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:
- The use of open source operating systems for servers was generally seen as having a high level of relative advantage, having lower costs, superior reliability and greater ease of use than non-open-source systems.
- Linux on PCs took up less memory, increasing speed and allowing the continued use of older and more limited machines without any loss of performance.
- the annual total cost per PC was less for nearly all the OSS schools at both primary and secondary school levels. For OSS schools, cost per PC at primary school level was half that of non-OSS schools, and cost per PC at secondary school level was around 20% less than that of the non-OSS schools.
- the case studies show lower relative costs for OSS, with savings being mainly used on ICT-related improvements. The potential cost savings depend a great deal on the way a school implements the OSS solutions.
- Dual-platform PCs, which allow users to switch between open source and non-open-source operating systems and applications, had a number of relative advantages over those running only an open source system. This solution gave users the opportunity to try new facilities, but, by providing both operating systems, overall cost savings were reduced. open-source- only PCs have a slower take-up, probably because of unfamiliarity with the desktop, and reluctance to use non-proprietary software.
- There were clearly divergent views on the relative advantages of OSS and non-OSS applications, with administrators generally undecided or lukewarm about their use, and pupils and teachers divided on their relative merits.
- The concerns of administrators and senior staff centred on lack of compatibility with other administrative packages, on training issues and the previous experience of administrators.
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.