Enterprise OS: How hard can it be?

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Written by staff at Sirius Corporation, the Open Source services group, this blog seeks to dispel any FUD around the use of Open Source software in the Enterprise and provide perspectives on business, economics, politics, philosophy and the environment.

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Linux in schools (Gaza style)

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From an Open Source perspective January has been a very busy, if slightly surreal, start to 2009 and from a blogging perspective it has been not dissimilar to Alice in Wonderland. By this I mean that like Alice, if you follow a rabbit pel mel into a hole you cannot be sure what will emerge.

To illustrate:

Last week we were at the UK's biggest education technology event (BETT) where we found huge amounts of interest in Open Source software, Netbooks and Thin-Client computing; all very gratifying as I have been banging on about this for ages, but events soon took on an unreal feel.

First there was a very welcome but surprise interview with the BBC about the virtues of Open Source software then, bizarrely, the Linux OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) hove back view being promoted by The BECTA-Gov sponsored Open Schools Alliance ?.. and if that were not enough for one day, Linux Today reported that 5000 OLPCs are to be given by UNRWA to children in Gaza.

To whit, "United Nations Relief and Workers Agency (UNRWA) to give to Palestinian children in the Gaza strip. UNRWA operates 800 schools for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Labanon, Gaza and the West Bank". Jolly good for them I say.

The OLPC has recently come to Europe with the 'buy one give one free' scheme which may help to counter some of the depressing madness as the following previous press reminds us.

...was it was the 2006 headlines that announced Libya's purchase of 1,000,000 OLPC Linux units, followed by the 2007 press headline downgrading that figure to 500,000 units, followed by the 2008 press that Libya is to buy the Windows XP Intel Class-Mate instead, that defined problems ahead for OLPC?

It seems such was Libya's rehabilitation in the Bush Administration's eye that they were allowed to embrace that ultimate token of subsidised freedom... a full-on Microsoft OS for their school kids. So far so political.

Gaza, paradoxically it may seem, is an ideal environment for these rugged laptops. You have a high population density (for mesh wifi) and a sophisticated society in a position to get the best out of them. They are not actually bomb-proof and you can't eat them but otherwise, pretty ideal.

How did I get to the Middle East? Ah yes, the rabbit. Oh well, might as well have a look around now I'm here. Maybe there will be a Mad Hatter's tea party?

The Palestine Linux Users Group (their really cool Tux logo takes pride of place atop this post just because it is so masterly drawn) seem pretty active, despite unaccountably repeatedly losing their web site.. and having to cancel their meeting in Gaza City earlier for some reason there is a lot of traffic on their sites. They are heavily into Android btw.

By all accounts, according to the Haifa Linux User Group, in Isreal which is next door to Gaza, Linux has had a very poor uptake in a country which is 'almost totally Microsoft' according to their bloggers. Intriguing.

It's too intrguing to resist following Alice's rabbit further. This croquet field is just a little too scary. We'll leave the kids in Gaza and Libya and travel East in search of Free,Open Source Software in schools and the pubic sector.

Linux in far away places. Otherwise famously part of what Intel dubbed ROW (rest of world).

So, eastwards on to Iran, what do we find in the press archives? Headlines like this:

'Iran's 8 million PC's to be converted from Windows to Linux, because Linux is more secure'.

Hmm, they must like Linux then and so it transpires they do.. we have Iran's very own Persian Linux OS (Persix) a very nice distro and not at all 'terrorix' (not funny Ed) as blogged elsewhere.

You can wonder at the irony though; a theocratic state embraces probably the most free, computing paradigm seen hitherto on this earth versus a basket of freedom loving liberal democracies which had embraced probably the most secretive restrictive computing paradigm on earth.

I'm missing something here...let push on East to Asia.

Asia Linux is no small beer. Looking a lot like Windows 98, Asia Linux is dominant in China, Korea and Vietnam and probably the best known variant of it is Red Flag Linux. Popular in China and North Korea (according to a chinese blogger) Red Flag Linux has a cool Red-Flag-toting Tux logo.

Their motivation (gleaned from occasional press comments) to adopt Open Source software seems to be variously; 'they say it is 'secure' and they know exactly what code is in it, and has good character-set support (thank you Knoppix, Debian and Ubuntu-Debian)'.

Seems reasonable to me. But maybe not to everone:

Go back a while to a Digg debate which was challenging some controversial comments as repeated below, it looks like we've been dragged back to Alice's Tea party:

"Bill Gates suggested that free-software developers are communists. A few years earlier, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called the open-source operating system Linux "a cancer".

So far so loony, this one attracted 1279 Diggs; Linux in Wonderland indeed.

But hang on, maybe we 'penguinistas' do have some explaining to do. After all the Republic of China is not markedly freedom loving nor arguably is the country featured in IT World's news clip of 29th Jan 2009... 'Russia to Develop Linux-based Alternative to Windows'.

We have now reached the kernel of this post and it's time to leave Wonderland and the debate as to who stole the tarts to reflect at the end of a month that shows Open Source software and methodology sweeping all before it to reflect on its core principle Freedom.

Paradox and Irony

Linux being Open Source can be, of course, whatever anyone (including nations) want it to be and not what a corporation wants them to have.. and it appears many non-european based cultures want their own OS..no surprise there.

To the freedom to make an OS do what you want it to do add code transparency. The cynic's refrain 'lets report stuff back to the US via Redmond' and the sanely cautious and deeply paranoid alike will be equally attracted by security considerations.

In the UK, a liberal freedom-loving democracy, Microsoft is regarded, according to a recent January poll, as the world's most trusted company and even has a 'special relationship' with the Goverment to supply its software to schools..and this is despite a serial list of commercial convictions by the EU law-makers.

Whereas, by way of contrast as we have seen, in some of the least open and slightly paranoid societies, mistrust of Microsoft has lead to an embracing of Open Source software.

Enough paradoxes. Freedom is something very precious. Free software will help liberate closed societies I am sure of this, what worries me is will closed software take away the freedoms of open societies?

On a lighter note: back at BETT memories of Wonderland in January were completed for me when Sun's co-founder urged his new US President to adopt Open Source not only as a good thing for freedom but as an engine for its economic recovery.

You see what happens when you follow a rabbit down a hole, you end up very confused with as many questions as answers? It happened to Alice too.

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