>Maybe I'm a poor deluded misguided fool who needs showing the error of my

Lorks, far from it! I think we'd need a lot of people like you if the
government does try and introduce open source into schools. These are really
important problems that mustn't be overlooked.

I'll assume for the purpose of brevity that the readers of this list
understand the benefits of open source. We're training our kids to give
money to vendors for their entire lives. Windows is an expensive, inherently
closed system which, in 2009, offers very little benefit over and above open
source alternatives. This gap is closing fast.

So let's look at the negatives to see if they can be mitigated and overcome.

I definitely recognise the problems you've outlined, but I believe they're
not insurmountable. Introducing open source solutions to all schools in a
'big bang' fashion would be a total disaster, no doubt about it. But I can
imagine a world where a gentle introduction (pilot projects in a limited
number of capable schools) could help define what a subsequent, gradual
rollout might look like.

Several key issues would need to be addressed. The lack of available
software is a big problem, but I believe this can be addressed at the
government level by insisting that all commissioned software runs
cross-domain. Having recently spent time walking around a primary school (my
daughter started there in January) I didn't see any materials that couldn't
have been designed to display in a browser. And there were plenty of
PowerPoint slides that could run in OpenOffice. So if we start making this a
condition of all new software NOW, then in a few years time we'd have a lot
less propriertary software to worry about, and there's nothing to lose in
the meantime.

Support is another key issue, but one which I expect to fall away in 2009.
Ubuntu isn't quite there yet, granted, but they're investing huge amounts of
money in this area:


I believe that support issues (especially re 3rd party devices) will be
level with Windows in the next 2 years. Maybe sooner.

Just looking back over your list:

1) setting it all up - keep it small to start with, then roll into normal
upgrade cycle, there's no hurry!
2) testing it - this should be part of the procurement process, push the
onus of (cross browser?) testing onto the vendor
3) supporting it - getting easier, and heaven knows Windows has its own
problems here, especially re: virii, malware, etc.
4) fixing stuff that doesn't work like it should - same problems at present
i.e. no obvious downside, again the browser is the key. If it works in
Firefox it'll work everywhere.
5) dealing with problems related to the transition - again, by making it
gradual and rolling it into the current upgrade cycle we mitigate the risk

All this needs to be judged against the HUGE upside. More time, energy and
money invested in open source makes it better for everyone. I'm not a
microsoft hater by any means, but spending £millions of public money on
vendor lock-in seems daft to me. Time to start planning a gradual and
controlled move over to open source. Hey, it could take 5-10 years but the
benefits seem worthwhile. And then we'd have an army of youngsters
ready-equiped to operate in a world where open source will definitely be a
big player.

Just my $0.02!


