David Braue

Aug 16, 2011

Gillard government fails to provide students with magical computers that don’t age

Yesterday's Age featured a tab

Yesterday’s Age featured a tabloidy little beat-up about “Rudd’s Laptops”, where they’ve gone and interviewed students about the 2009 laptops and found that, surprisingly, they’re not all that zippy in 2011:

“They’re not the best laptops in the world,” [the year 10 student we spoke to] says. “They’re slow and small, and I notice they have these really good and expensive programs on them – but some are so slow that it’s hard to use them because the laptop can hardly run them. If we have to do photo editing, most kids would just use one of the computers at school rather than the laptops.”

Who knew that computers aged so fast? And that laptops might be small (or that that might be an actual selling point of the things)?

And what’s with the compromise, buying students workable laptops but not cutting-edge ones that would double or triple the cost of the program and that would age at the same rate?

Clearly, until computers stop advancing so quickly, the education system has no business in providing them to students. I blame Kevin Rudd for Moore’s Law.

Still, kudos to writer Ben Braue. This is exactly the kind of important scoop that I’d expect to see in The Herald Sun. Good work getting there first, Ben.

35 comments

35 thoughts on “Gillard government fails to provide students with magical computers that don’t age

  1. SBH

    Just to go back to the article “Rudd giveaway gripes: students slam ‘slow’ laptops”
    only one student complains. and his complaints are very mild. Silly story silly beat-up.

  2. ian milliss

    The switch from Office2003 to Office 2007 is less demanding than the switch to Office2010 which is one of most user unfriendly bits of crapware I have seen in over twenty years in the industry. As a consultant I know that 90% of my clients would be better off in every way with Libre yet I have never been able to convince a single one to make the move. My feeling is that the real issue is ideology, in some weird cracked way they think that they are undermining capitalism (ie themselves) by using it. Just a guess. Moving away from Windows while highly desirable would cause some complications but Libre in a Windows environment seems to be a no-brainer but nothing will convince them. Incidentally I also see it as a marker of the poor quality of business management overall in Australia.

  3. wilful

    yes Strewth, in my experience LibreOffice is a far closer analogue of Office 2003 than Office 2007 is. Though basically 100% compatible, in a windows environment too.

  4. B.Tolputt

    @Angra, I guess you missed this part of my commentary:

    It would work wonders up north (where classrooms are less well-equipped and the homes of the children are somewhat less solid & powered than us suburbanites are used to), but given the tricks Intel pulled to prevent OLPC in Brazil and so on – I reckon there were quite possibly contractual clauses preventing the state governments from doing that if they got a large price cut on the rest of the machines.

    The education revolution was not about indigenous issues, it was about a nation-wide investment. As such, there were considerations outside the sole benefit of those not in the “first-world” part of our country. I would be willing to put money down on the fact that expense of equipping the children that would actually benefit from an OLPC machine was less than one tenth that of equipping the rest of the children covered under the scheme. As such, any deal with the laptop manufacturers (already known for torpedoing OLPC projects elsewhere) that increased the cost of 90% of the project would be weigh heavily against the use of the better machine elsewhere.

    As I said, I think the OLPC is the better machine for some areas of Australia, I just don’t think it would have made it through the negotiations with laptop & software suppliers. There is a reason why the Wintel moniker is known throughout the world and it’s not because Microsoft & Intel play nice with others.

  5. lykurgus

    Sammy
    “Can’t even hack into the Pentagon mainframe with them Mr Speaker”

    Wanna bet?
    http://www.richardmaxwell.name/blog/2009/11/17/the-time-i-hacked-the-pentagon.html

  6. Strewth

    Regarding the supposed need to run MS Office on the school laptops since “they need to get used to it as that’s what they’ll be forced to use in real life”: that argument became obsolete with the release of Office 2007. From experience I can assure you the learning curve in going from Office 2003 to Office 2007 is no less steep than when going to Office 2007 from any other ‘productivity suite’. Who can say that in 10 years’ time Microsoft won’t come up with some other completely different random way for users to interact with the software?

    As someone else said, the Windows+Office setup on many of these school laptops has more to do with it being the ‘Standard Operating Environment’ dictated by inflexible IT administrators – said admins being the only people who benefit in any significant way from using Windows as distinct from any other platform.

