– The Case against Open Source

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.

Computer: $400
Installation: $60
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

This entry was posted in FOSS. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to – The Case against Open Source

  1. Now, lets have a look at the European prices for teachers’ home computers:
    For the Netherlands:
    Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium(upgrade): €119.99 ($163.59)
    Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium: €199.99 ($272.67)
    Microsoft Office 2007 Standard: €499.00 ($680.34)

    Adobe Photoshop CS4 €1,010.31 ($1,377.46)
    Anti-virus €29.95-€39.95 ($40.83-$54.47)

    And if you don’t have Microsoft Office 2007, like a lot of our teachers do, then you’ll have a lot of compatibility problems because those supposedly superior proprietary applications don’t get updates for new file formats.

  2. The original article isn’t credited to anyone by name, and contains no citations whatsoever. Hopefully no one is foolish enough to assign any credibility to its author.

    Some digging on the site reveals that the author may be the single individual behind the site (, who hypocritically calls the project “the Open Source Project for Instructional Materials” (

  3. henry says:

    I think price will eventually push more and more schools to opensource. Our district has only a few IT folks who are invested in a particular operating system. Sadly with every new Novell update the computers get slower and slower. They save money by having old computers with minimum ram requirements. If I want to get work done I wait to go home to Ubuntu.

    Another big problem with teachers – and folks in general – is we become used to particular programs. Ten plus years ago districts moved from Apple to Windows – this was not possible until Novell. What became central was a way to control access on an individual level. Still today teachers use old version of Apple Works instead of Word.

    I really thunk Ubuntu can answer most of these concerns. Open office works better than Word ever could. Linux certainly has the capability with Edubuntu to individualize and secure the operating system from kids.

    The biggest issue will be expertise. If for example you had a Linux group adopt a school with a small computer lab, I think minds would change. I think head to head Ubuntu wins. As my daughter asked me in reference to her Microsoft netbook, how do I get the song to play when I put the curser over the file.

  4. Dick Smith says:

    My feeling is that the author(s) are living in a fantasy world that completely ignores the funding options available to schools, at least in the US.

    Not to mention the fact that most of these type purchases are done under an RFP system where the specs are generally not written by anyone who has any teaching experience.

    My gut tells me that showing the advantages of FOSS and Open Source OSes, would lead any intelligent person to conclude that it’s the only way to go.

    • Victor Zamanian says:

      “Joseph Chmielewski, M.S., L.P.C. Licensed Professional Counselor.

      Author and publisher. Founder of the Open Source Project for Instructional Materials, Classroom Toolkit.

      Retired educator and school district Technology Coordinator.

      Hypnotherapist. Expert at interpreting people thirough thier dreams.

      Trainer: meditation, dream work, self-hypnosis.

      Trainer: Creativity, creative expression and idea incubation.”

      Fantasy world seems to be hitting the nail on the head.

  5. Joel Zehring says:

    As a public school teacher, I would choose Ubuntu Linux over Windows XP for the Dell machines in my classroom. Alas, I’m stuck with a seven-year-old Microsoft OS because it’s “rock solid”.

    Like many large organizations, many school districts perceive a lack of official support for open source software. In reality, I think they just want a target for their finger-pointing in case something goes wrong on the software side. Hopefully, companies like Canonical can make their services better known to public school districts.

  6. W^L+ says:

    Actually, I think he’s not really aware that educators shouldn’t teach “how to use program X”, but should teach the broad principles behind that whole class of applications. That is, instead of Word, teach word processing principles, so that students can figure out how to use whatever software is installed.

  7. jazzyjeph says:

    The date at the top of the original article is Monday, June 30. 2008 so i’m not being funny but is it relevant, would anyone have bothered finding that article if you hadn’t referenced it here ? we know some people resent the whole principal of FREE as in FREEDOM software and this troll is obviously one and you shouldn’t be encouraging them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s