Yeah, I know. I'm a bit surprised too. I'm going to defend Microsoft here. I'm going to defend them pretty hard, actually.
News that the OLPC will offer XP (check out the video) has been met with a kind of rabid fanboy reaction that is usually reserved for knee jerk comparisons between screenshots to determine if a 360 bloom effect is better than a PS3 bloom effect.
Here's Mike Arrington of TechCrunch:
There are no financial terms being disclosed, although it wouldn’t be dumb to assume that not only is the software being supplied for free, but Microsoft made a healthy donation to the organization as well. The last thing Microsoft wants is for anyone who’s computer literate to think that a world without Microsoft Windows is possible.
On the upside, though, the pain of having to deal with Windows crashes may make some of these kids excellent technical support people over time. They’d just get lazy with Linux being so stable all the time.
If it isn’t obvious from what I’ve written above, I’m not impressed. OLPC is in danger of becoming a celebrity cause rather than a real attempt to bridge the digital divide. My guess is Linux worked just fine as an operating system for these machines.
First - let us note that he assumes Microsoft has made a "healthy donation" to an organization trying to give poor kids laptops and manages to turn that into a bad thing. As if OLPC will be more successful if they had less money.
Second, Mike here continues to repeat a common shortcut ... referring to the OLPC OS as Linux. While that's technically accurate - it runs a version of Red Hat, this version, called Sugar, runs a pretty experimental UI. While Sugar has some interesting design concepts and I'm sure was developed with a truckload of good intentions - the result is a bit of nightmare.
I should note here that I've actually used an OLPC. I didn't use it for very long. I didn't use it for very long because in general I found the OS to be horribly confusing and after trying out some of the apps, it seemed to have more or less crashed.
This is a pretty important distinction Mike and most of the Internet is overlooking. This not about XP versus Linux, per se, this is about XP versus Sugar. And if you asked me which one I'd rather have a poor kid in a developing country use, I will say XP. And I will say it repeatedly.
It's not Microsoft's fault that Sugar is a mess of theoretical design concepts that were never properly tested. OLPC did no usability testing, a move that UI guru Jakob Nielsen called "reckless". OLPC was even proud of this fact:
"Just do it right" makes for a great quote and all, but it's actually a pretty miserable development philosophy. And for the record, it is not Apple's philosophy. Here's is the first line from the first chapter of the first part of Apple's document "Apple Human Interface Guidelines":
And the second line:
Not doing these things will lead to things like shipping a web browser without a location bar, or things like this:
Because drag, drop and a desktop metaphor have worked so horribly for decades. That someone approached this OS thinking that kids will not get dragging and dropping makes me wonder if they ever bothered to even meet a kid before starting. Most I've ever known take to new technology remarkably well in that freaky "my five year old speaks better French than you" kind of way.
And while this probably reads as indictment of Sugar, which it is, the real point here is that all of this "Microsoft against Linux" talk really should be more about a "Desktop based OS against whatever the hell Sugar is" kind of talk. Maybe if this was XP displacing Ubuntu running Open Office scenario, I could all like "MS is evil" or stuff.
But if OLPC is actually supposed to bridge developing countries to the modern world, then showing them the computer paradigm the modern world uses instead of someone's untested experiment makes perfect sense.
So let's stop with the hate. Not everything Microsoft touches withers and dies. Just because a kid grows up using XP doesn't mean that he won't discover Linux or OS X later.
In fact, he's more likely to be able to discover both of those by having used XP out of the gate instead of Sugar.
Thanks to Thomas for the post that got me thinking about all this in the first place. Also of note is 90% Of Everything's usability review of Sugar.