  7. Kym Durance

    the complaint about the PCs missus the point a bit — i would not spect the gubment to keep on providing state of the art machines — the real issue is that now schools – of varying resources – once they have accepted the first tranche of machines are now committed to the ongoing cost of replacement – updates and maintenance – not an impassable problem but for some schools it has and will present problems

  8. Jack Sparraaggghhh

    Jeremy, it would appear to be John Goodman as Walter Sobchak — “a gun-toting Jewish-convert with anger issues.” Don’t recall the exact scene depicted, but it’s been quite a while since I saw this, er, cult flick.

  9. Coldsnacks

    “they’re completely at odds with my general opposition to busywork homework.”

    It’s their application within the classroom where hte value is found – even within my KLA of History.

    It’s a paradigm shift – in this techno-savvy, content rich, info heavy world, teachers are no longer the font of all wisdom – we’re becoming facilitators of learning. And given different people learn through different methods, there’s nothing wrong with that, per se.

    My only concern whilst on prac was the classroom management side – way too easy for kids to get off task with the damn things – and there’s no way to stand at the front of the room and see what each kid has on his screen…..

  10. Jeremy Sear

    The image is from The Big Lebowski, isn’t it, Jack?

  11. Jack Sparraaggghhh

    Daniel Lewis, sorry to have to tell you this but someone appears to have hacked your twitter account. They’ve replaced your profile pic with a goofy caricature shot of some wannabe ramboid poseur.

    It surely has to be some leftoid because the image is so lame as to excite only derisory laughter.

    And what is it with the left and violence, eh?

    You really ought to complain to the twitter authorities of this abuse of the terms of service.

  12. Angra

    BT – I was thinking more of remote indigenous community schools in NT, WA, Qld etc, Torres Strait, off-shore islands and so on.

    Let the rich capital city buggers pay for their own fondleslabs.

    Australia is not an exclusively first-world country – a fact often conveniently forgotten.

  13. B.Tolputt

    The OLPC project is pretty damned good, and I am an avid supporter of it. With that said, it was not designed so much with the first-world in mind – making it a bad investment for 90% of schools in Australia.

    The wind-up generator, the mesh networking, the screens designed for nearly all lighting conditions, etc were all designed with the premise that the computer can be given to children in countries where electric power supply is not ubiquitous, where there might only be the one entry-point to the Internet for the entire village/town, where rugged design is necessary due to the harsh living conditions and where classrooms might be under the big tree in the village square.

    For those conditions, the OLPC is perfect. For an indoor school classroom having a state-sponsored WiFi connection to the Internet & stable power supply, not so much. It would work wonders up north (where classrooms are less well-equipped and the homes of the children are somewhat less solid & powered than us suburbanites are used to), but given the tricks Intel pulled to prevent OLPC in Brazil and so on – I reckon there were quite possibly contractual clauses preventing the state governments from doing that if they got a large price cut on the rest of the machines.

  14. Daniel Lewis

    Sorry, did I just hear Marilyn Shepherd say she is “sick to death of whiney brats and their entitlement culture”?

    OMG.

    This is a woman who is {EDIT: we don’t publish defamatory smears about people on our site. -Jeremy}

    Wow. Just wow.

  15. Angra

    MoC – for a rich western country that is probably true. But the OLPC project is providing cheap, effective and fun laptops for developing countries. Australia could have invested in these and saved about $1,000 a device.

    They can be downloaded with useful educational programmes, automatically form peer-to-peer networks, use flash memory instead of hard drives, run a version of Linux with an appropriate GUI for kids, and can even by powered by wind-up mini generators.

    http://one.laptop.org/

  16. B.Tolputt

    Ah well, at least Billy G’s giving back to the world from a lot of his ill-gotten gains…

    Quite easy to do when you are worth tens of billions of dollars. At a million dollars a day, he’d still be filthy rich when he died.

  17. Matthew of Canberra

    I personally didn’t see the point in the laptops. Not only are they a bit of a gimmick, they’re completely at odds with my general opposition to busywork homework. If the school wants students doing “video editing” they should be providing the facilities on site. It’ll be cheaper and more effective anyway.

    But I also think some of these claims are a bit overblown. Yes, a small laptop is probably going to be a bit slow running povray. But there is a point at which one has to ask … why?!? Are students _really_ doing graphic design on these things? What were the requirements?

    And yes, it’s very easy for someone to install a bunch of crap to slow a machine down. I’d tend to assume that’s just what kids will do, too.

