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Open Source Costs in Schools

BECTA, Britain's school technology authority. finally released its study of open source costs last week.

This was a real study, dealing with real people, real systems, and real issues over an extended period of time. The results are worth reading carefully.

Here are some bits taken from the executive summary:

On the whole the report is a resounding vindication for open source advocates but what's most interesting about it isn't the consistent reports of cost savings or functional parity between open source and the Microsoft product set, it's the comments about teacher/administrator resistance.

Read the report carefully and you'll see that the people who wrote it came to a politically incorrect conclusion and spent an inordinate amount of effort disguising that in the report. Instead, for example, of talking openly about teachers whose vision of computing is limited to Word and Powerpoint, they contrast a teacher's demand for Windows software with student acceptance of transferable skills by placing them adjacent to each other in the text.

They're considerably less circumspect about administrators. Here's a paragraph from page 9:

The decision not to use OSS applications for management and administration was sometimes linked with the administrator also needing to use specialised packages that were not OSS-compatible. In one full-spectrum school, for example, the administrator had been trained on, and was very used to, Microsoft Office, and doubted if StarOffice would be compatible with other packages.

That's the real message in this report: open source works better and saves money: but opposition from Microsoft devotees can be crippling whether they tell you about it, merely impede the open source decision, or mis-administer open source systems.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.