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The Next Generation

Jun 01, 2007, 22:30 (18 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

My wife's cousin and his family were in town a couple of weeks ago, in town for a soccer (sorry, football) tournament for their sons. They didn't have a lot of time to visit, so we ended up meeting them for breakfast at a local eatery before their first game.

It had been a while since I had seen these folks, which was too bad, because on the in-law scale, these particular relatives are okay. In fact, the last time I had seen them, I was still writing Linux books full time. So it was of interest to my cousin-in-law Andy, a software developer who'd just sold his business and was looking to start something else up, that I was more in the thick of things as a full-time journalist covering Linux and open source.

Andy, it seems, is looking to start something in data analytics, and has some serious interest in Linux systems for inexpensive clustering purposes. Which makes sense, since if you need raw power, stringing a bunch of commodity servers together with some decent cluster management tools is a good way to start for a new company.

We geek-talked for a while over eggs and coffee, with me explaining how Red Hat is not the only profitable L/OSS vendor out there, and running through how the open source model wasn't antithetical to business. There seems to be a pervasive attitude out there that Red Hat is some kind of fluke amongst Linux vendors, and open source is simply not a profitable model. I gave him the point that the margins with an open source company were a lot tighter than a proprietary company (since a proprietary can start making revenue just by selling a box), but listed several companies I was aware of that were making a decent living.

But what really floored me was Andy's youngest son, 10-year-old Greg, who chimed in the middle of the conversation and asked me (and I quote): "how hard is it to run Windows programs, like executables, on Linux?"

What the--?!

Greg, whom I had last seen when he was coming out of diapers, is apparently embarking on a summer project with his dad to set up a Linux system to play with. When he realized I knew something about Linux, Greg then proceeded to pepper me with questions about dual-booting and running Windows programs on Linux (he has a recording-studio app that he doesn't want to part with).

I gave him some options, like VMware Player and WINE (the former, I think, being his best option), and then at his dad's request, listed three good starter desktops: Fedora, openSUSE, and Ubuntu. (Because those are the ones I am most familiar with, and if any tech support questions come my way later, I want to have a good chance of answering them.)

I tell you, this kid nearly brought tears to my eyes. I was about to weep for the future, but they were tears of joy. I understand that, unfortunately, Greg's interest in computers is not universal. But most kids are just as intelligent as he is, even if their interests lie in other directions.

All of this is a roundabout way of taking the argument that only Microsoft products are effective learning tools in the schools and shoving that argument back in someone's face. Such a statement is ludicrous.

Kids want to poke and prod things, and using this time-honored method they can learn anything you put in front of them, provided they are motivated. They may, in the course of prodding and poking, break something--even a Linux machine. But they can learn from that, too, and become even more skilled with computers.

Linux is fast, stable, inexpensive, and an effective learning tool. Any reasons for schools not to adopt it is just another proprietary marketing bullet point.

Just something that occurred to me one day over breakfast.

A program note: Next week I am going on vacation to Europe with the family, and LT will be left in the skilled hands of Carla Schroder. I look forward to coming back on June 11, rested, relaxed, and stuffed to the gills with good Italian food.