Teaching kids to expect more

Posted on Mar 1, 2004

The recent Mindjack article, which suggests that Microsoft is responsible for our distrust of computers, fit with a home dilemma. I'm about to put together a computer for Sam, who is ten, from old bits lying around the place. Nothing fantastic - Pentium II, etc. What software should it have?

In the past I chose Windows for such systems. Being familiar with the dominant platform of our time seemed like a good idea for kids. Recently, I've begun to wonder if that's really so important because of a couple of things:

  • Applications like OpenOffice.org close the gap between Microsoft Office and its' competitors significantly. Some people think that OpenOffice.org is actually better than Microsoft Office.
  • The management overhead of several Windows systems means that too much time is spent keeping them up to date, checking for viruses, etc. That time could be spent doing productive rather than defensive work.

If someone learns to use OpenOffice.org for school work it feels as though it will be straight-forward to cross train to Microsoft Office should that ever become necessary.

If Dad doesn't have to spend time keeping the virus checker up to date, perhaps he can do something more interesting. (Clearly I think that this is particularly important :-).)

Maybe it's different for other people, but we don't need this particular computer to be good for games - we have a Playstation 2 for that. It's nice that the set of internet tools (browser, email, AIM, ...) in Unix/Linux is mostly on a par with Windows now. Browser plugins might still be a problem - we'll deal with that when we get there.

Sam is not too impressed with Windows. Perhaps that's just the side-effect of his parents complaining about it a lot. Let's see what he thinks of the Java Desktop System after a few weeks. Maybe we can raise his expectation in terms of stability, features, etc. If that happens then maybe he'd consider boarding a computer-piloted plane at some point.