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July 8th, 2015

If You Give a Kid Linux…

I was planning to have an easy Tuesday, but then I got wrapped up in Reddit. But not just any Reddit topic — this one was special; as many of them are, of course, but let’s just put that aside for a second.

Reddit had a topic in r/Linux entitled “Should I /make/ my kid use Linux?” And because I have, um, a “history” with this topic (e.g., I have a child and she does use Linux and free/open source software, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News), I am going to go out on a limb and say the following:

Knaapen Learning Center

Bruno Knaapen Tech Learning Center in Austin, Texas

“Make” your kid use Linux, as if you were “making” him or her eat Brussels sprouts? No.

Encourage your kid, by all means necessary, to use Linux? Absolutely, because he or she will want to use it from the start.

The Reddit topic is worth a read. If you haven’t done so already, go there now. There are a lot of good posts, but my favorite is from someone with the handle Robsteady, who says, “TL;DR Don’t MAKE them use it, just set them up so they grow accustomed to that being what gets used. Raise them in it instead of trying to change them to it eventually.”

That’s pretty much the key right there, in a TL;DR. If they haven’t experienced Windows, then they have nothing to compare Linux and FOSS to in saying which is better or worse. If it works, it works — and we all know that Linux and FOSS work.

I can vouch for this because for the last nine or so years, my daughter has used hand-me-down after hand-me-down (until she got her own ZaReason Alto 3880 laptop), all running Linux. With the exception of the first one, she had even installed her own distros. I don’t think she uses Linux to placate her old man — I think she has grown to become a pro at Linux and FOSS by her own choice, to the point where she’s doing her artwork using GIMP and Inkscape on her laptop.

Another thing: As long as she’s been using Linux, she has chosen her own distros. She was a long-time Ubuntu user, which was OK with her Dad because it’s what she wanted to use — her hardware, her choice. It wasn’t until Unity came along — which she hated (that’s my girl) — that she switched over to Linux Mint with the Cinnamon desktop, which is what she uses today (which, of course — say it with me — makes her my “Cinnamon Girl,” in a nod to Neil Young).

In fact, her prowress around Linux and FOSS is to such a high degree that it makes her father proud beyond words. Recently she was having some problems with Linux Mint for which the solution, she decided, was to upgrade to Rafaela 17.2 shortly before it was ready for prime time. I started into the litany of what to do in a upgrade, and she shushed her old man — “I got this Dad,” before adding the family head shake accompanied by the word, “Sheesh.”

And she had it, upgrading and on her merry way in the usual amount of time for such a project, with most of the time involved restoring backup files while her father beamed with pride the whole time.

My colleague Ken Starks can go on for days about kids and Linux, and he often has, but it’s fairly clear that if you start them early enough, when they are not burdened with a Windows “point of reference,” then I think that’s more than half the battle in getting kids — and anyone else, for that matter — to use Linux.

And that’s a good start in the world of computing, by any standard.

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Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

11 comments to If You Give a Kid Linux…

  • Jeroen

    I think the better question would be:
    Should I /make/ my kid use Windows?

    Because THEN you are forcing him/her into a corner, one which is very hard to get out of.
    Software can be a problem, but only if he needs to share program specific files with other kids or his teacher. For now, just show them the options and let them play with it.
    I very much like the ‘it is /your/ PC, do whatever you want with it and if you break it i will fix it’ part, however in that case I will definitely set up a transparent proxy server to filter certain websites (18+ and such).

  • Eddie G.

    As for me, I didn’t have to /make/ my 14 year old son use Linux, he actually watched me using it since around 2004 and grew accustomed to it. To the point where he despises Windows, and not in the “flame ware – troll” kind of way, but in a “I-can’t-understand-their-reasoning-for-doing-it-in-this-fashion” kind of way. He REALLY impressed me when he brought his Sony Vaio laptop to me and “demanded” that I show him how to install (of ALL the distros!??) FEDORA on it! After four install / wipes / install agains he had it down and he is now working this summer towards buying what he calls his Dream Rig of a laptop, and he says he might venture into other distros, (so far he’s used Ubuntu with Unity….Linux Mint with Cinnamon/XFCE/MATE and KDE desktops, and a few others..CEntOS….Scientific Linux….Sabayon…and openSuSE!) So I didn’t really have much prodding to do in regards to that. It’s now like a perpetuating snowball rolling down a snow covered mountain, he’s turned quite a few of his friends on to Linux and now we’re known at his school as “those Linux guys”! I have not felt such pride as I do when I hear him conversing with his friends over the phone discussing how to install an “.rpm” package, or trying to find ways to install the Cinnamon desktop on openSuSE….cheers to all the parents who hold the candle to light the way for the next generation of FOSS users!!

  • John Kerr

    Yes I think a parent should force their children to use / learn Linux.

    1. They are getting enough force feeding of Windows/Apple from mass media and their peers, somebody has to stand up for them.
    2. The children will have the opportunity to examine different distros and make a decision on their own as to the best one to use for them. And they can learn from the process.
    3. Best long term lesson is that throwing money at a problem is not the only choice to make.
    4. They get all the software they need from grade 3 to a PhD.

  • Frank

    Same with my kids. They have got used to see me using Linux since 2007 and now they all (mostly living on their own) are using Linux pcs as normal routine. You don’t have to guide people to use it. For me it took hardly more than 2-3 days to get used to it. It’s not complicated process of learning at all. It’s nowadays so stable, secure and easy to use that it almost look boring.

