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OSS Not Ready for Prime Time in Education?

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the prime-time-drive-time dept.


cel4145 writes "Inside Higher Ed reports that the Alliance for Higher Education Competitiveness has released a new study, The State of Open Source Software. Is it true that open source is 'not quite ready for prime time' in education? Or, as I suspect, is the study just another proprietary software vendor funded report for discouraging the adoption of open source software?" From the article: "Lack of vendor support is one of the largest hurdles limiting the adoption of open source in higher education, Abel said. 'The biggest thing is it takes more physical labor to implement open source because it isn't pre-packaged,' Abel said. "You have to have software developers that can make this stuff work.'" Are the staffing issues associated with OSS enough to outweigh the benefits?

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'Higher Education', indeed. (2, Funny)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835234)

From the page [] from A-HEC's website cited in the summary, the title reads:
A-HEC Thwe State of Open Source Software in Higher Education
Glancing further down the page, we see this gem:
Subscribe to the A-HEC Alliance!
So we are to subscribe to the The Alliance for Higher Education Competitiveness Alliance?

A-HEC might want to get all their ducks in a row before lecturing to us about 'higher education'...

Re:'Higher Education', indeed. (3, Funny)

replicant108 (690832) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835429)

This is also amusing: "The biggest thing is it takes more physical labor to implement open source because it isn't pre-packaged"

I wonder what kind of physical labor he is thinking of?

Perhaps this is this some new kind of FUD...

"Don't use open source kids - you might damage your back!"

KDE's Education Suite has made great strides (2, Informative)

billybob2 (755512) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835647)

The Education Suite [] of the K Desktop Environment (KDE) [] has made great strides in providing high-quality educational software for schoolchildren aged 3 to 18. The educational applications range from ones that teach vocabulary and foreign languages to math, physics, chemistry, astronomy and computer programming.

This goes to show that the educational sector is considered a high priority by many KDE developers, which is good because contracts with educational institutions account for a great percentage of software revenue. And of course, they have the satisfaction of making the kids (and consequently our future society) smarter, better informed, and more ready to tackle the challenges they'll face.

Re:KDE's Education Suite has made great strides (1)

Captain Zep (908554) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835736)

Also good since it teaches people early on that there are alternatives and that Windows is just one of several options, rather than the only option.


Wait, this isn't *Higher* Education (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835499)

Oh... they meant like college and stuff didn't they? nm

Re:'Higher Education', indeed. (1)

coastin (780654) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835572)

That was obviously from the a-hec department of redundancy department.

Support & Costs (1)

pneumatus (936254) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835241)

"Lack of vendor support is one of the largest hurdles limiting the adoption of open source in higher education"

Many FOSS applications have thriving communities which offer 'vendor support'. If you compare the vendor support you get from say Microsoft, where you find a bug and it takes months to get an update released to a FOSS app where you can report a bug and potentially get a hotfix in a matter of hours i know which level of support I would choose.

By adopting FOSS you can basically shift costs from the licensing fees you would pay on a closed source application where you are paying for support calls/vendor updates/etc to paying someone in-house capable of maintaing the applications by developing/updating/upgrading the software themselves.

'The biggest thing is it takes more physical labor to implement open source because it isn't pre-packaged,'

Well you saved on the purchase and licensing costs, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Re:Support & Costs (2, Insightful)

moro_666 (414422) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835303)

Ofcourse there are no free lunches.

imho they have 2 options

1) choose a packaged software from a company, pay for it's licence and the support sums later
2) choose oss and hire a developer

  i'm for option 2, because unlike the licence&support, it starts to change the software in the direction that you really need to, instead of what a salesman of ZYX-gamma company in mind when he first wrote the whitepaper.

  there is no real black and white on this issue, sometimes you have to be compatible with others, then you go for 1, sometimes you want to get specific stuff, then better go for 2 :)

Re:Support & Costs (1)

Golias (176380) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835327)

3. Make the students do all the work.

Some of them want to be BOFHs someday. What better way to learn than to build and maintain the school's educational computer resources?

Re:Support & Costs (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835509)

I'm for option 1, as long as the packaged software is Mac OS X server. When I was a student support staff at my university we ran 3 different servers. 1 for Mac OS 9, one for Windows and one for Mac OS X. We had to keep the OS 9 server around for Quark, otherwise it was entirely unnecessary. I did the OS X install and after the initial setup we didn't have to touch it for the two semesters I was still working there, except for running a few updates we read about on the web. The NT server on the other hand was a maintenence nightmare.

Re:Support & Costs (1)

boyfaceddog (788041) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835314)

Whoa! You mean my copy of OpenOffice will never be upgraded? Sheesh, this is a rip-off. I was told that there was a who cadre of altruistic programmers who would upgrade the app for me. Or am I wrong?

Re:Support & Costs (2, Insightful)

nicolas.kassis (875270) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835372)

It might be great to get bug fixes in a matter of hours but no sys admin in there right mind should apply patches that are untested unless they don't mind having hoards of users after wanting to kill them. Vendor patches from Microsoft and OSS companies take longer to be released since they have to guarantee it won't break anything. Compagnies like the safaty of having someone to blame if stuff goes to hell.

I'm a big advocate of OSS and all but applying random patches is just careless and stupid. At least wait until you distro releases it themselves. (Supposing you have a decent distro)


Re:Support & Costs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835883)

Ummm... Service pack 2 and enterprise software refutes your argument entirely.

Offtopic: Slashdot Tags (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835245)

When did Slashdot add the tags (I don't think I saw them yesterday), and is there a place where people have posted comments about it (likely as an offtopic discussion under some article)?

RTFAQ (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835277)

A problem now, but not in the future..... (2, Interesting)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835265)

K-12 teachers are underpaid, and generally lack a lot of computer skills that are necessary to make free-OSS work. Few initiatives exist to get the message out to teachers that there's both remediation software as well as technical skills development source trees available for use, with a few exceptions.

School systems by either OS X or XP these days, and aren't very compelled to get Linux or OSS alternatives for many reasons, including lack of knowledge of what's available, belief that support doesn't exist, fears of application cracks (like they don't exist elsewhere, eh?), and basic fundamental experience with OSS apps and environments in general.

This changes as a younger generation replaces older teachers, but it will take time for educators to get smart on what OSS is, and how to use it effectively for both skills and remediation.

Re:A problem now, but not in the future..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835473)

Right - cost wise, add up the difference in ongoing licensing and support compared to paying someone to do support. Minimize ongoing support by making the job part time.

Or use paid support from a company like redhat.

Considering MS licensing and support can be in the 10's or 100's of thousands (depending on the volume - lots of computers in schools these days) just for starters, I would guess the long-term benefits are pretty decent. Now add in office software, email, databases.

'Course, school business admins are often penny smart, but pound foolish (or just "smart" in a slimy way) and could easily decide free-software, why pay for support at all?

Opensouce, no support: Claim credit for the savings first year, blame the fallout on non-propriety software of low-quality next year. It's very easy to get away with, and the tactic is well-used to hamstring annoying projects in the business world.

"Why of course I tried using X - it was a disaster! You get what you pay for Chuck, eh? Better up my budget."

I've seen this tactic in gov, and I'd assume the same thing happens in schools.

