Here on TechRepublic (and many IT-related forums), we speak mostly of the professional aspects of our IT jobs. The problem is, we go home and, in many cases, our IT work continues. Part of it involves keeping our children’s computers running and running well. Sometimes, that job can be a bigger challenge than the task of keeping the adults in our business up and running.

But why put yourself through this when you can install Linux on a machine for your child/teen and avoid the headaches? In this article, I will give you 10 good reasons why you should do just this. In the end, you can decide for yourself whether they’re reason enough to migrate those young users away from other operating systems.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Viruses/malware

This reason is always at the top of my list. We all know kids are prone to opening and installing things they shouldn’t. Because you can’t watch your children 100 percent of the time, you can’t know where they’re getting those applications or attachments from. You can make sure those machines have antivirus and anti-spyware, but why even take the chance? When your kids are using the Linux operating system, this concern becomes moot.

2: Security

This can be summed up easily. If you don’t give your children the root password, they can’t run with root privileges. Of course, you hit a little snag when using a distribution like Ubuntu. For any sudo-based operating system, you will need to edit the /etc/sudoers file to give your young users the privileges they need.

3: Cost effectiveness

Let’s say you have a younger user who is getting a hand-me-down machine that needs an OS reinstall. If you don’t have that copy of Windows around, you’re stuck purchasing a new copy. This can also be applied to any number of applications you might have to pay for. Avoid these costs altogether by handing that child the same machine running Linux. You won’t have pay for the OS license or any application that child might need or want. On top of that, they’ll have the Add/Remove Software tool ,where they can hunt around and find just about anything they would need… all on their own! You can also run a modern distribution on much less hardware than you will need for Vista or Windows 7.

4: Age-specific tools

Did you know there are distributions/software groups designed specifically for young adults and children? There is Sugar, geared for K-6, Edubuntu, for ages 3-18, LinuxKidX, for ages 2-15, Foresight Kids, for ages 3-12, and many others. These age-specific tools are well suited for the group they target with graphics and language tuned for the age range. And some of the distributions geared specifically for younger kids lock the operating system down tightly so that only certain tasks can be run.

5: Netbooks

Little kids make great netbook users. They have smaller hands and fingers that can handle a cramped keyboard, and they can easily sit with a small machine in their lap. And the Linux operating system is ideally suited to run on netbooks. You can install either a full-blown OS or a netbook-specific OS, along with whatever software you need on the netbook, making it an excellent choice for the younger audiences.

6: Agile learners

If you put a Linux-based machine in front of a young user, you won’t hear complaints like, “Why can’t it run Quicken!” or “I need my custom payroll app to run on this!” Most kids will master the Linux operating system quickly (and adroitly), with a minimal learning curve. Young minds adapt so well, your kids won’t have any trouble adjusting to any differences. You could probably sit a child down with a Gentoo box running CDE or AfterStep and he or she would have it figured out in less time than it took you to explain what Linux means.

7: Staying in step

I know this one will bring out the ire in many readers. I’m not saying any operating system is used more than any other. But Linux is used worldwide. Many countries as a whole have adopted Linux. The future of Linux is very bright — and it seems to be getting brighter. So why not give your children a head start on what could possibly be the future of the PC? This also applies for those fledgling IT pros out there. If Windows is so user friendly, kids spending most of their time on Linux should have no problem grasping Windows. In fact, I would argue that it will enhance the child’s ability to fully grasp the operating system and how the PC really works.

8: Learning opportunities

Open source emboldens education. It practically screams, “Open me up and learn!” What better way to help youngsters learn than by giving them the ability to do just that? With really curious children, the desire to learn is extraordinary — so why lock them down with closed source software? When a child is exposed to open source software and an open source operating system, the educational opportunities are limitless.

9: A lesson in community

This one might seem a bit of a stretch… but I am an idealist, so I hope you’ll go with it. Teaching children the value of open source software helps them understand community. Although your young users aren’t likely to open up the source code of the applications they’re using, in today’s constantly evolving, community-driven world, they need every advantage they can get as they grow up. Having a sound understanding of open source will help them to understand, at an early age, what it means to really work with and for a team. Using Linux at such an early age also indirectly teaches children the benefit of volunteering — something many of us need to learn more about.

10: Content filtering

Linux has numerous ways to handle content filtering for your young users. From DansGuardian to SquidGuard to the manual editing of the /etc/hosts file, you can filter content in Linux far more granularly than you can in Windows — and just as easily. Add to this the ability to lock down what your young user can and can’t do (without having to add third-party software), and Linux quickly becomes a safe computing environment for your child.

Your take

Would you trust your kids with Linux? Do you think Linux could help — or hinder — their education on a PC? Which operating system do you think is the best choice for children? Linux? Windows? OS X? Join the discussion and share your thoughts.

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