Why My Kids Use Ubuntu Linux
Abstract: Most folks don't think much about their operating system as long as it does what they want it to do. The very reason I use the Edubuntu distribution of Ubuntu Linux on my kids' computer is because I do give a lot of thought to my operating system. Edubuntu has been a safe and reliable choice for the way my kids use a computer for the better part of three years. You can't ask for much more than easy-to-use and worry-free where kids and technology are concerned.
Purpose: For the
last seven years, I have been a Linux user. Things started out a bit
utilitarian, as I wanted to build a home theatre pc (htpc). With the
guidance of the community,
and a few late nights, I had it all running within a week. The
result was an appliance that I could use; and more importantly, my
wife could use.
Now with kids fully-immersed in technology, courtesy of their geek-for-a-dad, It was essential that I find a computing platform that could be rugged as well as easy-to-use. I already use flavors of Ubuntu Linux on my netbook and on a media server, so I saw no reason not to go that route for the kids as well.
Observation: I really enjoy putting together my own computers. The last kit I built was the pc my kids use. Given the choice between better hardware or plunking down that same money on software, I almost always choose hardware. The kids' box runs Edubuntu 9.04 (the education-focused distribution of Ubuntu Linux) and does so swimmingly. Kids aren't burdened with the desktop dogma that we old folks grew up with. MSDOS? What the hell is that? Any end-user operating system worth its salt pretty much navigates the same way. Your kids assume this, and aren't scared when the start button is on the top of the screen instead of the bottom.
In fact, the primary reason my kids use Ubuntu Linux is one of continued performance under duress. If your laptop is burdened down with crap, it's probably because your kids use it. No one writes advertisement-laden garbage software for Linux. There's no money in it because of the smaller install base. To put it in perspective, I would argue that any hipster that uses a Mac should have his/her license revoked and his jazz vinyl (s)he never listens to confiscated, as a Linux user is much less the mainstream.
The second reason I use Ubuntu Linux on my kids' pc is one of security. You have to have a password to do anything important in Linux. Scared to install an update yourself? Probably not a big deal. I've run a Fedora box for two years without a single update for fear I'd break something. It never got buggy, and I never had any real problems that an occasional reboot wouldn't fix.
The last and maybe the most compelling reason to rock Ubuntu Linux on a kid's computer is the software. Free software doesn't mean junk anymore. The software included with the Edubuntu distribution does much of what my kids want to do on the computer. For anything else I need to install, there is the package manager. Imagine having access to hundreds if not thousands of software titles searchable by name or function, and being able to download and use that software instantly and for free. This is how a modern Linux OS works, and it's a shame, that the only other non-Linux platform that really 'gets it' is the iPhone. And now that Flash support is no longer a sketchy prospect in a Linux browser, the kids could care less what platform they're on, just as long as they can get down to Dash's Dance Party.
Results: Just because you can't or don't want to use Linux doesn't mean it's not the right choice for your kids. Go download a copy of Edubuntu, install it on a computer you've given up on, and in less than a half hour you can put your kids in front of it for a field test. Run into a problem? The community is great. You'll probably get an answer sooner than you would have sitting on hold for paid support.
Notes: In the spirit of full disclosure, I also run Windows. I wrote most of this post on my Windows 7 laptop. It's a necessity as some software I use for work has non-existent support for Linux on the desktop. It doesn't suck; but if given the choice, I'd be rocking Ubuntu