Re:A problem now, but not in the future..... (3, Interesting)

McShazbot (570442) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835515)

Few initiatives exist to get the message out to teachers [] is attempting to address just this issue with the Software for Starving Students CDs. We've identified institutional adoption as the key to getting free software to the greatest numbers of students. As such, building bridges to educators is a core initiative for us. Teachers, like everybody else, need to know how F/OSS benefits them.

So in addition to professional packaging and having versions for both Windows and OS X (a must in education), we've developed initiatives to build lesson plans associated with the software. So rather than handing educators a disc and saying, "Here. It's free. Good luck," we're trying to get to the point where we can say, "Here. It's free. And here is how you can use it to teach concept 'x.'"

OK, I know this is a shameless plug for our project, but it's a good project, trying to do good things, and it's on topic -- so a shameless plug might be in order.

Shameless plugs are ok; messages are lacking (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835601)

More involvement is better, and teachers, curriculum people, and others need to get that message. Don't be bashful.

Re:A problem now, but not in the future..... (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835548)

Reference: [] /profiles/careers/106175.html []

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the 2004 average yearly earnings of teachers (not including special education teachers) by educational level taught:

            Kindergarten: $44,940
            Elementary school: $46,350
            Middle school: $47,170
            Secondary school: $48,980

Now also consider that they work 10 Months out of the year for 10 hours a day. So that is close to $24 an hour average pay.

Now for the rest of us

Reference: [] rchives/income_wealth/002484.html []

        * Real median earnings of men age 15 and older who worked full-time, year-round in 2003 ($40,668)

Which is on Par with the average salary of a person working a 40 hour week for a full year.

Plus teachers normally get on the average more benefits then the average working including pentions, retirement, and sometimes Tax Credits.

Yes teachers are normally forced to get a Masters Degree and which makes their saleries on the average lower then with people with Masters degrees. But they do have the advantage of relitivly easy to find jobs, That offer confortable living wages, and excelent benefits.

But after seeing the classes the Education majors have to take vs. Engineering or Science Majors, The Education field makes the Masters Degree excuse a little lame. Because many of these Master Courses could be taken for the BA Degree.

So all in all I don't beleave teacher are either UnderPaid or overpaid, they are getting a fair wage.

As for Lack of computer skills I whole hartely agree. Education Degrees rairly focus on Math and Science and teach them as those supid classes that you need to graduate College, Not as important topics (in which they subconsiously portrait to their students). CS110 Intro to Computer Programming should be mandatory to all Teachers, and that Intro to Computer Classes should be Religated to pre-school learning.

I can tell you're not a teacher (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835642)

I have been, and the wages you see are a median that's not broadly reflected. We/they work long hours, with a wide variety of students, some willing, some incapable of learning. So much for pimping teachers.

I'll agree that computer skills need to evolve in teachers; and various academic disciplines are slowly (but surely) evolving standards for skills and remediation. It takes time, and someone that gives a sh*t without much penuniary interest to do the grunt work. It takes all of the things that makes OSS successful, including creativity, and collaboration.

But it's not this year. And it's going to take time. In the end, OSS wins for the same reason that it will in other segments.

Re:I can tell you're not a teacher (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835719)

We/they work long hours, with a wide variety of students, some willing, some incapable of learning.
I averaged a 10 hour a day work for a teacher, 4.5 hour a day of actually teaching, a Free Period and Lunch and 4 more hours to plan for the next class grate papers, etc... Vs. 8 Hour a day for Average Joe. To inflate that issue. It is true with the average Job, there are people not willing or able to learn help out, or they just try to stop us from being productive we call it Corprate Politics, for teachers that Is expected in the job and comparitivly easy to spot, vs in Corprate where it is much more difficult to locate, because of the acting professional thing.


Re:I can tell you're not a teacher (1)

rimcrazy (146022) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835840)

No, for real teachers try 10 - 12 hours a day. You think it is such a free lunch, go try it, especially for the pittance you will get paid. I think your tune will change.

Re:A problem now, but not in the future..... (2, Informative)

rimcrazy (146022) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835809)

Go talk to a real teacher instead of reading reports. My wife has been a teacher for over 15 years and has only just now crossed that median salary you mention above. I don't know where those numbers are coming from but they don't mention what the experience/longevity is for the wage they mention. Those median salaries take 10-15 years to reach. Those numbers are close to starting salaries for IT so there is a 10 year spread. In addition the cap on teaching wages vs the cap in the tech industry probably differ by a factor of 3 or 4 with the obvious maximum earning potential in industry.
My daughter just quit being a teacher after two years as her net take home pay would qualify her for food stamps. In addition to the low wage, most teachers especially in the K-8 range typically spend $500- $1000 of THEIR own money, not reimbursed, for supplies for their classroom. They are required to continue education every year, ON THEIR OWN DIME. The good teachers will spend 2-3 hours/day grading and preparing for next days class as well as spending most weekends grading papers.

Most companies OTOH will pay for you to take extra classes and training. Who in the world donates real cash to buy supplies for their company and does not expect to be reimbursed. The only equivalence I see is in most high tech companies, we all work rediculous hours, just as teachers do.

Re:A problem now, but not in the future..... (1)

Etyenne (4915) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835623)

K-12 teachers are underpaid, and generally lack a lot of computer skills that are necessary to make free-OSS work.

K-12 teachers are underpaid, and generally lack a lot of computer skills that are necessary to make computer work, period. And we can't blame them for that : they're teacher after after all, their job is to teach kids. Making computer work is the work of computer technician. If you believe that teachers without access to a good tech have an easy time making proprietary software work, you are very misguided and/or sadly out-of-touch with reality.

Speaking as an ex-school computer tech, BTW.

Re:A problem now, but not in the future..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835646)

The solution in lower education systems is right in front of your eyes: the students. I'm 20 now, I remember being in high school a few years ago, I had root access to the district before grade 8 was over, as did about 6 other students in the school. I'm in college now, I've met up with some other like-minded people, and I can tell you every district bordering mine and many outside that had students with root or at least high security clearance in them already. The techie for our school was inept compared to us, I even changed her password one day and she thought it was a glitch, changed it back the next day (I skipped morning classes and showed up drunk to computers in the afternoon (which was a joke even the teacher knew, he was learning HTML while trying to teach it to the students, and I did his whole course material in under a week about half way through the term when he nagged me to start).

Remember that especcially in the systems your talking about, the kids don't have your understanding of Windows and Mac to overcome, they don't know computers, and the ones that do already, probably already are more familliar with Linux than the school techies. The problem the school has with switching to linux, the real problem, is that they aren't in control like they are on Windows or Mac because they don't know the system and they know it - they don't want to change because they think they are in control now. To all the school districts out there, stop being stuipd, your not in control, you probably never even were in control, and even if you try to crack down on computer security, your only going to catch the nooblettes who THINK they can hack, you won't gain control out of the skilled ones, because they are in my experience by and large more skilled than the people you have working your system for you. Switching to Linux would make it a hell of a lot harder on me and people like me, not because Linux is impenetrable (far from it), but because Linux is securable. If you hired someone who knows security for one day to set up your securities for you I'd have a challenge, as it stands I have a puppetshow. Windows is not secure, never will be secure (niether is Novell, it's management software not security software IMO). Only after factoring in these huge security considerations should you start looking at the other pros and cons of OSS vs Corporate Operating Systems.