  18. Fran Barlow

    Coldsnacks said:

    [My experience in NSW public schools (as both student and student-teacher) is that schools mainly have PCs that are leased (apart from maybe the odd Mac for the Visual Arts faculty) running Windows and using MS Office, in x number of computer labs.]

    Actually, we stopped leasing some years ago about the time when ASI went bust. these days, we get them on T4L rollout each year with a notional dollar allocation based on numbers of students. The IT coordinator gets a nominal value per basic machine, intermediate machine, advanced machine, LCD monitor in various sizes and/or server and you can spend your budget as you see fit. By careful juggling and some judicious purchasing I’ve managed to ensure that none of our 106 machines in teaching areas is older than 2 years 4 months and 72% are younger than 2 years, we have a less than 1 year-old server and some good NAS-based storage. All monitors are now LCDs, most machines have 2GB DDR RAM and some are of the 1440 pixel-width screens. Each building level has at least one room with a digital light projector and sound and an electronic whiteboard and one room is a “connected classroom”. We own it all.

    Creative arts and TAS have some special machines for their KLAs.

  19. Coldsnacks

    Fran @ 12, the thing is that OpenOffice is broadly compatible with MS Office, being able to read and save documents in MS formats, albeit there are some, mostly minor, shortfalls in interoperability.

    But Open Office/Linux is not the “Standard Operating Environment” the school/department operates in.

    My experience in NSW public schools (as both student and student-teacher) is that schools mainly have PCs that are leased (apart from maybe the odd Mac for the Visual Arts faculty) running Windows and using MS Office, in x number of computer labs.

    As to the “power” of the netbooks themselves, as was pointed out earlier – each new cohort’s will be more powerful as the technology evolves. I myself purchased an Asus netbook, a 2010/11 model for uni (beat lugging my 15.6″ Toshiba around) and prac placements. It’s not the most powerful piece of equipment going around (and I really should throw another gig or 2 of RAM into it) but I bought it for portability and to be a glorified word processor/internet browser, not a desktop replacement

  20. Jack Sparraaggghhh

    Fran @ 12, the thing is that OpenOffice is broadly compatible with MS Office, being able to read and save documents in MS formats, albeit there are some, mostly minor, shortfalls in interoperability.

    Both have advanced data functions in the respective spreadsheet tools, e.g., ‘pivot’ reports, etc. Although I have to admit Excel does it somewhat more slickly, I also have to wonder how many kids would actually require such a level of advanced functionality?

    Ah well, at least Billy G’s giving back to the world from a lot of his ill-gotten gains…

  21. B.Tolputt

    Two of my boys are in a technology class where they get a laptop each (though, being primary schoolers, not to take home). They have no complaints (in fact, they are still chuffed they get them) and they know what a speed computer is like. I’m a software developer by trade and I work from a home office.

    All machines but my Linux server are laptops because I require the ability to take my tools with me when working on-site. Due to the nature of my “software niche”, my machines need lots of memory, fast CPU’s, and good graphics cards just to run the software I develop – to debug them as well requires even more resources. As such, my boys know what a fast machine is and what the schools give out is more than adequate for their educational needs. No complaints from me or them.

    Obviously, the Age is simply trolling for some outrage… probably more from those people without children in school.

  22. Jack Sparraaggghhh

    There are a number of factors that can slow down a Windows machine (apart from Windows itself). The OS can become overladen with software installations gumming up the registry and wanting to load at start up, and viruses and other malware are easily picked up by kids, who’ll download any old crap if it’s free.

    I also much prefer Linux but have to use Windows for work. So what do you do…?

  23. shepherdmarilyn

    Who did they interview, some “I am entitled” brats.

    I have changed computers 4 times in the past 9 years and upgraded internet from:

    dial up in 2002 with 500 mb @ $30 per month @ 56kbs
    to broadband in 2006 with 12 GB @ $60 per month
    to $24 GB per month from $44
    Now 100 GB per month for $60 with speeds of up to 20 mbs.

    I have switched from Microsoft to Linux after a monster muncher got me 2 months ago and it is faster and easier.

    I am sick to death of whiney brats and their entitlement culture.

  24. Fran Barlow

    Speaking as someone who (in concert with my DET-TSO) is involved in administering the laptop program and teaches clases in IST (the junior computing course in 9,10) …

    The kids aren’t complaining. Each year the netbooks have become a little more robust (we had problems with screens cracking and with ill-designed cases) and a little better. In class, even when in a computer lab, most prfefer to use their netbooks, because they have more storage. One unanticipated problem is that the kids tend to borrow the mouse devices at the fixed PCs and then fail to put them back.

