If you were introducing your first child to computers and had your choice between Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, or something else, which operating system would you choose, and why?

I've used all of the above (and then some: I used to be an Amiga fanatic!) But, I'm not sure yet what I'd like my daughter to learn computers on. What do you think? What has your experience been with your kids and a specific operating system? Would you have done different?

UPDATE: Thank you for all your responses! Much appreciated.

asked 06 Feb '10, 14:30

Chris%20W.%20Rea's gravatar image

Chris W. Rea
accept rate: 34%

edited 03 Mar '10, 23:33

How old is our daughter? and would you be able to say whether she is more creative or more scientific at the moment :-) ?

(10 Feb '10, 06:13) Emi

My daughter is about 3 1/2 years old. She is creative, but she also asks a lot of questions!

(10 Feb '10, 19:32) Chris W. Rea

For what it's worth - my daughter is not getting her own computer yet... :-) I'm trying to consider this issue a little bit in advance.

(11 Feb '10, 00:15) Chris W. Rea

Which operating system is good for introducing kids to computing: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, or something else?

All of them are good for introducing kids to computing.


Computers are general purpose devices - they do lots of things, and every major OS supports programs which perform the same set of functions:

  • Word processing
  • Calculations
  • Entertainment
    • Games
    • Movies
  • Communication
    • Browsing
    • Video/audio communications
    • Email
    • Social networking
  • Exploration
    • Science
    • Engineering
    • Technology
  • Robotics
  • etc

If you were introducing your first child to computers and had your choice between Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, or something else, which operating system would you choose, and why?

I would choose the one I knew the best, primarily for the reason that it's going to "break", and I simply don't have time to learn how to fix a problem or weird computer state for an OS I'm not intimately familiar with.

It's like the language wars programmers have - in all new businesses when more than one language meets the basic requirements, you should use the language the programmers know.

I'm not sure yet what I'd like my daughter to learn computers on. What do you think?

If you have to make a single choice, and cannot expand their experience by swapping the OS or system around on them every year or so, then choose the one you feel most comfortable with. There is a small advantage to training them to use the most popular (in business and school) systems, but any significant computer experience is going to put them well above many of their peers, even if they have to learn something different later on.

What has your experience been with your kids and a specific operating system?

Win 2k - minor issues getting it, and keeping it, connected to the network once I switched to WPA.

The netbook has Vista, and they use it without even knowing it's different than their other computer.

Kids are incredibly flexible, and they are able to adapt to a new OS quickly given a few pointers.

Would you have done different?

Given unlimited funds and time, I'd have several systems and make them learn how to use each one to accomplish their various goals.

But given finite resources, no.

I think it's more important to teach them how to use a computer to accomplish a goal than it is to teach them how to use a computer.


answered 02 Mar '10, 23:28

Adam%20Davis's gravatar image

Adam Davis
accept rate: 31%


+1. Excellent answer. Especially about goals. Thanks!

(03 Mar '10, 02:18) Chris W. Rea

I'm choosing to accept this as the most useful answer and award Adam the bounty. I like this answer in particular because of the goals comment, and it also addresses each point nicely. Well done.

(03 Mar '10, 23:12) Chris W. Rea

When our eldest first started with the CBeebies website about six years ago, it was useful to have Internet Explorer on Windows, as some online games used fancy things like Shockwave Director that weren't available at all on Linux. These days the Linux support through Firefox is much better, and I think websites may even be settling down to use normal Flash for just about everything.

The kids still have that old clunky Windows machine, although we now choose to run Firefox instead. I'd be happier to set up a Linux machine for them nowadays, although it would have to use a much simpler windowing environment than the one I have (3x3 virtual desktops that flip when the mouse reaches the edge of the screen, for example). They use OpenOffice for the occasional document they now create, like wishlists for birthdays and Christmas, so any OS supports that.

I'd quite like to be a Microsoft-free household, but it is handy to have at least one Windows machine in the house, for hardware like Sat Navs that just don't talk to Linux very well, and for the moment this is their old machine.


answered 06 Feb '10, 17:18

Paul%20Stephenson's gravatar image

Paul Stephenson
accept rate: 4%

My 3.5 year old "uses" Linux and OS X, though nothing he does on them matters at all what OS he's running. His only/favorite applications are

(1) tuxpaint -- simple kid-oriented drawing program, originally for Linux but now runs on all major platforms

(2) an empty emacs window, for him to play around typing letters (he loves asking how words or friend's names are spelled and then finding the letters). He uses emacs because I do, but he's just typing in words, not using "features", so any text editor would do.

