Linux Blog Safari: Alabama Now a Third-World Country?

It’s not too often the public schools figure prominently in the Linux blogs, but sure enough, this week they drew a surprising amount of discussion on a few different sites.

Specifically, news broke on Tuesday that the mayor of Birmingham, Ala., has signed a purchase agreement for 15,000 laptops from One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), making the city’s schools the first in the nation to receive the XO devices. The US$3 million deal will reportedly bring a laptop to every child in grades one through eight in the city.

The news gave rise to mentions on several sites, including The Linux Loop and Slashdot, where more than 300 comments ensued — not all of them entirely polite.

Blogs Fell on Alabama

“Alabama, you say? That’s entirely natural,” wrote Corporate Troll on Slashdot. “After all, they were supposed to be for the third world… ;-)”

From there the conversation moved into the roles of technology and education in less affluent states.

“Why on Earth do grade school students need to be issued a laptop?” wrote gasmonso. “Early education should be about learning the basics. I remember not being able to use a calculator even in college Calculus classes as the professor thought it made people lazy and dependent on them. I do agree that schools should have computers, but every student?!?! Computer labs work just fine and cost a lot less than issuing every kid a computer.”

Conversely: “There are a ton of kids in Maine who have spent the last few years proving this assumption — that young kids don’t learn anything useful on computers — is wrong,” countered KE1LR. “Their program gave Powerbooks to all middle-school students and has produced remarkable results. …The primary problem in Maine’s one-powerbook-per-child program has come from backwards teachers like your Calc prof who won’t adapt their teaching to the new technology.”

Basic Principles

The danger of computers in education lies in the fact that once a student uses a computer to perform certain tasks, they risk not understanding the basic principles at hand, gasmonso told LinuxInsider.

“Computers are great for communication, doing research on the Internet, and many other things that simply aren’t possible without them,” he explained. In such cases, the computer is contributing to the student’s learning by providing him or her with information and resources, he said.

When the process is reversed, however, and the student is simply feeding the computer information and getting an answer, critical principles can be lost. “Being able to use a computer doesn’t mean you’re smart … knowing how it works does ;),” he asserted.

KDE 4.0

The upcoming release of KDE 4.0 next month also drew widespread discussion and speculation.

“They’re adding a bunch of features, making it multiplatform (via QT4) and it’s going to be faster,” wrote CastrTroy on Slashdot. “Maybe they can pass on some programming pointers to Microsoft. I’m amazed how quickly Compiz Fusion runs on my discount laptop; I only wish Vista would run as quickly. Flashy doesn’t have to mean slow.”

Not everyone was entirely enthusiastic, however. All About Linux blogger Ravi, for example, wrote that the user interface in the KDE 4.0 beta RC1 release packaged as a Debian Live CD was “a bit disappointing.

“Sound was not working properly, some of the widgets could not be closed, then the sluggishness of the user interface is not something to feel ecstatic about,” Ravi wrote.

Others were even less ecstatic: “Even for a release candidate, I’m not particularly cheerful,” wrote Ruurd on the Brain Core blog. “Oh well, applications might be better than ever, granted. The piece de resistance however is the desktop. And honestly, I hate it. Oh goodie, desklets. Wow. Useless crap I tell you. Kicker bar or whatever it’s called today? Useless. New K menu? I hate it, it’s hard to navigate. Give me the old one anytime.”

Back to Users

While it may be interesting to the development community that KDE 4.0 is coming out, it’s probably less interesting to general users, who care mostly that their systems are “reliable, fast, affordable, easy to use and compatible with their stuff,” Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider.

“KDE delivers on reliable (mostly), fast (enough), affordable (free), but ‘easy to use’ is subjective. While KDE is easy enough, I fear it becomes so much more complex every new release it eventually loses its intended audience,” he said. “KDE’s accomplishments are exemplary, but I’d rather hear that users, other than the usual suspects (developers, Unix/Linux geeks), are eager to adopt because it serves their needs.”

SCO’s Defeat

Finally, for reasons that are difficult to ascertain, discussion of the ruling on SCO’s multiyear case against Novell over ownership of Unix experienced a new surge in the last week or so, spurred by a post from early September by Fortune legal blogger Roger Parloff questioning the merit of that decision.

“Once in awhile a judicial ruling comes down that’s so wrong at such a basic level that you’re just left scratching your head,” Parloff asserted.

More than 300 comments ensued on Slashdot, as well as a slew on the Fortune site itself.

“1. (attorney David) Boies could have checked the facts and told SCO ‘you have no case.’ 2. All the analysts could have checked the facts and told the world ‘SCO has no case’,” wrote Slashdot blogger trolltalk.

“While the average Slashdotter may not be a lawyer, we seem to have a better grasp of legal fundamentals than many of the ‘experts.’ Why? Because we write code, and we know the consequences of overlooking a missed semicolon, a typo, or starting from wrong assumptions,” trolltalk added. “Lawyers, on the other hand, don’t have a financial incentive to give good advice or dig too deeply when it means generating less revenue. Shakespeare had it right: ‘First, we kill all the lawyers’.”

Two Failures

“My interpretation is SCO was slapped down because they couldn’t prove that everyone else was illegally using their code,” yagu told LinuxInsider. “I think SCO made a desperate money grab as their business model wasn’t faring well and while they may have had some legitimate claims, they pretty much accused everyone of stealing their stuff, with little to back it up.

“SCO failed on two important fronts: They failed to show convincing evidence for their claims (which were incredibly far-reaching, vague, and without clear documentation), and they alienated the community they claimed to embrace, the open source, Unix, and Linux community,” he added. “The second failure reinforced and almost guaranteed the first. If they were looking for any approval, sympathy, or empathy for their case, they tossed that when it was clear they didn’t have enough fingers to point at others to blame for their problems.”

Slashdot founder Rob Malda, however, viewed the matter from a different perspective.

“I think we’re just in a slow news cycle and people are bored and talking about anything, including reruns of old news,” Malda, also known as CmdrTaco, told LinuxInsider. “It’s fun to kick the dead horse, I guess.”

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