A Great Time for the Gates Foundation to Embrace Linux

This is a great time for the Gates Foundation to embrace Linux, bringing the value of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) to people who might otherwise not hear its value. For the past 10 years the Gates Foundation has expanded access to technology by delivering Windows computers to public libraries. Wouldn't it be cool for the next 10 years for the Gates Foundation to deliver new Ubuntu systems for public access use at these same libraries?

Seeing is believing, and the more people see Linux, the more they will believe in it. Some might claim that by embracing Linux the Gates Foundation might be hurting sales of Windows. The Gates Foundation's mission is not to protect or expand Windows' franchise, though. It's mission is to expand access to education and health. I can think of no better tool for that than Linux.

Imagine free Linux workshops at public libraries where members of the public learn and see how to convert old Windows 98 computers to very usable Puppy Linux systems. Puppy Linux runs well on old computers with 64 megabytes of memory. It includes a Mozilla browser and AbiWord, a word processor that can load and save Microsoft Word files.

A computer that was otherwise destined for throwing out can gain new life -- perhaps even as much as 5 years of extra life. Families can use that extra computer online at no additional cost to the broadband they already pay for.

It's useful to keep in mind that the Gates Foundation is required by law to spend 5 percent of its endowment each year. With a current endowment of $60 billion, the foundation is required to spend $3 billion each year. That works out to spending $1 billion every four months.

To my mind, bringing Linux computers to public libraries -- and free Linux trainings to the public -- would advance the mission of the Gates Foundation in substantial ways. Throw in a couple of trucks to pick up and deliver donated computers around town, and we could all move forward to building a more inclusive society.

One of the guiding principles of the Gates Foundation is: "We leave room for growth and change." The sentences above are growth and change. Let's see if the foundation is ready for that growth and change. Maybe it is, and maybe it's not.

Change is here. Is the Gates Foundation here, too?

Phil Shapiro

The author is an adjunct professor of education at American University. He has received numerous awards for his community service work bridging the digital divide. He can be reached at: philshapiroblogger@gmail.com

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