Which Operating System Would You Have Your Child Use?

Herewith a post about parenting…

This morning’s NYTimes has an article about Mark Shuttleworth and Ubuntu.  For those of you who follow Ubuntu and Shuttleworth, the article is nothing new… just talks about Shuttleworth’s desire to displace Microsoft in the OS war.  However, it did get me thinking about my history with OSes.  When I started tinkering around with computers it was all about what was available.  Today, there are lots of choices.  Which brings to question, which OS would you impart on your children?

Most kids today will have to learn how to use a computer.  Some have a natural curiosity to learn, others don’t.  Either way, as a computer junkie, I have a desire impart my preferences to my kids.  My kids are only 4 years old, so, they’re not at an age (in my opinion) to be tinkering with a keyboard yet.  However, when the time comes, I feel a need to show them the way.  Is that good or bad?

To me, choosing an OS is a very personal choice.  A choice chock full of feelings about what that OS means and the people behind it.  In a sense, it’s a moral choice.  We make choices like this all the time.  How many people do you know who have/had a preference in always “buying American”?  My choice in an operating system is loaded with the same fuzzy logic.

Microsoft made close to $17B in sales off of Windows last year. My choice in avoiding Windows (where I can) isn’t because I can’t stand to see Microsoft make so much money — it’s because I can’t stand to see Microsoft make so much money on mediocre software that takes 10,000 developers over 5 years to make (Vista).  Choosing Windows today is like choosing to buy an American SUV (in today’s market conditions).  In my very opinionated opinion, it’s a bad choice — certainly not a choice I would allow my kids to make (well… I suppose I should be open minded enough).

Apple, the worlds latest “darling” computer/gadget company, also makes a lot of money on their operating system.  However, the passion in the craft of creating something beautiful and functional shows through in their products.  Apple’s OS (and other products) leave users inspired and push them to learn and become better.  I don’t care what my kids end up doing in life as long as they have a passion for learning.  As long as Apple continues to inspire and show their passion for their creations, I will continue to use their OS (and other products) and, hopefully, my kids will choose Apple for the same reasons.

Linux or Ubuntu Linux (to be precise) is a great OS.  I’m a firm believer in open source.  And like Mark Shuttleworth, I too believe that the open source process produces better stuff.  This is true because the people who participate in open source projects have a passion for the products they work on — why else would you donate your free time?  As a parent, I want my kids to embrace volunteerism and participate in the common good.  The philosophy behind Linux and open source in general convey these principles well.

I know I over think these things compared to most people, but I think one’s choices are important — they define us. What OS would you have your kids use?  If you don’t have kids, pretend you do.

AboutRich Manalang

a.k.a.: manalang


  1. My six-year old son regularly uses the computer (and they have a lesson a week on one at school) and my four year old daughter has some screen time too. The latter is pretty much all Windows software (albeit often running under Ubuntu and WINE) as there's some good material on that platform for her.
    The OS is practically irrelevant at her level. She just uses a single application at a time.
    For my son, I find it easier not to 'confuse' him with learning multiple OS's. He knows to use the Start/Programs to find the applications he wants to use.
    Personally, I'd never consider OSX as a primary OS. I find Apple machines poor value for money (ie. all I need is a very cheap machine – all Apple is interested is in is the premium market), and my brother-in-law's problems with his Mac hardware doesn't impress me with their quality aspect.

  2. My child was born in the early 1990s, which was the same time that I left a company that wrote software for the Mac. Over the next several years I worked on DOS, Unisys UNIX, OS/2, and eventually Windows, but continued to use a Mac at home. Eventually I replaced the Mac with a Windows box, and we continue to use Windows at home today.

    The primary reason for using Windows at home is its compatibility with most items that we will encounter in our home environment. While I personally would prefer to do without Windows' hassles, that desire isn't going to help my child complete assignments at school, or my wife or I to do some of the things that we need to do. (It should be noted that I, unlike some of the people who read this blog, am not experienced in hosting Windows on another OS platform.)

    At the time I switched from Mac to Windows, Linux was not as pervasive as it is today. However, even if it were, I don't think that would have changed my decision at the time. Should I buy a computer with a non-Microsoft OS for home use in the future, it will probably be a “for Dad only” type of thing.

