecting Windows?

Meanwhile, there are those of us--adults, teens--who would like an XO to serve not as an educational tool but as a cheap laptop. We are used to Windows and we don't know how to use Sugar (and besides, isn't it rather limited? I heard you couldn't even open two web pages at the same time?) What's wrong with us having the OPTION to install Windows?

Some people also seem to want to limit this technology to education. Education is important, but if the technology is sold for other purposes in addition, the market will grow and therefore the price will drop, which is a great boost to OLPC's mission. How many countries are going to give a laptop to each child if OLPC can't even come close to its $100 price target?

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