Two Sides of the Same OLPC Coin

Lora Bentley

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.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 2, 2008 6:02 PM Anonymous Donor Anonymous Donor  says:
Carroll's comment has long been proven, um, stupid. He's diverting the issue away from freedom, and making false claims that free software enthusiasts are "blocking paths to other platforms" because we're opposed to their "revenue models". Kind of like saying we don't like making money.Does anyone else remember Microsoft calling us communists? It sounded (and was, and still is) stupid; toning it down doesn't make it any less so. In fact, it just makes Carroll's argument even *more* stupid.But, hey, what would you expect from a Microsoft employee? (Although, I must admit, I didn't expect MS employees to resort to posting fake comments to support their views.) Reply
May 5, 2008 3:27 PM Steve Holton Steve Holton  says:
This article makes no sense.Stallman adopting the XO because it's the only one 'open' enough to allow him to run only the selective software he chooses to run......and a Microsoft employee implying that somehow Microsoft software was locked out of the XO platform.The article needs clarification:- Microsoft is welcome to put their software anywhere they choose to put it, but shouldn't go begging for volunteers and other non-profits to help.- Microsoft is the ONLY ones who can champion this effort, because they own the software.- Microsoft has no intention of releasing XP for the XO, because it would harm their business model, is an end of life product, and Microsoft rarely if ever evolves their software product to meet the needs of a hardware platform. Reply
May 19, 2008 4:04 PM Magus_of_the_East Magus_of_the_East  says:
All I will say is "Watch the movie _Thank_ _You_ _for_ _Smoking_".Shouldnt the discussion be in the core values of the topic, and not on trying to prove that the other is wrong. Reply

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