In switching to Linux you are removing all the liscensing you are paying to have X many computers running on their system. You still need someone skilled in computers, and finding someone skilled in Linux is more difficult for you, switch and you will find your kids will learn it faster than you, hire one of the nerdy ones to run the system for you (preferably a nerd with a megalomaniac complex, like they did with my former district now, so that he won't betray the system because it gives him a one-up on all the geeks looking to test their skills and experiment with securities). In switching to Linux you are securing your system (assuming you get someone knowledgable to do it for you at setup). In switching to Linux you are removing future upgrade costs for software, because Linux is distributed freely, upgrades are free. In switching to Linux you are teaching your students real computer skills, will give them all the tools for school you are used to, while having to use Linux instead of Windows or Mac will teach them how to use computers are an actual level, that Start button will not be around forever, what will you do when it leaves? Linux will grow, this I guarentee you, because nothing can stop it, it's not a company you can takeover to remove it as a competitor, or that can have scandals, it's an effort by geeks for geeks to make a system they would want to use - things like that never die. Therefore Linux will be needed in the future, real computers already run off Linux (being, important computers, not PCs), people who know computers already use Linux, the only people still using Windows/Mac are people who don't know computers, and that puts you at a distinct disadvantage, and a dis-service to all your students, who you are training to be computer inept (because an education in pushing the start button as the method of all computer operations is not an education at all).

Your students control your network already, they might not if you switch to Linux.
You decrease your overall expenditures by switching to Linux (your current techie may disagree, likely because it would get him/her fired because they don't know Linux well enough to manage it).
You are actually educating your students on the proper use of technology, training them for real jobs, and decreasing their expenditures by freeing them from their Microserf-hood.
It requires no new learning for students to switch to Linux, because they don't know Windows/Mac yet anyways, it is all new to them regardless.
The only reason I can see districts avoiding this is they don't want to have to learn the basics of a new system themselves, even if it will benefit themselves personally by doing so (because in all ways, Linux is superior by definition, it's a system built by computer users to improve upon the systems that already exist, therefore any system that already exists, is being improved upon in Linux = always superior in every way)

/Higher/ Education is not K-12 (2, Informative)

BobPaul (710574) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835692)

K-12 teachers are underpaid, and generally lack a lot of computer skills that are necessary to make free-OSS work.

We're not talking about K-12, we're talking about Higher-Education, ie College.As one of the admins for my the Engineering College at my university, I have these comments:

We have a handful of professors who refuse to run windows. We have more faculty that are involved in research projects with undergraduate students they found was more productive on linux. We have deployed group workstations for them.

We've also had a number of faculty, as well as students, requesting that we install linux and dual-boot the cluster machines. We've already nailed down the process of adding linux workstations to our windows domains allowing a roaming home-dir as well as access to the same shared drives and personal storage users have access to when they log into WinXP. We will be converting our labs starting spring break to a dual-boot WinXP/Ubuntu combo.

On our back end, all of our servers except a web server running an app that requires IIS and the domain controllers run Gentoo linux.

Unfortunately, much of the software we deploy and will not run on linux, or only exists on the linux platform in professional versions, while we can deploy cheap/free student copies for windows. We've been installing OSS windows software whenever possible including OpenOffice for some time and I've seen many students using it even though MS Word is installed.

The rest of the university is an entirely different story, however. They are a Dell/Windows shop and will remain as such. I used to work support for them and I'm not sure I'd want to some english professor who only uses a computer because typewriters are out of style* that he has to use OpenOffice on linux rather than the MS Word on Windows that he's been familiar with for some time. Hell, I wouldn't even want to tell our engineering professors that they have to use linux, now. Linux is a viable option in higher education, and we use it extensively. However, as an alternative it's not there yet. I hope to think that by providing this option we will help push some of the students to dual boot their own computers and give it a closer look.

*This is a grossly unfair stereotype. I'm sure there are english professors who would love to have linux. However I included it because it sounded good and I know this man. He's gets very ornary when computers come up and basically said the above.

Re:A problem now, but not in the future..... (1)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835703)

I wonder how you managed to relate underpaid to lack of skills. Just skimming around, I can find a lot of people lacking skills and highly paid. Like former Enron, WorldCom CEOs, just to randomly pick some in the lot.

If teachers are no longer interested in learning, this explain why they are no longer able to teach.

Also, how much more difficult is OSS compare to Windoze stuff? I just don't see the point. And are the teachers doing all the IT infrastructure stuff in their schools? Of course not. So, again, what's the point here? You expect teachers to need to know more about the OS on a OSS platform than on a Windoze platform?

*sigh* (1)

macsox (236590) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835275)

This is not meant to be a troll, but submitter -- time to look in the FUD mirror.

As a Mac zealot myself, I recognize in your 'I suspect...' statement the painful sort of denial of the obvious of which we are always accused.

I always tell people, who ask how I could possibly be an atheist, to go to church just once and think about everything that is said as if there is no God, and to realize how silly and contradictory it sounds. I'd suggest the same to you with this article. Go back and read it as though you aren't an OSS champion. See if it holds logical water (so to speak).

See! Mac Zealots are godless whiners !!! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835330)

I suspect they are responsible for the lack of good shows on TV, also.

Mod parent up! (1)

Sgt_Jake (659140) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835358)

From what I've read so far, the article seems fair and well thought out (spelling and grammer aside... lol). Seriously though, I'm not getting an anti-oss feeling from it at all. So, is the submitter a zealot or what?

Re:Mod parent up! (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835446)

Actually many of the Microsoft anti OS critiques were well thought out and were insightful. Good propaganda has to look like this. Remember this is aimed at intelligent people who are part of a society with the mass use of advertising. Obvious nonsense accomplish nothing.

Re:*sigh* (1)

eldacan (726222) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835452)

What you say about your atheism seems a bit weird to me: whether I believe in God or not, or which point of view I choose, doesn't affect my reasoning principles. I mean, you have hypotheses upon which you build a reasoning, and this logic has nothing to do with your beliefs (which actually are hypotheses in the reasoning!).

Re:*sigh* (1)

Call Me Black Cloud (616282) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835500)

I suggest you don't apply this test to your marriage...

Re:*sigh* (2, Interesting)

IflyRC (956454) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835599)

I agree with everything except for the atheist comments used in the example. I actually have done what you described and honestly I didn't find it silly. I found the message to be uplifting and pointing people in the right direction whether it be spiritual or ethical. Now, should the person I was listening to be Pat Robertson then it does become a different matter - but again, you cannot judge an entire group based on the fringe. In closing, the exercise you described did not sway me toward atheism, it reinforced my faith.

Re:*sigh* (1)

qkslvrwolf (821489) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835826)

See this parable of religion []

Oh, it really sounds ridiculous. Trust me.

Although, congrats for actually considering your faith. Most people don't manage that.

open source + college = lovefest (1)

mshurpik (198339) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835283)

'The biggest thing is it takes more physical labor to implement open source because it isn't pre-packaged,' Abel said.

Isn't the whole point of college the fact that everyone there is looking for work?

Next on Slashdot: Wooden bats doomed in baseball because they require pro athletes to practice.

Re:open source + college = lovefest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835349)

Next on Slashdot: Wooden bats doomed in baseball because they require pro athletes to practice.

