Gates and spain`s first minister weigh in on debate over school laptops

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 Gates and Zapatero weigh in on debate over school laptops

Both the chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and Spain’s Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have gotten involved in the debate on the type of software to be installed on 420,000 laptops for school students.

The government and Microsoft want the 420,000 laptops to be fitted with Microsoft software. Spain’s socialist party (PSOE) says the laptops should be be equipped with open source software.

In a joint press conference with the Prime Minister on Tuesday, Gates said the acquisition of computers would be a “good investment in the students future” and a valuable experience for teachers.

Gates talk caused some confusion in the Spanish press. He forgot the name of Spain’s Aragon region, where students have been testing Microsoft’s touch screen computer with Windows and MS Office since January. RTVE, Spain’s national public TV network, claimed Gates was referring to a successful pilot project in schools in the region of Extremadura. Actually, Extremadura is one of Spain’s biggest examples of a GNU/Linux-based IT educational network.

One of the poorest regions in Spain, in Extremadura two students share one PC. In the rest of the country, the average is fifteen students for each computer. As Linux Magazine reported, several other regional sources interpreted Gates’ comments as vague praise for their own educational programmes.

Meneame, a popular Spanish site where users post popular links to Internet sites, carried the headline, “Bill Gates honours the Extremadura Linux experience.” Once RTVE noticed their mistake, they replaced “Extremadura” with “Aragon”.

The Spanish free software association, Hispalinux, criticised the laptop plan in April, saying for instance that the government should have requested a public tender for the laptops. The debate now includes dual-boot systems with both GNU/Linux and Microsoft software pre-installed, raising questions about the Spanish government paying for proprietary software licences it might not use.

More information:

Linux Magazine news item

Linux Magazine news item (in German)

Me neame news item (in Spanish)

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