As I continue my research into the open (source) movement in education, I am amazed and delighted by the number of leads and the research that is sent to me by other advocates in the area. There seems to be a real desire to get the message out that there ARE (often better) free alternatives to the proprietary software and systems we find in most schools.
Michael Francis of Canopener.ca is one of the individuals who has been of great help. He recently sent me this article from Linux Journal which, in part, describes the stranglehold that certain companies (like, but not limited to Microsoft) have over our educational institutions. And through this influence, such corporations do greatly effect and to an extent, control certain technical curricula. In the case of this article (and of Florida State University), it seems that there is some refuge from this corporate dominance, however, it is often not without a struggle.
A couple of weeks ago, I was encouraged to announce the “ground-break agreement” between the province of Alberta and Microsoft that has made M$ Office available to all K-12 and post-secondary institutions in the province. The deal is worth 6.3 million dollars to M$, and purportedly saves Alberta over 10 million (so there, I’ve now announced it).
Now the critique. I suppose Alberta, with it’s lack of debt and surplus budget is doing a great job financially. But I wonder, was Open Office ever even considered … for even one second. Open Office, if you don’t know it, is a M$ Office equivalent (and greater in some respects). And the zinger … it’s absolutely free. It’s a consideration that could have saved the province an additional … let me do that math … 6.3 million dollars. Sure, yes, there would have had to be some PD (although, if you know M$ Office, you know OO)… and there are the installation costs and support. But really, these costs are there in any case of technological adoption.
I guess when I can get my own personal budget balanced, I would have a greater right to criticize. However, I am worried that these types of mega-deals will catch on in other provinces and states without the consideration of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) alternatives. And I am certainly wondering, where was M$ with such ‘cost saving’ deals before the looming threat of FLOSS?