Next next on /.: OS appliance vendors can't understand why consumers are not adopting their products that only require "a little more tweaking" than those by current manufacturers. One OSA supporter was quoted as saying: "Heck, I'd take the microwave that gives me the choice of magnetrons any day, I'll gladly factor in the construction and buildup time. After all, if I get the wavelength of the door mesh wrong, I'll have an entire community of others to help me out.".

Re:open source + college = lovefest (1)

mshurpik (198339) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835573)

What you are missing is the fact that colleges aren't "consumers." They're not busy people looking for fast income, they are slow-paced, knowledge-based institutions. Open source offers the chance to both learn and deploy. If a piece of software offers no learning potential then it is basically DOE on a university campus.

Re:open source + college = lovefest (1)

woozlewuzzle (532172) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835723)

DOE? You mean they become as useful as the Department of Education?

Re:open source + college = lovefest (1)

mshurpik (198339) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835873)

Yeah I meant DOA but AC is IP banned.

And those are? (1)

CMiYC (6473) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835285)

"Are the staffing issues associated with OSS enough to outweigh the benefits?"

Let me play devil's advocate, since I do support OSS.

Please keep in mind that many corporations offer their products at a substantial discount to Educational Institution. For example. I work for a hardware (not as in PCs) that offers a minimum discount of 25% and up to 50% depending on proudct line to any educational institution. Our support model is the same. An application engineer will come out and help students/factility or they can call our call-center.

So, from an education point of view, what are the these benefits that OSS offers which need to be out weighed?

Re:And those are? (1)

kebes (861706) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835516)

many corporations offer their products at a substantial discount to Educational Institution

Yes, for academic institutes, the money savings of OSS may be less significant. Then again, perhaps support contracts from OSS vendors (Red Hat, etc.) also have educational discounts? I don't really know.

So, from an education point of view, what are the these benefits that OSS offers which need to be out weighed?

You've only mentioned money. Well, for education, I would think the ability to modify, tinker and truly control the computer would be crucial (assuming that learning about how computers work is an objective... as opposed to just memorizing how to use particular applications). Again when it comes to learning, it's useful to experience a wide variety of different ideas, concepts and ways of working. F/OSS makes it possible to do this quickly and easily (and without spending tons of money): new software versions or OS distros can be downloaded and run readily. Also, F/OSS fits in much more nicely with the academic ethos of learning, sharing information, etc. (some institutes may be too pragmatic to care, mind you).

F/OSS provides numerous advantages, cost being only one of them. I think that academic institutions in particular stand to take advantage of what OSS has to offer.

Re:And those are? (1)

qkslvrwolf (821489) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835617)

Advantages to Open Source: 1) Student productivity. If your school uses proprietary (sp?) software, you either have to force your students to pay for it, or you have to buy enough licenses to support them at home. Thus, this may limit what you can assign your students at home, or set up a class barrior for them; the ones that can afford microsoft office can work at home and do better, then ones who cannot afford it will have to work only at school. There is OSS software out there that can replace proprietary office suites, image production, math formula writing, diagraming, collboration..just about everything I can think of that a school uses. It can do so on any platform. Yes, even windows. Most if not all of these programs have a support option you can purchase. For instance, using Staroffice instead of open office for your support option.

2) Funding. Schools are able to choose when and how they upgrade with OSS, while still maintaining software that is new enough to be worthwhile. For instance, a school could upgrade a computer lab to all brand new machines (lets say 20 machines @ $1000 a piece)...or they can use Linux Terminal Server Client on all their old machines, and pay 3-4k for a server to connect them too. This would mean a leaner, more efficient budget.

3) Educational benefits. Imagine a network of schools that develops content for open source educational programs jointly, shares the work, and everyone benefits, all implemented on an open source software stack. It could revolutionise education, for the positive.

4) Teaching students to use software, instead of a specific application. Teaching someone to use Microsoft Office XP is equivilant to giving them a fish. Teaching them to use office software, and reinforcing the lesson by making them use several different version to accomplish the same task is teaching them to fish. For instance, students could work on projects in KOffice, OpenOffice, abiword/that calc program I'm blanking on/wiki software/etc. If I were an employer, I would want an employee who could quickly and efficiently learn new software and teach those around me, rather than someone who had to be sent to classes just to use what I currently run.

5) Allowing students to experiment: computers are going to be a major part of the workforce and society for ever. By using open source software, students gain the capability to tinker under the hood...just like a shop class does, but for computers.

Education needs support. (2, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835289)

They don't trust the Kids to fix the problem with the systems. The teachers and Computer Illerate. And the reason the IT Staff is working for the School is because no one else will hire them. So you need 3rd part support to keep things somewhat running. Sure there are some school districts out there that have a good IT policy and OSS software would work great with them. But most that I have seem have no Idea what the C O M P U T E R thing is and really what to do with it.

Odly enough the school offered better computer classes back in the late 80s then they do now.

OSS is fine for education if you have some people who understand it just a little. But most schools compter literate and IT staff means you can reinstall an OS when it crashes and add a Cat 5 cord to the switch.

Re:Education needs support. (1)

DogDude (805747) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835355)

I think that first, schools should start by working on making kids literate. No offense intended, but your grammatically incorrect post supports my point.

Re:Education needs support. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835745)

Yea I know. Well first off I am not at my normal System so No Spellchecking of my typing. Secondly I agree with you schools should focus more on that stuff. I know threw my school they always said My spelling is wrong and my grammer is incorrect but they never told me why and how to fix it. The teachers were more focused on either the A+ Students who didn't need teachers or the Trouble Makers who they are trying to make pass the grade.

Re:Education needs support. (2, Interesting)

bjohnson1102 (930078) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835394)

I'll agree that you're accurate on some of what you've said, but personally I'll take issue with your assessment of my skills as the technology director for a school district. I'll match my skills with yours any day of the week. Now, maybe I'm the exception in that area. I have made an incredible push in my district this year, to the tune of converting all of our Windows-based labs to thin-client machines running off LTSP servers. you are correct in your assessment that teachers are resistant to this idea, due to their lack of technology skills. In the interim, we are still allowing the thin-clients to connect to Windows 2003 terminal servers so they can have their precious Word,Excel and Photoshop, etc. Bottom line is this--we went from the projection of spending 40,000 for a new lab, versus about $5000 for two brand-new shiny dual opteron systems, one for ltsp, the other for the windows terminal server. Since we already owned the licensing for most of our programs, our licensing cos for terminal server CALs was roughly $700 for 30 licenses(educational pricing) The biggest hurdle to overcome in this area is the teacher's fear of the unknown. The best way, in my view, to clear this hurdle, is to put the kids on Linux first, let them preach to the teachers how cool it is, and eventually the teachers will have no choice but to come around. In our district, I am forcing this to happen through a re-evaluation of our current purchasing practices. Within 5 years, we have stated that we will not be purchasing closed-source sofware for use within the classrooom, so get yourself up to speed in the next five years.

Re:Education needs support. (1)

qkslvrwolf (821489) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835672)

I've been considering trying to start a non-profit or for profit company to bring OSS to you suppose you could drop by my website ( and drop me an email or something? I'd like to pick your brain...

Re:Education needs support. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835852)

I'll take issue with your assessment of my skills
I wasn't taking saying anything about any ones indivual skills but more of a General Average Skillset I have seen, in eduaction, and much of the aditudes I have seen. I have seen some School districts that have excelent IT staff who are on the ball. But most are Sub Par.