  • I remember when I was 11-12 and my brother came back from its first lecture at University: “We will be using an amazing operating system! Linux! We got ti install it!”. And then it was Mandrake Linux dual boot all over the house. It was in dual boot with Windows. Before then I used only Windows, hence I was not comfortable in using Linux. I was used to boot into Linux only to explore, see what it had to offer. Soon I realized that often Linux offered a simple way to solve problems. Need a cool graphic program? Here you are. Need to fix a friend’s pen drive that got a virus of some sort? Easy! A couple of years passed and my brother installed Gentoo on my computer. Oh god. I was afraid to maintain the system as I never saw so many command line prompts. It could have been a wonderful experience to learn Linux, but at the end I stuck with Windows more, also because the video-games I wanted to play back then. Also, I was learning to play guitar and I remember what trying to make audio on Linux was 10 years ago: HELL. I kept on being a “70% of my time” Windows user until University. The C++ course we take boosted my Linux competence to the point that I got rid of Windows definitely. I was tired of viruses and stuff, slow computer and having to format every year. I was not interested in the last AAA game anymore and I was finally committed to make my Linux box to make pro audio as I wanted. The days of Ubuntu came. I have learnt a lot in that 3 years and I got finally access to the wonders that the Linux pro audio community built in the meanwhile. Still, I wasn’t completely happy: Ubuntu is not the most stable system, it is over configured to my taste (probably Gentoo left some sign) and I was used to format my computer every year anyhow, to keep it updated. Three years ago I installed ArchBang (Arch + Openbox). Paradise. No seriously, unlimited software + control over the system + rolling release + simplicity of use. It is really amazing. So, after this long tale, what is my contribution to the topic, based on my experience?

    Should a kid use Linux? Of course! It is all good and a Kid will learn a lot about computing. Also, the open source software is usually very good to learn about how to do things, from 3D graphics to document processing, since it is intended to make the job. You use what you learn with Blender with Maya, Rhinoceros… what you learn with Ardour with Pro-Tools etc… etc…

    Should a kid use Windows? Of course! It is extremely useful to make disasters (catch viruses, loose data) and then it forces you to fix them. It is an important way to learn!

    Should a kid use MacOS? freeBSD? KolibriOS? An old fashioned Amiga? Sure, the most differentiated the experience the more flexible the kid will be in computing.

    And as a (hopefully) last comment: a dual boot with Windows is still useful for a kid. The fact that at school they could need software for tasks that runs only on Windows is a lie. Nowadays open source tools make all the jobs, and they make them better. Anyway, what is not a lie is that a teacher could want them to use a specific program that runs on Windows only, not caring about the fact that the same job can be done (better) with one or more other open source tools. The fact is that the teacher may be required to teach that specific Windows-only tool.

    So, my point of view is: should a kid use everything? YES! Make them polyglot!

  • Jay

    I raised my son with Macintosh, windows, and linux with a good dose of hardware building to serve as a basis.

    He learned transparently all of them, seeing the common parts in an abstract way like storage, file systems, a boot process.

    Now he has a career in IT doing network support and server installs.

  • archuser

    Neither linux nor Windows, Kids should go out and play in the sun, on a beach , when they grow up they will decide what to use.

  • CFWhitman

    I don’t think you ever have to make kids use any particular operating system. If a device is available with a system on it, they will use it, learning how very easily.

    Several of my nephews and nieces are comfortable using Linux because I let them use laptops at my house when they come over that have Linux on them, and I have provided old laptops with Linux installed to them. I have a nephew that is technically inclined, and he experiments with distributions and software. However, the others that are just regular users still pick up using Linux with no problems at all.

  • palomar100

    agree with archuser for youth, but then If I were to mold kids I would go extreme. Your going to have a STACK of linux, FBSD, WIN, DOS, QNX discs. Each OS has a PURPOSE to get JOBS done is the lesson. Furthermore ELECTRONICS will be more important than programming. I Rather they can build a power supply from scratch, or tune a radio, meanwhile gathering repair parts from old throw aways using a propane torch and pliars. In short we have moved past the “is linux ready for the desktop” phase long ago. LINUX isn’t ready. Not if you have a TV show and propriatary 3rd party hardware. Today you can produce your TV show on linux. It ain’t tip-top, but it works. Back when I started out just imagine comparing SONY VEGAS to heroin warrior’s cinelerra

    The GOAL? a rendered MPEG-4 to turn into public access tv.

    You would still need to CONVERT more formats. I digress. You use the OS for the JOB. Ya use XP if you still want to do VB6. You use FBSD if you want to STREAM MP3’s. You use linux if you want to make a router. Win 7 64 bit if you want to run this 64 bit NLE, and you run 32 bit if you want to run that NLE and plugins, YOU run XP 64 bit if you want to use that CAPTURE CARD, and you run This OS if you want to use your LEXICON digital delay software, and you run THAT 9X OS if you want to use your BERINGER MIXER.

    You use debian lenny if you want to revive a RAQ4i

    I hope you get my point.

  • palomar100

    Yo, I meant MPEG -2 layer (My public Access TV only takes the MPEG-2 layer, not MPEG-4 lol, but it doesn’t change the argument.