Why aren’t we promoting FOSS to kids?

Over the last two months I’ve become involved in several homeschooling and unschooling communities both on-line and in our community here in Northeast Ohio. As I am an admitted geek, I find myself frequently answering questions about computers. Mixed in to the typical ‘what computer should I buy?’ or ‘do I really need a laptop/desktop or can I get away with just a tablet?’ type questions have been more than a few on programming and computer science for kids.

And its made me start to wonder something – why aren’t there programs to get kids involved in FOSS? There are growing numbers of programs to help kids learn programming, but aside from Google Code-In (which I keep plugging, though I have yet to speak to anyone who’s heard of it before…), none that I have found encourage (or even mention) the use and development of free software. Its a huge gap, and one which we should be working to fill.

If we want to convince people to move to free software we need to get them involved asap – before they develop preconceived notions about software. Many kids today have their own computers, tablets, cell phones, etc, and though many  would like to learn to develop on them, there’s just not a whole lot of materials out there to help them learn. And, unfortunately, most of what does exist, has been designed (sometimes explicitly) without free software in mind. The result is a majority of kids learning to program in closed environments without any idea that there is another, more open way to do things.

The result is yet another generation of kids who have barely heard of FOSS. Another generation lost to closed source, both as users and developers. If there is a target audience who we should be promoting free software to, its kids. They are a perfect fit – though many of them have access to technology, very few have much (if any!) expendable income. We ought to begin advertising our desire to teach them to use and contribute to free software, along with its benefits. We ought to begin designing basic programming classes for kids using free software and explaining its benefits. We also need to make it easy for those kids to talk to us and tell us about their software, what it does and what they need help with. If we want them to join us, then we need to give them the resources and the ability to do so.

We need something to point both kids and parents alike to. Something that we can show them and say ‘Look! Look at what you and your kids can do with free software! Look how it can help them learn!’ Because there are thousands, likely millions of them out there – kids who want to learn. Parents who want to facilitate their kids learn about computers. I myself continue to meet them, both online and off on a nearly daily basis – and I want, I need, something, anything to point them to.

Ohio LinuxFest 2012 – Afterthoughts

For the first time this year I attended Ohio LinuxFest in Columbus Ohio at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. I arrived in Columbus late on Thursday night and stayed at a friends’ house in order to arrive early on Friday morning. This plan failed as we woke up and talked for a couple of hours and went out to eat for breakfast before I got around to leaving. As a result I didn’t get to OLF until ~11:30am – at which point I got signed in, looked around briefly and then went in search of food and wifi. As a result, I hung out at the North Market for an hour or so before returning to OLF after lunch and attending the rest of the Early Penguins track leading up to Jon “maddog” Hall’s “The Perfect Storm” keynote at 5pm.

Of the talks I attended I think my favorites were Beth Lynn Eicher’s talk about Computer Reach and the one immediately following it on Software Patents by Deb Nicholson. Computer Reach has an upcoming trip to Ghana where they are planning to deliver refurbished desktop computers to various villages in Ghana, running Linux with GNOME 2.x. On Sunday I had the chance to sit next to her and talk a bit more about their work during the Diversity in Open Source Workshop and gave her a stack of GNOME stickers for the desktops they’re delivering.

Deb Nicholson’s talk on Software Patents was interesting and slightly disturbing. The sheer number of software patents out there is staggering and does not bode well for the future unless something changes dramatically. What the courts do in the next couple years, both in the USA and around the world will likely have a dramatic impact on software and innovation in both the proprietary and FOSS sphere’s.

Friday closed up with Jon “maddog” Hall’s keynote on “The Perfect Storm” about linux, the desktop and freedom. It was a great speech – interesting, funny, and informative all at the same time. Hopefully he’s right and we are on the verge of a new ‘perfect storm’ as we have seen in the past with the innovations of the personal computer, the internet, etc.

Saturday started early for me, arriving at the convention center ~8am to get the booth setup. I was hoping to attend Wendy Seltzer’s morning keynote about SOPA and free expression on-line, but unfortunately didn’t make it. Instead I hung out at the booth all morning and for most of the afternoon. After many trials and failed attempts with the netbook and monitor I resorted to my old (broken) laptop. Several people tried to help me get something up and running for a long time without much success, before we finally resorted to removing the screen from the laptop and making it an ‘ultra portable desktop’. By that point I had my laptop upgraded to the beta of Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix with GNOME 3.6, which meant that I had Ubuntu 11.10 with GNOME 3.2 on the monitor and Ubuntu 12.10 with GNOME 3.6 on my laptop – which was actually interesting as you could compare and really see how far GNOME has come in the last year.

While all this was going on I talked to dozens, probably hundreds of people about GNOME, linux, FOSS, etc, passed out the GNOME Cheat Sheet, GNOME stickers and pamphlets on accessibility in GNOME. John Boyd stopped by and hung out for a long time talking about C programming and hacking on the kernel. I think I have him convinced to start contributing to GNOME – he even sounded interested in helping to teach C through GNOME University!

In any case sometime ~5pm I packed up the booth – aside from a few more cheat sheets, stickers & pamphlets which I left out for late comers and headed to C113 for Elizabeth Garbee’s “Growing Up with Linux” talk which was fantastic. She is an amazing speaker and has had some amazing opportunities thanks to luck, smiling and saying please & thank you. 

Immediately following Elizabeth’s talk was Angela Byron’s keynote “How to Create Ravenously Passionate Contributors”. Her experience of gradually rising from a quiet, shy user to become one of Drupal’s core contributors as well as a major open source speaker at conferences around the world is inspiring. 

Following the keynotes I dropped my backpack back off in my car and walked to the Three Legged Mare for the OLF After Party with MC Frontalot. It was a great party and my only regret is that I couldn’t stay for longer – I talked up a slew of people, some of whom I’d met at the booth during the day and many others I hadn’t. Amazingly I ran into several people from my area of Ohio, one of whom went to high school with the friend I was staying with in Columbus! It was definitely a ‘small world’ kind of night!

Sunday morning came far too soon, and I made it back to the convention center just a few minutes late to the start of the Diversity in Open Source Workshop. Essentially a round table discussion about diversity, it focused on diversity at OLF but also in the wider FOSS community. The diversity at OLF was quite impressive, thanks to OLF’s long-standing commitment to diversity, which is evident in their Conduct Policy which should be an inspiration to other conferences hoping to encourage diversity. They have been reaching out to minority communities for several years and it shows – I was welcomed warmly to OLF and everyone there was great. I am already looking forward to OLF 2013!

Upgrading to Linux

I’m currently in the process of installing Linux w/ GNOME 3 on a distant relatives computer… who lives in Florida 🙂 A couple days ago, I did the same for one of Kevin’s friends who lives in California – both people who I will not see for months or possibly years, so it’ll be interesting to see how this works out in the long run (I’m installing Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, doing a recommended update & then switching them to only security updates).

As a result, I’m curious if anyone else does this routinely, and if so if you have recommendations for what to install (on a computer that you will not personally touch again, for people used to Windows). I typically install GNOME 3, Tor, Samba, Synaptic, Chromium, xChat, Evolution, Skype… probably a few others I’m forgetting atm. Anything important I’m missing?

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