Tuesday, November 15, 2005

OS X a no go on $100 laptop

While I am a big fan of OS X I am on the fence whether Red Hat Linux would be a better fit for the project to bring a $100 laptop to the developing world. The developers are looking for a totally open source laptop so that they will be "tinkerable" while I am sure they have good intentions they may also have too much invested in an idealogy of Free Software and not best software.

Reading the FAQ and other information they have big plans for making all the software open source in order to allow students to get into rewriting the code but is this meeting the need of the user or the developer? While Linux is great (I'm dual booting OS X and Yellow Dog Linux) there are some issues with ease of use. They are addressing the user space quirks but the question needs to be asked is this the best soultion for the problem since there are still outstanding issues.

Ideally they could have used Apple's and yes, even Microsoft's help in refining the Linux distro that would be installed. Instead they are going to use Red Hat Linux which is a solid choice (the basis of Yello Dog Linux) but not the most user friendly environment. They could have made all changes to the sytem to make it more accessible open source under the GPL, which could be used by other Linux distros.

To cut through all the crap and get to the heart of the matter all of the technology companies currently involved or considering involvement are looking at long term growth trends. Third world countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia will not be Third Worlders forever. Just the continuous search of capital for inexpensive labor pools to insource will raise the standard of living. China and India are likely to become economic superpowers in the near term and Africa and Latin America are ripe for growth. People want to develop brand loyalty early not just Apple or Microsoft but Red Hat as well.

While open source is great and promotes the freedom to alter your tools fundamentally to meet your needs if there is a proprietary tool that meets one's needs it should be considered. OS X is mostly open source, the only closed source parts of the OS are the Finder, Aqua, Core Graphics/Audio, and some of the apps like iTunes. If the user wishes to change OS X to a strictly open source piece of software they can strip it down to Darwin and install another window manager and recompile Linux apps for it. Frankly, it is the best of the proprietary and open source worlds.

I can understand people wanting to be evangelistic about open source especially when the possibility of nearly doubling market share overnight is in sight but somebody should "please think of the children." The prospective buyers should be given the choice of operating systems from anyone willing to provide them and lifetime service agreements. No one should be able to provide "free" software and then charge for support, neither Apple nor Red Hat. If Microsoft wants to offer a version of Windows let them do it but users should be able to replace the operating system at any time. Since the machines are so small and do not have large hard drives Flash memory is the ideal solution to the cost, size, speed and upgrability of the sytem.

If they want to use a totally open source system why are they using proprietary chips from AMD and not the open source chips on the market? If the idea is to have people tinker with the laptops why limit the tinkering to the software? Why are they using Red Hat Linux and not Ubuntu Linux? Ubuntu is built on the non-profit model and does not charge for support.

There is still some discussion around it going on.

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