I recently read an article that made me shake my head. It was full of misinformation, uninformed conclusions, over generalizations, and red herrings. It was about how the argument for Open Source software is being detrimental to our schools. I am going to link to the original and comment on the article here, but I really would like to hear what your thoughts are.
The article starts off with a very insulting over-the-top paragraph:
“The Case against Open Source is really a case against the “Free and Cheap” mantra that some Open Source Advocates chant when they solicit action (and wrong-headed decisions) from school district leaders. This is a case against folks (who know little about instruction and even less about the needs of teachers); who, despite their lack of knowledge, pitch this “save-money fantasy (delusional) strategy” to school district executives (who should know better than to listen, but don’t).”
It becomes obvious from the opening salvo that the author either did not talk to an actual Open Source advocate or did not properly process the message. Open Source advocates are not about Free and Cheap (as in beer); they are about Free as in Liberty. It makes me think that the author is either more interested in a flame war than real discussion or they are of limited intelligence; neither is particularly good.
“These folks could even be school district employees, Techies, who have used Windows™ Open Source software (the most prevalent kind); but, most of these folks are “outsiders” that…”
I love the derisive “Techies” moniker that the author uses here. This term is usually used by the technically inept as a way of devaluing the skills of a technology professional. I recognize that I have no experience in a classroom and value the professional experience of teachers. Regardless of software and hardware choices there must be a synergy between professional IT and professional teaching staff for technology integration to work in schools.
This is followed by a quick sidebar which has several bullet points; I would like to address a few.
“Don’t understand what teacher want or need”
I agree I do not know what a teacher wants or needs. As a technician I view my roll as helping the teacher know what is available and to ‘cut through’ the sales pitch that companies often deliver. I can not tell you the number of times vendors represent their product as web based when it is, in fact, not web based.
“Don’t comprehend the compatibility issues that are associated with running software within a school district ‘technology ecosystem'”
For my part I do have an idea. I know that software and hardware compatibility happen regardless of platform. Even in a closed Apple ecosystem there are compatibility issues that plague school districts.
“Don’t realize that Technology Integration is a failed concept…unless an entire program is funded to an adequate level, with additional funding contingency funding”
I guess the author misses that Free and Open Source (FOSS) software can lower the cost of software which in turn makes it easier for available funding to be adequate. Certainly there still has to be funding for hardware and training.
“Don’t have a clue about how software costs add a minor (almost trivial) expense in the overall success of a technology program”
I think the author truly does not understand how much software costs. I would like to give an example of a typical windows based computer.
- Computer: ~$500
- Windows Active Directory CAL: $8
- Windows License (Enterprise or Professional): $54
- Microsoft Office: $54
- Photoshop Elements: $54
- Antivirus License: $8
- Altiris Management License: $8
- A package of three ‘educational’ titles: $54
The balance is ~$500 for the hardware and ~$240 for the software for the ‘typical’ windows based instructional computer. There are other solutions that would raise the price for specific departments. This does not include the labor to install and support the systems, but I believe those costs would exist regardless of platform choice and are, thus, a red herring. With the numbers above the software cost 32% of the cost of the computing environment. Perhaps the author considers this amount trivial; I do not.
“Fail to recognize that Apple™ computers provide better solutions to their arguments for “Free and Cheap Open Source” than Open Source software does”
I am not even sure how to respond to this. Apple computers are nothing more than a hardware platform. They are PCs running OS X. The initial purchase of an Apple does come with some software included, but the higher cost of the computer pays for that software. Much of the software must be paid for if you upgrade it in the future.
“A second cost center, training and professional development, should be at least 30% of project cost.”
I would hope that reducing the cost of software would assist in making funding available for training.
“For example: If a project costs $30 million USD, then training and professional development costs should run about $10 million USD. But, school districts seldom allocate more than single-digit percentages to training and professional development…funds for stipends, trainers, follow-up support, release time, software and equipment for teachers to use at home, etc. School districts skimp and under fund in this area, and the results (as observed nation wide) is technology that is un used, under used and under utilized.”
“For example: For the $30 million project, $10 million for hardware, software and infrastructure, $10 million for training and professional development and $10 million for Back-End programming, interoperability, automation, development and support.”
In the scenario the author describes there would be 10 million spent on hardware and software. Given the numbers I gave this would result in a 3.2 million dollar savings. 3.2 million to put towards more training, more hardware or just reduce the total cost of the project.
Three Year Warranty: $125
Network Drop (to connect the computer to a Switch): $130
Cost of Port on the Network Switch: $125
Using the authors numbers, which may or may not be valid, the total cost of a computer with proprietary software would be $1080 and a completely open source computer would cost $840. While this reduces the cost of software to 22% of the computing environment; that cost is still far from trivial to me. The author makes no attempt to normalize these costs either. A network drop and switch will have a significantly longer life span than the computer or the software. Those two items might last as long as two or three computers depending on the replacement cycle set for computers. The author proposed a three year replacement cycle which would result in three computers and three software upgrades in the lifespan of the switch and drop. That alters the cost of software to 27% of the cost of the computing environment.
The author also specifically cited the issue of “software and equipment for teachers to use at home” while apparently not grasping that teachers must pay full retail cost for many of the titles schools pay very little for.
- Office $149 w/o a database program or $419 w/ a database program
- Antivirus $39
- Photoshop $129
With open source adoption the teachers cost of applications to replace the core three listed above would be zero.
“Move to full SIF Compliance”
Having worked with several proprietary vendors in regards to SIF compliance I am shocked to see this brought up. Under SIF I have seen product A support a sub-set of data and product B support a different sub-set of data rendering the two products incapable of integration via SIF. Proprietary products and vendors tend to tie your data down in their format.
The article also ignores the fact that the world is moving more and more towards using open source. I agree that one can not just rip and replace all Windows or Apple computers, but it is foolish to not pick and choose quality open source applications for use in the educational arena. It is foolish to ignore the cost of ‘home use’ for both teachers and students if one wants to close the digital divide.
While I agree with the parts of the article that talk about ignored costs of technology integration such as infrastructure and training I can not understand how the author missed the fact that reducing software costs should increase available funding for those two areas. The other wrong-headed idea the author pushed was that the adoption of FOSS is an all or nothing game. It is not.
Link to original article