I myself is use to hearing insults about my Professon (Consultant/Contractor), who are no skilled Overpriced Techs, who just follow the gargin of their Partnered company. While I for one try to be better then that. And actually try to offer my clients solutions that work. Vs. Solutions a Company is tellimg me should work.

I am sure if you put our skills sets together you will probably find they are very differn't Strong in some areas and weaker in others. Your skills are probably more focued on keeping you school up and running smoothly and cheaply. While my skills are focued of quickly adapting to different location and technology and make myself useful in a short period of time, and helping out people in their week areas.

Moodle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835292)

Moodle is an open source course management system. It competes directly with WebCT. Lots of Unis use it. For the things I've tried it for, it is just as good as WebCT. So, yes, open source is ready for the big time.

Re:Moodle (2, Informative)

Mr.Dippy (613292) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835706)

I played around with Moodle because I was doing research on the SCORM API. Moodle has a module for SCORM 1.2 that is about 90-95% SCORM compliant. I found the installation and administrating of Moodle to be very good. If I was the IT Admin at a small college (at least) I would be comfortable having students use it.

Well, if your IT people are just dumb... (1)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835294)

At my alma mater, the IT people implemented a RHEL lab for the CS majors. They didn't actually disable any of the "no no" services like SSH, and each of the lab's PCs had an IP address that was visible outside of the university. Anyone could have opened a remote connection to these machines.

Open source stuff only takes a lot more time and money to implement if your IT people just don't know what they're doing. I'm not a sysadmin, but I doubt that it's anything other than the golden rule of "you get what you pay for."

Re:Well, if your IT people are just dumb... (1)

BenjyD (316700) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835335)

SSH is about the only port you would want to leave open to the outside world on a workstation. Many *nix machines are set up like that, so people can log in and run things remotely.

Re:Well, if your IT people are just dumb... (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835522)

We had a similar lab at my school. Being a CS student, I actually used an SSH tunnel to a random machine in our block of machines to run mozilla over so I could get access to all the school subscribed journals and such at home.
If they had let, say, a telnet server or web server on there, that's a different story. But SSH is relatively safe. It's designed specifically to be a safe way of accessing a computer remotely.

Re:Well, if your IT people are just dumb... (1)

supermank17 (923993) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835700)

It seems to me that the article is aimed more at K-12 than university level; most universities do pay decently for their IT department, and my university had several OSS labs, in addition to running a fair chunk of linux servers.

Most K-12 schools just can't afford that kind of staff though, and so you get things like my high school where a mish-mash of old Apple computers, PCs, and who knows what else lived together on a novell based system that was down more than it was up.

Re:Well, if your IT people are just dumb... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835725)

SSH isn't a bad service if backed by proper administration, which I doubt you would either see or know about.

Did you even know any of your admins?

Re:Well, if your IT people are just dumb... (1)

SuperQ (431) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835845)

So it's dumb to provide the ability to remotely access the exact same enviornment that the students use in the lab?

Don't have a copy of matlab on your windows PC at home? Well, just pick a color, and ssh to Then you can do your work.

This isn't dumb, or an oversight.. It is intentional.

Note: I used to sysadmin for a university, and we did this for exactly this reason. Having publicly accessable machines was policy, as sometimes students were coming from off campus, or were faculty from other institutions. Some departments (smaller, less users) have setup bastien hosts, but most still allow direct access. Some faculty like to be able to connect directly to their systems, and in the university world, they win every time.

I don't see how you guys are commenting (1)

chanrobi (944359) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835298)

On this story without actually reading the report. And it requires a fairly hefty fee ($1-$3.5k USD)for a login in order to download the report.

Re:I don't see how you guys are commenting (0, Offtopic)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835350)

You actually wanted to read the article? You must be new here...

Let the Kids do it! (2, Interesting)

rewinn (647614) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835329)

What is "Education" supposed to be anyway?

Primary school kids may be too young to do operating systems, (...although a smart 3rd grader can certainly downloard & install OpenOffice with a little supervision ...) but middle schoolers can definitely install OS's with a little supervision, and high-schoolers should be able to keep the computers running in the school district's kindergartens.

Not every kid will have the desire, but if only 5% of your highschoolers have an interest in technology: problem solved!

Any school district that is paying for its office software is wasting Our Money! and if they are not using this opportunity to train up kids to run computer system, that's a waste too.

Re:Let the Kids do it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835777)

You really trust any of those students not to install:
key loggers
root kits
mp3s and ripped copies of major motion pictures that the riaa will sue the school over

and other surprises?

Vendor Support? (1)

Aspirator (862748) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835334)

When I install commercial software I would generally rather go
to have a tooth pulled than phone the company that wrote it.

They will wait on hold, uninstall, reinstall before even starting
on any actual problem. There will be a large number of reboots.

Open source stuff, installs, usually without any reboot, If I do need
help there is usually better documentation than the commercial stuff
provides, and practical help is much easier to get if I should need it.

The source code is, after all, available; even if I'm not an expert at
a new (to me) piece of software, there seem to be many people who know
it more intimately than it is possible to know closed source software.
They are generally very, very helpful.

It's a good thing... (0, Offtopic)

Alorelith (118865) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835356)

I've only been reading about the exact same crap for the past few years on slashdot. Is there anything more to this site than "is open source software ready yet?" Duplicate stories of stuff actually worth talking about is one thing, but hasn't this topic been covered way too many times for even moderately interesting discussion?

Re:It's a good thing... (1)

aug24 (38229) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835720)

In theory, the discussion is about the linked article.

In practice, the discussion is the usual slashbot/troll fest.

Sorry about that, but that's humans for you. The article may still be interesting though... I should just read that if I were you ;-)


Yes, for privatised schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835374)

"Are the staffing issues associated with OSS enough to outweigh the benefits?"

Proprietry software made it easy enough, with money, to staff your establishment with idiots and still have complex IT.
Fine for Joe User and Johnny Corporate. Of course it is always breaking and delivers poor results, but you can pay the vendor to fix it, and hell everybody expects companies to have crap IT departments full of stuff that never works.
Open source, ironically developed in HE establishments, as high quality software, is now an option these people can't afford to employ. In the old days you relied on students and staff being of high intelligence to work the computers,
which is sad reflection of educational standards where universities cant get the 'academic' staff to run 'academic' software any more. Kinda paradoxical.

Don't Forget (1)

GmAz (916505) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835380)

Don't forget that many of the educational institutions do not allow their teachers full access to the computers they use. This requires technicians to be on site to take care of the mishaps that happen day to day. I would call myself very computer knowledable. I have used Linux, and not really cared for it, though it is getting better. I know Mac OS X quite well. But even we techs run into issues that we can't take care of. Then its time for the dreaded call to tech support. But with most OSS titles, there is no tech support. Sure, there are many forums to post on, but that takes time. If at teacher can't input grades or take attendance, that means headaches from all directions for the techs.

Oh, and don't forget that all the high up administrators for the districts are usually old. They don't even like computers let alone wanna use anything that doesn't have Windows or Pentium4 on it. If OSS software is to take hold in education, people familiar with OSS software and techs well voiced in OSS software need to be put in place. This just won't happen for a long while.

