For the past couple of days, ZDNet bloggers Christopher Dawson and John Carroll have been discussing Free Software Foundation president Richard Stallman's comments on OLPC's plans to move the XO laptop from Linux to a Windows operating system.
Thursday, Dawson pointed out that Stallman has made the XO laptop (sans the proprietary BIOS) his primary computer -- for no other reason than it is the only one from which he could delete the offending BIOS and thus work on a completely "free" system. Needless to say, Stallman is not happy that OLPC leaders are contemplating Windows. Stallman said, in part:
Proprietary software keeps users divided and helpless. Its functioning is secret, so it is incompatible with the spirit of learning. Teaching children to use a proprietary (non-free) system such as Windows does not make the world a better place, because it puts them under the power of the system's developer -- perhaps permanently...
Dawson, a high school teacher and IT administrator, says he wouldn't go as far as suggesting that proprietary software is like an addictive drug in its negative impact (which Stallman did). However, he does wonder if Stallman is right -- to the extent that moving the XO to Windows would strip OEMs of the ability to customize the laptop to the needs of school children in particular regions. His example:
Need language support for an obscure dialect? Develop it. Want to include software with that resonates with a particular culture? Develop it.
Carroll, a Microsoft employee, takes a different tack. Where Stallman argued the negative impact of proprietary software, Carroll says proprietary software does add value. It drives revenue, which a company can then apply to the needs of those in developing markets. Proprietary software companies can think about the needs of others in ways that open source developers haven't mastered, he says. Carroll notes:
Blocking paths to other platforms just because you philosophically oppose revenue models that keep secrets about the code you use - irrespective of the utilitarian benefits derived from the financial incentives such secrets create - is wrong.