    Certainly, even my year 11s (who have the oldest iterations) aren’t complaining about speed though. They do complain about not being able to load other software onto it though. I have a staff version and although it has its idiosyncrasies, at the price supplied it’s hard to complain.

    I agree that in principle, open source software would have been far better, but in practice, it would have subverted state school practice which uses MS Office almost exclusively, would have required significant new and expensive teacher training, and would probably have meant low utilisation by teachers — so it would not have been a maintainable solution.

    FTR, I have never been that keen on kids getting laptops. I’d have preferred more resources had gone into building new computer labs, possibly using thin clients. I’d have seen that as better value for money and again, more maintainable, not to mention more ecologically friendly. Supplying staff with laptops on the other hand, was a good idea. An unanticipated side benefit however, has been the TSO, who has functioned as much more than “laptop guy”. In practice, he has been the school’s general technical officer, and has helped me maintain school IT out of a budget paid for by DET. That’s clearly paert of the overall cost, but the money is well-spent, because now, more staff are in practice using IT and the quality of service to kids generally is higher than if I had to do it alone.

    Disclaimer: As looking after the PCs falls substantially to me, in addition to my teaching load, I have a bias in favour of stuff that involves less work on my part, shorter lead times to remedy and fewer people saying “why doesn’t this work?”

  25. BigBob

    You do know how much the MS os/applications would cost for these buys?

    It would be well short of $100/laptop – maybe even half that.

    Well worth it for them to be using the software they will be forced to use in real life 95% of the time and for the foreseeable future. I’ve been waiting for the open source revolution for at least ten years now.

  26. Gerry Hatrick, OAP

    Just wait until the Herald Sun figures out that the buildings as part of the BER may get rundown after 10 or 20 years. And imagine how much of the insulation may lose volume over time!

  27. John Reidy

    I was disappointed they weren’t Linux/open source based as well.
    The kids are taught using MS office from primary school, so I guess it was too big a change. I would prefer Linux/open office, but it makes sense to have the same OS and software as what they are already using.
    I also think Microsoft (as an example) was so keen for them not to use Open Office that they did not charge very much for the licenses.
    You can buy the MS Office “home and student edition” for around $100 which allows installation on 3 computers.

  28. Strewth

    Sure, you can spend $800 on something that needs replacing every 2 years, or spend $2500 on something that lasts 5 years and runs higher-spec software. And you don’t go out and buy something without getting a grip on the actual requirements: is the thing going to be used for word processing or video editing? If it’s not intended to be used for the latter then people shouldn’t whinge when it doesn’t do the job.

    ‘Laptop’ isn’t a word that defines a single entity, but the schools programme seems to have been misunderstood by people who think it does. I do all my work on a laptop but would never consider it equivalent to the cheap netbooks NSW bought in 2009.

  29. wilful

    LibreOffice, actually. But yes.

    As a recent Linux convert (Mint), I have to say, life is surprisingly easy out there in free land. Would make the program cheaper.

  30. Holden Back

    Entitlement culture? What’s that?

  31. Bellistner

    And why aren’t they just using OpenOffice instead of paying for MS Office?

  32. Corvus

    The vast majority of high school students don’t use anything other than Word/Exel/Powerpoint/ anyway. Hell I’m in my 4th year of university and I’ve only added two programs (SAS and Raven) to my regular use.

  33. ConnorJ

    what the hell are they trying to run Photoshop and dreamweaver on laptops for anyway?

  34. John Reidy

    My son received his this year (year 9).
    I believe the program is administered by the states – so I can only speak for NSW (and the 2011 model they received).

    Each year receives a newer model, so the 2011 laptop is more powerful than the 2010 or the 2009 version – and is (or was in March this year) a current release – not older ‘remaindered’ stock.

    For its purpose – it is an excellent laptop, the emphasis has been on reasonable processing power but is also light weight – they have to carry it to and from school; and has good battery life.
    It runs Office (Word and Excel) well but for students doing multimedia – yes they do prefer to use more powerful PCs – which the computer lab at school has.
    If it were any more powerful it would be heavier and have poorer battery life.

  35. Sammy Jankis

    “Can’t even hack into the Pentagon mainframe with them Mr Speaker”

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