Compare and contrast (1)

ENOENT (25325) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835427)

Linux: Needs an administrator with at least 2^8 functioning brain cells.

Windows: Needs an administrator with experience in practicing voodoo.

Re:Compare and contrast (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835511)

Actually Windows needs an experienced Windows Administrator, not a wannabe Linux hack.

Strange Idea (1)

polyp2000 (444682) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835432)

Open Source is a development model with specific licensing requirements, and as such it seems ridiculous to evaluate its suitabilty for "Prime Time" You might just as well pick a selection of random Closed Source software and evaluate the how suitable these are for "Prime Time"

A bunch of developers is a bunch of developers it makes no difference whether the product they work on is Open Source or Closed Source. I dont see how development model can be evaluated in this way. What counts is the end product. There are plenty of examples of Open Source and Closed Source products and solutions being used successfully every day. There are also plenty of examples of Open Source and Closed Source products and solutions not in use due to inadequacy, incompleteness or just poor implementation.

Nick ...

Re:Strange Idea (1)

grahamm (8844) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835758)

It makes it a lot easier to teach how the computer works if you have the source code to all of the software, both OS and applications, running on it. That way the students can both learn by studying the source and experiment by making changes.

I am sure that the provision many (in computing terms) years ago of the Unix source code to educational establishments not only helped many students learn about computing and provided ready made material for the classes but also helped to spread the use of Unix in industry.

Most ITS professionals don't understand OSS (1)

dml_42 (448729) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835437)

As a CS professor at a large university I run into many roadblocks in getting open source alternatives considered. Our administration only wants to buy commercial products and spend millions because they think they will get better support. They equate open source with having to do their own support and not getting the professional help they need. To overcome these misconceptions, the open source community needs to do a better job educated these institutions in the support models for OSS. In particular, these institutions need to be open to hiring outside consultants to provide the necessary training and support that they are used to. For most large open source projects, its not hard to find consultanting groups that can provide the help you need. And hopefully, with some of the money they save, they can contribute to the foundations funding the OSS projects they use.

Re:Most ITS professionals don't understand OSS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835795)

In graduate school, I asked the support staff for software upgrades (to free software) that they (quite reasonably) denied because the support costs would be onerous. They agreed that this was not the best result. With their backing, I formed the unsupported group to allow non-standard software to be installed in a special mount point (/unsupported) to allow the support group to reject all support requests. The unsupported group was a set of students who might, if asked nicely, look into someone's issues with software in the unsupported tree. There was no right to demand unsupported attention; professors who needed immediate fixes had to pay support staff for support (typically by writing the cost into a grant). It worked out quite nicely.

Re:Most ITS professionals don't understand OSS (1)

Perl-Pusher (555592) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835820)

No way near the same at my alma-matter. In the CS department the IS guys had a complete lab with discarded pc's from the library with Mandrake Linux installed. The students had to install apache, configure ftp, create a web address book using MySQL and the language of their choice. They also had to do a complete wipe and re-install of the OS at the end of the semester. The java class configured Tomcat and created servlets to do a "to do list". I was a CS major but took the two tcp administration courses for electives.

This is a college who has money to build dorms, arts centers, new gymnasiums, glorious statues or fountains and tributes to wealthy contributors with a multi-million dollar hole in their pocket and the vanity to match. And a very Saddam Hussien-esque statue of the college president. Walking on the grass was punisheable by death! But the non liberal arts departments had to recycle printer paper, beg, borrow and steal chem lab supplies. I suspect soon all non liberal arts majors to soon have to wear large yellow patches like the Star of David one used by the Nazi's

In the CS department open source, especially gcc and emacs/vi/nedit are the norm!

As a former teacher I can say yes... and no (2, Insightful)

blueZ3 (744446) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835447)

Of course vendor support and/or getting a complete package is a big part of the picture.

A lot of teachers have to do their own IT work. In my school, there was an IT supported computer lab (with about 20 three-year-old PCs). If there was a problem in the lab, you either fixed it yourself, or waited three or four days until one of the IT guys from the district office could come out and troubleshoot. This means that something that's familiar (Windows, Office, etc) is a better bet for a lot of teachers, because it's a lot easier to figure out how to resolve a problem with something you're already familiar with. Printing is a good example; if the printer went on the fritz, I already knew the five Windows-centric things to try. If the computers had been running Linux, I'd have had no idea (at that point) where to start.

Another issue is that most teachers aren't geeks, so they want a "just works" system. They don't want to have to fiddle around to get things working--they want to insert the Oklahoma Trail CD and have the students playing the game. Right or wrong, there's a perception that "other" operating systems are more complicated. When you're at school eight hours, then at home grading and planning for a couple hours, and commuting thirty minutes a day, you just don't want to add anything else that takes time.

Both of these issues mean that teachers believe that OSS isn't "ready" for educational use. Of course, a lot of that is perception. Remember that most non-techies are a few years behind the curve, so a lot of them don't know about Linux distros like Ubuntu or about OSS programs like Open Office.

Finally, there isn't really a lot of appealing software out there (OSS or closed source) for educational use. Indeed, there isn't really a strong argument to be made in favor of using computers in the classroom in the first place. In my opinion (which is based on three years of teaching experience), a lot of computer use in classrooms is misdirected--it's generally intended to be used as a reward or an activity to keep part of the class quiet while the rest of the students do something else. It's not that OSS isn't ready for education, it's that educators haven't yet worked out how to fit computers into education in an effective way.

Re:As a former teacher I can say yes... and no (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835861)

Good points a few responses.

Unix systems are let less management intensive on networks. You may find that IT guys can handle problems much more easily on a Unix based system. To use your printing example the typically Unix based printing systems LP, LPR, Cups are all designed to be administered remotely not locally. They are all designed to generate automated error reports which can be emailed to administrators. LPR and CUPS are designed to be robust and fail less often. The fact is for an administrator its very useful that LPR and Cups expose the administrator to the details of communication and allow these to be modified in easy ways.
However, you are absolutely right that what makes life easier for the admistrator makes life harder for the teacher.

Things like Edubuntu can become much less complicated because:
1) There are no licensing issues so programs can be moved freely
2) The system ships with hundreds of educational packages preinstalled
3) The OS can be designed around children's needs (no model of a uniform interface for all users)
4) Multilingual support is much better in most OS apps (which is useful for districts with large concentrated minority language students). Try getting Oregon Trail in Arabic or Hindi.

Finally in terms of software for education. I think there is lots it just doesn't work well as a 1/2 hour activity. For example Liberty Kids does a very good job of teaching a child to really understand core ideas of journalism: collecting information from a reliable sources and compiling into a uniform presentation of facts in an unbiased manner. It takes about 5 hours of use before they really learn the lesson though.

Other things like Logo might take 100 hours for the lessons to really work, but when they do wow. For example getting students to genuinely understand intrinsic vs. extrinsic geometry probably takes about 50 hours of use. You could have students in HS genuinely understanding vector calculus and finding it "natural" after that 50 hour investment but that would have to be part of the curriculum in a uniform manner.


Underestimating... (1)

fbg111 (529550) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835449)

"You have to have software developers that can make this stuff work."

