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Edward Macnaghten [opinions]

Wot! Not Vista? [vista] [ubuntu] [freedom] [microsoft-monopoly]

My Windows XP machine went "phut" the other day. I think it isa hardware problem as it had been "phutting" more and more over the pastmonths, but now it is unusable. This is not the disaster it mayappear to be!

The children are the only ones who really use it and theapplications they use are for typinghomework, Firefox for researchingprojects etc and MSN for chatting with friends - thoughnot necessarily in that order. As a temporary measure I letthem use my Ubuntu laptop topull them through, with some surprising results...

One of the main reasons my children used Windows XP and not GNU/Linuxbefore was because of their use of MSN. Although GAIM suffices as a chatclient, it is not what they call "Real MSN", and does not have thebells and whistles such as "emoticons" and other gizmos that make itlook like someone has vomited on the screen. Personally I think one ofthe advantages of GAIM is that I am spared from these horrors, but mychildren have informed me that such paraphernalia is crucial to theirgeneration's ability to share internet experiences with others.

I had heard of a product called aMSN – a quick searchthrough Ubuntu's "Add/Remove Programs" option on the "Application" menushowed that it was in the Ubuntu repositories so I installed it for them tosee if it was any better. I was duly informed it was still not "Real MSN",but despite that the client passed the acid test and it is adequatelytacky for them to communicate important information such as thelatest girlfriend/boyfriend news or the playground gossip which theydid not manage to fit in during break-time at school.

My wife is Chinese and the 18th February saw the arrival of the yearof the Pig. Not just any pig though, 2007 sees the advent of the yearof the golden pig, something that happens only every 60 years. My son,being twelve this year, is a pig so this year is very special to us.

To celebrate this we held a new year party and familyand friends descended on us en masse to help consume the mountains ofdelicious Chinese food my wife had prepared for the event. My daughterand her cousins obviously missed some friends because theyfired up the computer and started "chatting" to them through MSN. Aguest, who was glancing over their shoulders while doing this, decidedto show off his knowledge of computers and said "Ah – I see you have gotVista then..."

No I had not. I have no intention of getting Vista unless it isextremely necessary for my business, and then only as a secondarymachine. Also, with my XP machine dieing on me, it appears I haveno Microsoft supported operating systems in the house, just an oldWindows 2000 laptop gathering dust which I occasionally switch on when Ineed a Windows environment. What he saw was Ubuntu for the first time;I guess he came to the conclusion he did because it was slightlyunfamiliar and looked classy.

On the applications front, the developers of aMSN need to becongratulated. They have identified a hole in the requirements of amodern GNU/Linux desktop, especially in a domestic environment likemine, and have filled it. The same goes for the free softwarecommunity in general: a nice usable free desktop exists, in all sensesof the word, enabling a real choice of environment and because of that Ican move my entire family away from the Microsoft monopoly. Althoughthere are some things my children cannot run, and some inconveniencesthey experience because they are not tied into the closed formats andprotocols of their peers, they are not significant enough to keep themon Windows.

Another event happened a few days ago related to Ubuntu: Idiscovered that my children had not done their homework. This isnothing unusual, but this time they blamed the new system. It was notdue to any shortcomings of the GNU/Linux environment, Ubuntu, but rather they had discovered a program called"Five or More". They were hooked and were taking turns on the computerto compete against each other - so much so that it distracted them fromdoing their homework. That is their excuse anyway. Even if I wanted tonow I do not think I can move them back to MS Windows, not withoutfinding a Windows port of that game and other goodies they havediscovered. Hopefully they will show their new system to their friendsand more people will adopt GNU/Linux.

The younger generation are evolving in a rapidly advancing society, farmore so than any has before. Where exactly it is advancing to matters:it is so easy for us to sacrifice their freedoms for our convenience,and so important that does not happen. I do not want my children tofind that some faceless foreign corporation controls their computer anddecides what can be run and when; or for their electronic devices to bedisabled by unaccountable organizations on a whim; or "because theycan", simply using it as a means for increasing profits.

Free software, with GNU/Linux, plays an important role in this contextby creating a base-line of freedoms that other systems willneed to compete with. It is more important now than ever before. I believeGNU/Linux is rising to the challenge, but it needs to continue to doso. It needs significant adoption and slick distributions likeUbuntu are helping (I know it is not perfect and has flaws, I am nottrying to create a distro-war here); programs like aMSN are also veryimportant as they destroy some of the roadblocks to deploying free software. Ialso like to think I am helping with its all-important adoption: it isup to others to judge my performance and contributions though.

Now, when discussing home computers with colleagues I explain: "Mychildren have a fantastic new computer system. And no, it is notVista! No WGA. No license restrictions.".


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