Is Russia seeking control of young minds through Linux?

Russia is bringing open source to its children, but I worry about how it is doing it.

In an attempt to reduce its dependence on foreign software, Russia is planning to install its own version of Linux on school children's desktops across the country, according to CNews. Fantastic, right? Well, all that glitters is not gold.

Leonid Reiman, RF acting Minister of Communication states Russian OS and application program package development is of vital importance,...[with] [t]he main aim of the given work [being] to reduce dependence on foreign commercial software and provide education institutions with the possibility to choose whether to pay for commercial items or to use the software, provided by the government....

"The existing practice to install Windows software on school computers is not profitable both economically, because of discounts for client license, and strategically as it initially ties a young user to the platform and products of one company, although very popular and convenient in operation."

I like the rhetoric. I believe that choice is good. But that is precisely why I'm concerned by how Russia is playing this Linux card. If the idea is to save money, as Christopher Dawson of ZDNet points out, then Russia would be better off using existing Linux distributions like Edubuntu or OpenSUSE, both of which have been customized for the education market.

More importantly, I don't trust that this is about choice. Instead, it seems to be more about control, as Marc Wagner notes. It smacks of statism to me. It's perfectly acceptable for a government to settle upon a standard to promote. My concern is that Russia will devolve into imposing this standard, rather than merely suggesting it.

I don't like forced open source any more than I like forced closed source. Choice is good. Let's hope Russia remembers this.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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