(3) watching home movies or pictures (mostly me putting it on slide show for him)

(4) the occasional youtube or Netflix on-demand videos (any browser would do).

He's never noticed (or at least not mentioned) that there's any difference between our Mac laptops or our Linux desktop. I can't imagine that it will matter what OS we use for several more years.

I should also mention here that we pretty severely limit "screen time" -- maybe 15 minutes on a typical school day, if he wakes up early enough to enjoy a video or some painting before it's time to get ready for school, and a couple movies on DVD on weekends. I hope to keep that minimal trend up, also contributing to OS not mattering much.


answered 10 Feb '10, 20:47

lgritz's gravatar image

accept rate: 14%

I would say - as more and more of the computer use is "in the cloud" - that it does not make a huge difference which OS is running as base of the webbrowser.

If you have the possibility, and as soon as your child really understands the differences, expose him or her to as many operating systems as you have available. I think versatility is the key. Which one will be the main OS depends mostly on the family preference, or on the preference of the person who will have to play tech support :)


answered 06 Feb '10, 21:08

brandstaetter's gravatar image

accept rate: 24%

What I would do, is teach my children how to do things (such as install a program, or typ a letter etc etc. With other words: how to work with a computer) and create a website with some easy html. So an OS would not really matter (but I'd choose Windows for that since I don't know Linux and Mac OS)

That are the things that I missed my parents taught me (which I don't blame them)


answered 10 Feb '10, 11:47

Fisherman's gravatar image

accept rate: 8%

edited 10 Feb '10, 12:04

If you really want to teach kids about computers, go in the following order:

  • Teach them how a resistor works (light bulbs fall in this category)
  • Explain voltage and current
  • Jump to diodes and then transistors (big)
  • Using transistors, create a NAND gate and then explain all the gates
  • With gates, explain how to create a full bit adder -> basis of an ALU
  • Explain (and build) a flip-flop -> this is the basis of memory
  • With that info, you can explain how a microcontroller works
  • Build a project out of a microcontroller and program it in assembly language (no OS req'd)
  • Jump from that to assembly language on the PC. DOS is particularly good for learning because you have to interact with the OS through relatively simple APIs.

If you get that far, they'll be old enough to choose their own OS, and knowledgeable enough to setup a dual boot if they can't decide. :)


answered 26 Feb '10, 10:16

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Scott ♦♦
accept rate: 10%

Good luck in the teaching career Scott!

(26 Feb '10, 16:11) Paul Stephenson

I think I need to re-learn most of these things myself :-)

(03 Mar '10, 23:10) Chris W. Rea

You're best to introduce them to whatever you're most familiar with.

You're going to be the one showing them what to do, answering their questions -- and locking the system down so they can't delete things accidentally -- so you should stick to what you know. You can get educational software and kids' games for any platform, and flash-based sites work everywhere (well... except for iPhones...) so familiarity should be your deciding factor here.


answered 03 Mar '10, 02:21

dave0's gravatar image

accept rate: 12%


It's (unfortunately) what the majority of the world uses, so will give them the best head start.


answered 28 Feb '10, 19:53

Mungo's gravatar image

accept rate: 3%


I should add I'm an OS X / Linux user ;)

(28 Feb '10, 19:55) Mungo

I have to wonder if we'll all still be using Windows in 20 years! :-)

(03 Mar '10, 23:09) Chris W. Rea

Before school age, do not try to teach "useful" stuff, just let the computer be a fun toy. I am not worried that kids growing up today have a risk of being underexposed to computers. On the contrary, there is always the risk that they spend too much time in front of the tv or pc and do not move around as much as they ought to.

Make up your mind about how much time that is ok to spend in front of the computer. Even as wonderful and excellent children's program Tuxpaint is, let her also paint on paper with water paint or colour pencils from time to time.

Other useful programs: Ktuberling (aka Potato Guy, part of kdegames) is also a fun drawing program. For slightly older children, Supertux is awsome. For programs to look at the stars there is Celestia or KStars.

With regards to OS, there is less chance of messing up things seriously (e.g. not just deleting an icon from the desktop) with linux compared to windows (although windows have improved some over the years), but as other have said if you are not very familiar with it you might want to try something else.


answered 03 Mar '10, 03:13

hlovdal's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

Thanks! Yes, we plan to limit computer time and encourage other activities too. Good advice, though.

(03 Mar '10, 23:09) Chris W. Rea
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Asked: 06 Feb '10, 14:30

Seen: 9,076 times

Last updated: 16 Sep '10, 10:57