    Perhaps there are families with different needs and fathers with different abilities, but my generic recommendation would be to get a Windows box so that your child won't have to jump through hoops to communicate with others.

  3. Our kids are 9, 7 and 5 years old. Until last week we had a Windows XP PC, and they like using things on it like Tuxpaint (http://www.tuxpaint.org/) and SoupToys (http://www.souptoys.com/). Perhaps not very educational, but they really like them.

    My wife and our eldest went on a couple of free Apple Workshops on GarageBand and iMovie in Manchester, and they really enjoyed it. My sister and my wife's aunt have Mac, so we were brave and bought one last week. The kids really love it, especially Photo Booth! The kids don't seem to care which OS they're using, or at the moment, aren't probably even aware of what an OS is. Sure, they can see a difference between the PC and the Mac, buy at the moment, I suppose they're too young to notice. My wife thinks the Mac applications are well crafted and intuitive to use, which is why she was so keen on them. She home-educates our kids, and thinks there will be a lot of benefit in the kids being able to use the Mac applications.

    From an experience point of view, I suppose it's nice for the kids to have experience of PCs and Macs (we'll keep the PC as well)…

  4. I have two kids, 5 and 6, they are just fine starting their online games in any browser (linux/mac/win) , for instance http://www.tiji.fr

    I am not sure a SUV and Vista is bad choice for your kids… well, maybe you are too much of a Linux advocate 🙂

    Kids like games. I meant not THE game you chose for them, but the SAME game as your neighbours are playing… Kids also like cars, and when you go skiing with your family, it is best to have something larger than a Smart.

    My kids ? They use Vista Premium at home, and I drive a 1.8l Sharan 😉

  5. Reading here and from my observation, the ability to get online seems to be paramount, regardless of how you get there. I tend to think that Macs are easier to get started on, and the compatibility issues that once prevented a seamless switch from Windows are pretty much gone by now.

    As Rich mentions, O/S preference is a personal choice; most of us have seen and heard the debates, which can border on religious-type frenzy. As I've said before, I love having choice; so, regardless of the host O/S you choose for your kids, it's a good thing you can easily run a VM to expose them to other O/S.

  6. Mine are 7 and 12, and each goes to a technology magnet school (for those unfamiliar with the concept, it means the gummint gives extra money to schools located in less desireable areas, both to improve the areas and give opportunities to the locals – it seems to work pretty good, it does attract kids of people like me and Qualcomm engineers and so forth). The kids started on networked Apples in Kindergarten. I joked at the time my older one did it that I'd give him linux soon – unfortunately, it was soon after that I discovered how ridiculous it is to assume anyone, even with lots of experience, won't get rootkitted. I don't have time for crap like looking for directories named …

    So my answer is the same as it was 15 years ago when the neighbor asked me what to get his kid – get whatever his kids friends get. Understand, I've been anti-MS since 1981, trying to give it a chance every five years or so and being sorely disappointed. But like democracy, it's the worst thing ever built in the history of the world, except for everything else. I'm a unix bigot, but for general use? No.

    So now there are budget problems, and the Aspergers guy who maintained the ancient Apple network part-time got laid off, and due to the vagaries of school funding it's cheaper to get a bunch of Windows boxes.

    The middle school requires use of some middling online whiteboard stuff, and the kids have to have thumb drives. My guy cracked up when I showed him how to insert images into some discussions, and people thought he was some kinda genius. They're middle schoolers, so you can guess what some kids do to get around the silly nannyware, and where they go. The principal seems too enamored of the technology, but at least he understands it is just a tool. He was entertained when I sent him a link to screwups with autodialing technology and such.

    Some rich person gave my boy a Toshiba laptop, with problems. Turned out to be people don't know how to yank power cords out. So he's familiar with XP from several sources, but really, why should he have any interest in operating systems when he's building robots and running math programs? The computer should just work. He wasn't too happy when the wife's 'puter started screwing up and he couldn't print a powerpoint presentation that was due – my printer died a while ago (so only used for sending faxes over phone line), I have half-a-dozen other printers in various stages of decay, so the only one working with proper drivers and everything was a W95 box with an old Pixma and no working USB (which would be the 7- year-olds game machine, except when he plays online), so I told him to transfer it to a floppy and sneakernet it… “what's a floppy?”

    Apple's stuff is flashy, but I've yet to be convinced it's the best for sharing and communicating.

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