Or a bunch of clever kids, which are in ample supply in the classroom. Just b/c the average idiot teacher can't do it doesn't mean it can't be done. Even my own highschool, poorest in the county, was able to handle two DEC workstations I won in a contest, b/c they let my team and I admin them. To his credit, one of the teachers involved was also a hacker capable admining them as well.

This reminds me of a recent Air Force recruiting commercial, where the cop car pulls up to a bunch of teen guys loitering on the sidewalk at night and flashes its lights. A guy comes over to the car and the cop in the passenger seat says, somewhat embarrassed, 'It's broken again', and gestures at the laptop computer. The kid smugly says, 'reboot with F8 into safe mode', as if he's a master hacker.

I could take hours deconstructing that commercial, but in a nutshell: yes kids are fearless with technology and hence learn it faster, but rebooting Windows does not a hacker make, nor is it something to even be smug about, yet whoever made and approved that commercial (presumably adults) thought it was and had no idea what real l33t skillz are.

Essentially, if you want kids to really learn technology, give them Linux, BSD, or something else free and OSS, and let them figure it out. Have two sections to your lab - stable and experimental. Stable for internet and office apps, and experimental for reinstalling OS's, playing with Xen, and the like. With Linux it couldn't be cheaper, especially if you can get donations of old computers. Unfortunately too many in education don't seem to realize this, they've drunk the M$ koolaid...

You Have To Be Smart (1)

blueZhift (652272) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835451)

It seems that everything is subject to the tyranny of the bell-shaped curve. Institutes of higher education that have smart and effective leadership and staffing will weigh all of their options carefully and deploy a mix of OSS and proprietary software appropriate to their environment. But the bell-shaped curve tells us that it is likely that places like this are few in number. Most of what we'll see will be in the big bump in the middle and will be heavily influenced by marketing and FUD to "play it safe" and get locked into particular vendors, even when it doesn't really make sense with respect to their available resources and goals. But at least with a single vendor, you always have someone to blame/sue. I'm sure that even within Microsoft, for example, there are people who realize that the Microsoft solution is not always the most appropriate. But since they are not in the business of selling other people's products or promoting OSS, when appropriate, they can only sell/push their own branded solutions.

So in the end, to make the best use of all that's available, you have to be smart, very smart. And sadly, above average smartness is in short supply.

Staffing? Developers? (1)

Noctrnl (110574) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835480)

I'm not sure I see a valid basis for the staffing issue. Almost anyone who has used Open Source software can tell you that, yes, it's not always a snap to install. They will also tell you that in most cases there are at least a few places to get support, and that these are not completely untested programs. If you have a problem with getting it installed, a Google search and a forum search will oft times get you the answer you're looking for. Yes, it takes a person to take the time to do it, and said person must know where to look, but I don't see that as a show stopper inherently.

As far as anyone having to be a developer to deploy OSS software; This seems like a farse to me. Lord knows the majority of those who use these types of programs might be a bit on the computer literate side, but to call them developers seems like a stretch to me. I know and have known plenty of people capable of installing, troubleshooting, and maintaining an installed app without knowing a thing about programming. After all, people don't have to be MCSE's to run Windows. It seems unreasonable to lump those capable of maintaining an installed app under the title of "developers".

In the end these types of questions are about money. How much, if any, are you saving or losing to make said business/organization move? If you go with an OSS app over a commercial one, yes, you have to have the support infastructure, but this is a cost you incrue regardless of which type of software you choose. You either save enough money on the licensing/support to justify the move, or you do not. In the end, people are cheaper than licenses.

Huh? (1)

cazbar (582875) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835490)

"You have to have software developers that can make this stuff work."

I'm not a software developer and I've been getting this stuff to work just fine.

I think it's probably accurate (1)

RealProgrammer (723725) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835493)

Most schools in the U.S. are run autonomously. Typically there's a "technology" instructor, or maybe a single sysadmin split among two or three schools, or some combination.

Schools are subject to school boards and parents. Parents are hypersensitive about little Janie and Johnny getting behind, and they don't want anything that means Janie or Johnny won't have the most popular thing. The system is extremely risk-intolerant, ruled by the LCD. Individual parents may be smart, but get them together and you can't tell.

Until there is a local company to promise support and a turnkey solution at a significant cost savings, coupled with a good marketing campaign to tell parents that it's okay, that Johnny and Janie will be better off with OSS, schools will continue to be breeding grounds for the Microsoft plague.

TCO Studies (1)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835524)

Know what TCO studies and IT White Papers remind me of? Expert Witnesses in courtrooms. The prosecution and plaintiff attorneys will both bring in highly qualified experts in a given field to testify on something. Remarkable that these expert witnesses agree exactly with thier side on the issue. You can get an expert witness to testify on your behalf in just about any area, as long as the price (or agenda) is right. Same thing with these reports and TCO studies. They always exactly reflect the views of their sponsors.

Open Source and Vertical Markets (2, Insightful)

jkroll (32063) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835535)

The article summary (can't read the entire article without subscribing) is addressing concerns that open source can not fill the business specific software requirements for higher education institutions (curriculum management, etc). This is not talking about web servers, word processors or other generic software systems. This open source limitation is true in many industries.

Most open source developers do not have the business expertise to attack vertical software markets, nor do many of the people who know the business requirements have the software development expertise (or time) to actually code a working project that could compete with commercial offerings.

This is where software businesses will always be required. Someone needs to pay the people with the business expertise to work with people having the development expertise to actually produce products that meet the needs of specific customers.

If an existing product were open sourced, modifying and maintaining would be possible. But getting to that initial state for vertical market software is very difficult.

Re:Open Source and Vertical Markets (1)

OSS Research Dude (958447) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835679)

Ironically, the University of Michigan runs their course management (35,000 students) on the Sakai Project, which is offered under a version of an OSS license, AND they are a contributing member of the A-HEC site. Would UMich argue that OSS is 'not ready for prime time'? I doubt it. The fact is that there are several OSS packages being used in schools, for example Kuali ( which runs financial software for 'Carnegie Class Institutions'. An article from the Chronicle of Higher Education website ( [] ) mentions that 46% of 257 Nacubo members surveyed see OSS offerings as viable alternatives. Thus, something (either the report or the article we are discussing) is clearly not looking at all the facts available in higher education.

Here, in schools (2, Informative)

phorm (591458) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835544)

Well, here I am working in schools. Our elementary school labs are almost entirely linux. The kids actually quite like it, the teachers sometimes don't... or at least the older teachers. Now why is that... because people seem to dislike change at older ages.

Last time I setup a basic Open-Source lab (Abiword, OpenOffice, Firefox, GIMP, etc) the kids had figured out tricks that I hadn't even touched. They had gorgeous Impress (Openoffice program similar to Powerpoint) presentations, and were happily playing with penguin games. In fact, if there's anything the kids love about linux most it's the penguins... they draw penguin pictures, have stuffed penguin toys, play penguin games, etc. Of course OSS isn't just about Linux, there's BSD (which we also use) and even windows OSS applications as well (the aforementioned Impress was actually the windows version).

Going back to the games, it seems that in the OS world games are often more "wholesome" than many of the windows components. Of course, part of this is probably due to the fact that many popular linux games are based on old classics (Frozen-Bubble, SuperTux, Pingus == Arcade Bubble Game, Mario, Lemmings)... but that does tend to make it overall kid and/or educational-environment friendly.

plus 3, TroLl) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835545)

As it 1s licensed Way. It used to be

Doesn't make sense... (1)

TekProphet (608963) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835600)

I work at a prominant research university, and I've never understood how amidst all of the innovation happening around us, we are still using proprietary software for practically 90% of our infrastructure. What better place to research, develop and provide inventive OSS solutions than in an environment that is supposed to foster those ideals?

