I am pretty proud of my adopted country, Macedonia. (Full disclosure – my wife is Macedonian.) At the end of 2005 Macedonia became the world’s first wireless country. The full BBC write-up is here. Two years later, in 2007, Macedonia became one of the few countries to roll out, en masse, Ubuntu throughout the educational system. The story, from the Ubuntu website, can be found here and here is a BBC World video detailing the Macedonia Connects wireless story:
A few weeks ago, while my wife was still in Macedonia, I asked her to install Ubuntu on our old laptop which her parents had been using for years, primarily for Skype. The machine had contracted a bug and I am not a fan of bootleg software. With the popularity of Ubuntu it was easy enough to find someone to handle the installation (the neighbor) and within 24hrs she was back up and running. It seems as if everyone in Macedonia keeps a copy of the ISO in their back pocket.
My wife left a few weeks later without explaining to her father how to navigate the new interface and fire up Skype. She was bringing her mother home for a few months and she was worried about having an open line so her folks could communicate. I am not sure if her father had ever used the machine while it had Windows loaded and I know he had never seen Ubuntu. Computer literacy among older generations in Macedonia is quite low but it is improving. Metamorphosis, an OSI/ Soros backed non-profit, has done a lot of work in this area and has a survey on their site detailing INTERNET penetration throughout the country.
Shortly after returning to the States my wife called her father and asked him if he had a minute so that she could explain to him how to get online. His response was, “Don’t worry about it. I figured it out on my own.” When she told me that I started laughing. That has got to be the ultimate selling point for a product – a complete neophyte simply sits down and starts surfing the web with little to no difficulty.
With such accessibility is there any argument for aid organizations not rolling Ubuntu out in the field? I understand the compatibility issues but the stability of the application coupled with the ease of use is a strong argument for mandating that local field offices run Ubuntu rather than other the various versions of Windows that are available. At this point I am not worried about bugs and even if our machine in Macedonia does crash I’ll just buy the next cheapest machine and load up the latest version of Ubuntu.