Community Informatics · Technology Reviews

Why Linux and not Microsoft

Here’s an interesting thread that just came across the Digital Inclusion Network mailing list, and my response to a question posed in the thread:

On Jan 17, 2014 2:13 PM, “Phil Shapiro” <> wrote:

This is quite some story.


Phil Shapiro,

Sent: Saturday, January 18, 2014 8:47 AM


Subject: Re: [DIN] 1725 Ubuntu laptops deployed at Penn Manor schools

I recently switched my main desktop to Ubuntu. It seems a very viable way to run a school of laptops.

I’d very interested to learn what software they install for the kids to use as standard.

Steven Clift –

On Jan 18, 2014, at 9:33 AM, Executive Director <>


As a Microsoft Registered Refurbisher, I would be interested in why one would do this?Any free software that would run on Linux should also run on Windows. Windows 7 licenses can be had for $6 each. Windows is far more secure than Unix. If not cost or security, why then?


Michael Pitsch


About/contact Michael Pitsch:



I won’t touch the hot button topics of security or cost. Ultimately, most of the security issues are no longer software-based, but instead are spread across the range of levels from user to server administrator and all points between.

Instead, for me it comes down to one key issue: customizability. We’ve learned that engineers are most successful when they work closely with computer scientists so that the hardware developed tightly integrates with the software being written. Through HCI research we’ve learned that computer scientists are most successful when they work closely with disciplines like psychology so that the software developed integrates tightly with the individual user. But we’re still learning how to address the gap moving from individual to societal systems, something of great interest to my discipline of community informatics.

Ultimately innovations don’t exist as a singular, universal entity exactly the same in all contexts. It is instead recreated in an ongoing basis by individuals and groups who bring their past experiences and current contexts to best meet their own development goals. We therefore have innovations-in-use. So instead of thinking of the innovation as accomplishing a goal, we can look at how people adapt and integrate an innovation into their ongoing activities to meet that goal. For instance, for some the mobile phone is primarily a voice communication device. For others, it is primarily a text-based communication device. I’ve seen some with limited voice/text plans who have instead used a series of rings that are meant to go unanswered as the communications method. Especially in some African nations I’ve seen mobile devices become primary means for banking and funds transfers. For some, like the Amish, it is primarily a business communications tool and is to only be used in the field or a phone booth at the edge of the property. In other cases I’ve seen couples or families come into a restaurant and never say a word to each other but only through the mobile device. We shape the technology even as it shapes us. Mobile-in-use as opposed to a singular, universal thing.

Both Microsoft and Apple have invested heavily into creating a branded look and feel. They have certainly done an amazing amount of research to understand good scientific principles for effective design to support individuals working habits. But ultimately this work has to be at a generalized level and does not apply to any given individual. The example I use is the floppy disk and manilla envelope icons for save and open. To this day I periodically get them mixed up. For me, the floppy disk was a way we shared files back in the day, and so I think of it as a symbol for opening a file. On the other hand, in my organizational scheme papers sit on my desk until I am finished with a project. Then I put them into manilla folders and file them away, usually never to be seen again. So for me, then, the manilla folder is a symbol of saving and archiving.

While it is a minor example, I think it is an analogy of a larger theme. As we struggle to understand how to work in a pluralistic society, being more inclusive means coming to understand the metaphors of others and to work collaboratively within different metaphors to adapt technologies to support community goals within diverse cultural contexts. Microsoft and Apple products are design brands that restrict customization to a limited set of parameters. This assures the products will be the same anyplace, anytime. There are advantages to this to be sure.

But if we are to improve our ability to fill the socio-technical gap that exists and needs to be addressed for us to move beyond seeing technology as a magic bullet, we need to empower individuals to be active participants in reappropriating technologies to fit their own contexts. This is what I see to be the core of the DIY, Maker, and Fab Lab type movements. To truly achieve these goals, we need an operating system that is open to recreation. Only Linux fits this bill.

— Martin

What do you all think?

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