(I am not one to speculate, but it wouldn't surprise me if something furtive was in play. *COUGH*Microsoft*COUGH*)

Documentation? (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835633)

Having looked at some OS solutions for higher education, one of the big problems is lack of good, well-written documentation & online help. It's fine to say "post to a discussion forum and you'll get help" but by and large users want to click "help" and get an answer from the online help - And preferably an answer written by a skilled technical writer who thoroughly understands the application.

Open Source is the Only Solution (1)

gurutc (613652) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835655)

For our district's 2 Terabytes of nightly backup requirement. No commercial product could do it. But RSYNC with SSH does it securely and it works. The commercial product enterprise solutions all have widely-publicized security holes that are a bear to work close when you have hundreds of servers. So in this case shrink wrapped is not ready for education.

Computing in Education (1)

buckhead_buddy (186384) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835667)

I know someone working in k-3 education and they have been given a number of nice computers to use for testing and education purposes. I hear daily stories of horror issues that just drive the teachers crazy. These are Mac's they've been given suprisingly enough. They have no staff trained to use them, and whoever set them up got clever by putting the Dock in a non-standard place with hiding turned on and all sorts of other special customizations.

The programs they're supposed to use are pretty basic "multiple choice question/answer" testing programs with data files the teachers either get from the home office or make up themselves. But the teachers don't know how to work the computers so basically they let the students free on them to play games and do anything that a non-admin user can do under Mac OS X if there isn't a data file for testing the particular student.

Open Source at this level would have a pretty low set of standards to achieve. The multiple choice testing programs are trivial. Adding some typical games for the K-3rd grade crowd and you could functionally replace what the machines are used for today. If you could make the machines be trivial to set up, then your only obstacles would be political and financial.

How can you study something that's not OSS??? (1)

ChrisGilliard (913445) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835696)

I guess, I'm wondering what the alternative is to OSS at least in the CS field? Since Microsoft and other closed source companies don't publish their source, how can you study it? At my school, we studied Minix (which is open source). I suppose it would be interesting to have studied Windows, but since we can't view the source, so there's not much to study.

Yet more FUD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835715)

'The biggest thing is it takes more physical labor to implement open source because it isn't pre-packaged,' Abel said. "You have to have software developers that can make this stuff work.'

That's complete bollocks. a) There's plenty of pre-packaged OSS you can buy in a box, b) When it's not available to buy in a box, you can usually download it in package format, ready to run, and c) even if you needed somebody to set it up for you, you'd need an admin not a programmer.

If the "biggest thing" is complete nonsense, then I guess OSS is ready for prime time in education.

PS: Since when is "education" one field? Are the needs of ten year-olds the same as the needs of graduate students? No? Then why on earth would you lump them together?

it is obvious (1)

coldhg (735102) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835729)

The article is obvoius an M$ (or M$ like) funded.

F/OSS is a great oportunity in both higher education and lower education, and Microsoft is beging to seeing a threat from linux especially in poor countries where M$ is starting to no longer be the one and only way.

No matter what they say, but advanced programming can be learned better on an operating system of which sources you have access to.
Otherwise everybody will learn to program using only APIs.

The most important thing in a good education is not having a pointy-haired [] teacher (and even more important not having a pointy-haired principal).

Forget Higher Education (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835746)

Who cares about higher education? Higher education is teaming with students who are plenty capable of supporting themselves. I believe it was just such a student who kicked off this whole Linux thing.

What about secondary and primary education? Are the support costs too high for them? Let's take a peek...

When Mavis Beacon doesn't work, youi call... ummm.... hmph, I don't know. Who do you call? Oh well, nevermind.
When your printer isn't working, you call... ummm.... I don't know.
When your grade-tracking software corrupts a bunch of data you call... ummm... There's a phone number here for the School District IT office. They are located about 50 miles away from here. Maybe they can send somebody over. Or maybe they have a support number with the vendor, or maybe.... You're toast. You will have to re-install (or wait for the IT expert to drive over here and re-install) then re-enter all your data.

Support contracts cost a lot of money and very very rarely save you any work. The cheapest support policy for education is to Ghost an image, and do regular data backups. Then any problem whatsoever is a 15 minute Ghost session and a 30 minute data restore. Much much cheaper than any vendor support contract, and usually a much quicker and more stable fix.

That solution works equally well for Windows, Linux, DOS, or whatever.

so just what is ready for prime time? (1)

cryptozoologist (88536) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835781)

you cannot set up a lab (10-30 computers or so) let kids use it and expect things to hum along smoothly with either the microsoft offering or the apple offering. so who is ready for prime time?

Follow the money... (1)

cwgmpls (853876) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835788)

Are the staffing issues associated with OSS enough to outweigh the benefits?

Simple answer: NO. There are staffing issues with any computer infrastructure. Those issues have more to do with how well the thing is managed than why software or platform it is based on. There is no reason why F/OSS can't be just as efficient to manage as proprietary software.

To really see what this report is about, just look at the funders: [] . It is a who's who of commercial educational software vendors, including Blackboard, WebCT, and, yes, Microsoft. That is all you need to know about this report.

Support (1)

zbyte64 (720193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14835797)

I may not have much experience in higher eduaction tech support, but in high schools tech support is almost non-existant. The tech at the school currently is much better then the last 3 or 4 techs - she actually knows what a Subnet is.

The problem with OSS in schools (or at least in high schools) is that the administation doesn't think about support and maintanence for computers. Most simply think that you buy a set of new computers and thats it. OSS is probably not the easiest set of tools to set up or use. Yes you can argue that there are some really easy tools, but lets face it, try finding a decent OSS grading program. (if you do, let me know!)

Lastly, there are lots of politics. We buy computers from x company and we get money for sports. Stuff like this goes on way too much. I know there was a push to move to xp cuz there was some funding tied to that (ironically they blocked windows update for a while...). Also it seems that they have blocked various sites like wikipedia, getfirefox, etc. Also the firewall they set up really makes it difficult to download linux updates (grrrr....). To make it worse, a chunk of admins don't like it when you know things that they obviously do not, especially tech related. So suggesting to use x product or y operating system runs you the risk of them making your life miserable (fund cuts, being moved to a closet for an office, assigned impossible tasks so they can try to get rid of you - not kidding).

Anyways I really hope to see OSS in the classrooms someday, but it would require a lot of people leaving first.

Easy - Geeks don't have kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14835841)

No Software. I can't buy Kid Pix 3, or Clifford, or Jumpstart Kindergarteners for Linux. Sure, tux paint is similar, but there aren't any other choices.

Admining a network of Linux boxes would be a hell of a lot easier that Windblows - but with out the software, it's an exercise in futility.

And, by and large, this is where the whole OSS stuff falls completely flat - Educational software just isn't as cool for the Uber Geeks to write as yet another bit torrent clone.

Damn shame more college students didn't have kids - perhaps they'd write something worthwhile.

One note - thumbs up to New Breed Software - glad they're capitalizing on this market ( [] )
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