On Mon, Feb 9, 2009 at 4:12 PM, Christopher Woods

> > Seen this in my mailbox a few times today, sure you will all
> > find this interesting...
> >
> > "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make the
> > primary operating system used in state schools free and open source"
> >
> > http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/nonMSschools/
> I find this idea appealing but fundamentally flawed. Let me explain why
> this
> concept is a non-starter for all but a few schools.
> I went through this country's education system and am currently in my final
> year at University, so it wasn't such a long time ago ;) It so happens that
> my Dad was the deputy head at the school I went to and he was also the only
> person who managed the school's entire IT infrastructure for a very long
> time. Yes, the school did eventually become a Technology College (thanks in
> part due to his hard work over the time he was there), and with that
> Technology College status they got a lot more money - they eventually got
> one, then two, then several members of dedicated IT staff - but for the
> most
> part it was him steering the boat as such. He did the lion's share of the
> administrative IT work as well, installing and maintaining SIMS, all the
> staff machines, equipment, etc. The bloke working in the Reprographics
> department managed the offset litho printer (yes, they had one!) and the
> photocopiers I think, but that was about it.
> So, during the best part of 14 years he was there for, my Dad oversaw and
> managed installations of, in order, an Acorn network with matching Econet
> system (remember the DINs and T-bars? :D), a gradual move from Acorn to 95
> machines, then to 98 with more and more intricate networking
> infrastructure.
> He had little money and worked with what he had available to him within
> budgetary constraints him local and national suppliers. This meant that, by
> the time the school got proper wedges of funding for IT, the school already
> had a firmly established userbase of Windows 9x machines, gradually making
> the move to 2000 then to XP as time went on.
> Site licenses for educational software are costly, and I would put money on
> the fact that just about all educational software is still written solely
> for the Windows OS. Chicken and the egg scenario here, but if you want
> definitive figures just go to BETT and do some empirical research to find
> out. (I bet I'm right). Also, historical investment in infrastructure
> cannot
> be ignored, and quite often you have scenarios where you build up
> relationships with suppliers and distributors and so can secure good deals
> for all sorts of things. When you have limited manpower and man hours to
> maintain a network used all day every day by hundreds of students and staff
> alike, you can't afford to have 'exotic particles' introduced into even a
> closed loop system. Plus, there are so many other outside influences and
> requirements (right down to the cacheing systems many schools used back
> when
> ISDN was the only reality for connectivity, before the Grids for Learning
> were properly established) that you could not expect to have a system being
> migrated over to some bizarre and funky FOSS alternative OS.
> Aside from the fact that the suite of *de facto* software the students
> would
> use day in and day would need to be the same, in some cases the bloody
> curriculum demanded that particular software be used, so your hands were
> tied. Other times, it was a cost/benefit analysis. Sure, FOSS alternatives
> to "CAD/CAM" were available, I'm sure, but did they work as well as
> play nice with all the hardware the graphics and control tech departments
> had, AND fully support all the old work and files students had created? You
> can't just rip and replace in an educational scenario.
> Given that many schools' IT infrastructure development was so organic and
> self-funded throughout the 90s, they are now in the situation where it is
> almost completely impractical to start from scratch with a FOSS OS and FOSS
> software, making sure that interdependencies aren't broken, networking
> works
> as well (or as expected) as prior to the switch, and students - and staff
> alike - aren't 'de-familiarised' with the setup. With any major transition
> such as an OS move, there's a lot of retraining needed for staff and
> students. When you run to such a tight timeline as most schools do, there
> just aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish this.
> The cost in terms of 1) setting it all up 2) testing it 3) supporting it 4)
> fixing stuff that doesn't work like it should 5) dealing with problems
> related to the transition can just become extortionate, and I would also
> wager that most school IT departments have their hands full enough just
> keeping existing infrastructure going. The only schools that could possibly
> get away with FOSS from the outset are the entirely new builds, because
> there's no legacy there in terms of hardware and software requirements.
> Having said all of this, I am fully supportive of FOSS - and so is my Dad.
> He's currently the IT advisor for education for the county council where he
> now lives, and has been in the role since he left his deputy head's job. He
> takes a great interest in the benefits that FOSS and hardware solutions can
> bring to the education sector, and he definitely considers them on equal
> footing along with proprietary solutions... As long as the levels of
> support, reliability and cross-compatibility are there and at a level
> appropriate to the solution being provided. He's overseen some really
> massive projects in the past few years (including the Virtual Learning
> Environment setup for pupils county-wide, which involves a stupendous
> investment in both centralised infrastructure and software) and he's been
> forced to not always choose FOSS and hardware because on analysis and
> critical comparison, it doesn't provide the best cost benefit.
> I believe the sad fact is that much FOSS isn't as well or reliably
> supported
> where it matters because there just isn't as much money in it. Again,
> chicken and the egg. How as a FOSS company are you going to maintain a
> well-staffed callout team and helpdesk if the software you are providing is
> essentially free? You can't justify far higher support contract charges for
> that reason alone, and schools will either bring the required talent
> in-house or source it locally - and bingo, just like that, your company is
> out of business.
> Transforming a Windows school to an Ubuntu school is nigh on impossible to
> achieve unless you provide a year's warning, gradually phase out use of all
> Windows-only software over the course of the year, implement the massive
> overhaul and platform transition during the holidays and then spend the
> next
> six months to a year supporting users when stuff goes wrong. Most schools
> simply cannot afford to provision those kinds of resources, so they stay
> put
> with what they have, and that's why FOSS will never make significant
> inroads
> into those establishments. It would take something like Governmental
> intervention to impose FOSS and OSes on schools as a mandatory element of
> their funding in order for them to make the change, but it would be so
> disruptive that it would probably be ignored or sidelined by many schools.
> I am not trying to scaremonger or FUD here, it is just my view as someone
> who has gone through the system and grown up alongside the maturation of a
> typical educational IT setup, and who also had the advantage of talking to
> the person who helped to implement a lot of it (and still talks to the
> person who now helps implement policy and infrastructure for an entire
> county's worth of education!) Although perhaps flawed or coloured, I feel
> it's a pragmatic, realistic view.
> Thoughts / opinions? Love to hear them. Maybe I'm a poor deluded misguided
> fool who needs showing the error of my ways?
> -
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