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Re: [K12OSN] NewsWire feed (long)
- From: Alan A Hodson <ahodson elp rr com>
- To: "Support list for opensource software in schools." <k12osn redhat com>
- Subject: Re: [K12OSN] NewsWire feed (long)
- Date: Thu, 3 Jun 2004 06:39:17 -0600
Strange - I got the feed right away, and it wasn't that far removed
from the thread about what to say to administration, yet there are no
comments - perhaps a posting like this is miles away from the usual
type of arguments, especially if we deal only with sound bites...
Oh well, as I tell my students, "if your heart was in it, take pride
in your work"
Feel free to forward the enclosed article to your local newspaper or
wire feed - if you have any suggestions, please send them off list
to ahodson at elp.rr.com
Open Source Software and Linux - avoiding a lawsuit
by Alan A Hodson
In the not too distant future, when taxpayer groups decide to hold
their school districts and Board of Trustees accountable for the
senseless spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars in computer
technology purchases, especially software, there will be court
sessions where the Prosecutor will be grilling the district's Legal
Counsel with questions similar to these:
P: Was the district aware of the existence of Open Source
applications that involve no cost and no licensing fees to install
in Mac and PC laptops?
LC: Yes, I am aware of at least one department that after purchasing
laptops found that they had no money left for software, so they used
StarOffice, an Open Source application that is equivalent to
P: Are you saying that the district knows that there are software
products that require no licensing, can be given to teachers and
students to use, and still insist on paying hundreds of dollars per
computer to provide basic functionality to desktops and laptops?
LC: I am told that "the real world" uses Microsoft, so the district
buys the product the child is likely to see in the workplace when
P: Please indulge me - what kind of car did you, madam, learn to drive on?
LC: It was a 64 Ford truck with standard transmission...
P: Did you learn to drive 64 Fords only, or were the skills learned
transferable to any car, anywhere, at anytime?
LC: You saw me parallel park this morning, what do you think?
P: I frankly was impressed... very precise maneuvering. The point
is, regardless of how you learn a skill, if you learn it well, you
will be able to use it appropriately in the future, don't you agree?
LC: It seems reasonable to accept that statement.
P: So, if the skill of learning word processing, spreadsheet use and
presentation software use is learned correctly, say using software
that loads and saves in the "real world" formats, as Open Source
software allows, then there is no need to spend all that money for
proprietary products, is there?
LC: Looking at the results, you may have an argument. But I
understand districts want uniformity and a vendor they can call when
anything with the software goes wrong - Does Open Source provide
P: Because applications such as StarOffice or OpenOffice are Open
Source, and programmers can look at the code that runs these
applications, the international community is very quick in finding
solutions to potential flaws and problems. They have an intellectual
interest in making sure that the Open Source application stays
problem free, so instead of an 800 number offering classical music
you have the Internet with Special Interest Groups that are
monitored 24 hours a day, again for free. That being said, have you
directed the district to adopt a policy of Open Records that applies
to the software they use?
LC: I am not sure I follow...
P: Open Records can be interpreted not only as the transparency of
the dealings of the district, but also as the use of proprietary
formats that may change over time at the software maker's whim. Open
Source software, on the other hand, uses standards and coding
available to any programmer, so records become independent of the
application that created them. In a sense, you exclude proprietary
vendors from the record gathering or storage process. The question
LC: Nobody has ever challenged the electronic access format of any
of the district's records, but I suppose eventually someone will.
How would recommending Open Source adoption change anything? The
district would still have a file called FILENAME.DOC created via MS
Word or Open Office.
P: The difference is that the district would not be spending tax
money from Joe Taxpayer's payments - he's worked hard enough to earn
them, and there should be a policy in place at the district level to
make sure money is not being thrown away.
LC: You could make the same case for any government agency... We all
use proprietary software.
P: There will be other lawsuits and motions to address that
irregularity. I want to make sure Legal Council admits for the
purpose of this trial that there has been no distinct effort on the
part of the district to reduce the so called Digital Divide, by
incorporating Open Source software installation and distribution as
a priority in all computer desktops and laptops, and that in fact no
serious studies have been made to use Linux as a desktop Operating
System, replacing Window's propensity for infections by viruses and
LC: Linux as an operating system? What does that have to do with Open Source?
P: All Linux code is Open Source, all the applications we've been
discussing are Open Source applications that run on Linux also.
Under certain circumstances, you can have Mac and PC computers also
running Linux, making it the one operating system that runs on all
platforms. This is the one standard that the district could have, if
they decided to protect the investment made in hardware.
LC: Protecting the investment? Are you talking about old equipment also?
P: Proper research and a willingness to change from the traditional
solutions would point out that Linux is ideal for old equipment, and
that for machines whose hard drive or CD player no longer functions,
the district could turn them into diskless clients following the
K12LTSP.org model, labs with one powerful server and PC diskless
workstations of every make and model.
LC: You mentioned MS Office products - what other Open Source
products would there be as an incentive for the district to start
considering the "official" adoption of Open Source as a district
P: Linux comes with hundreds of free applications, and can be
installed on any PC as a dual boot system, to at least offer
students that choice. For Macs and PCs, there are major applications
such as GIMP, a Photoshop equivalent, Mozilla a powerful browser and
HTML composer, LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP), TuxMath and
TuxPaint, and many more. Almost every major application in the
market has its Open Source equivalent.
LC: I would like to ask for a recess to meet with my client and
propose a settlement. What major arguments would the Prosecutor
suggest I put forth?
P: Open Source software has several distinct advantages over
proprietary software. The widespread peer review process involved in
open source development creates software which is more error-free
and resource-efficient than proprietary software. In addition, Open
Source is a must for security-critical applications- true security
is never achieved by attempting to conceal any security defects that
a program may have, but rather by allowing anyone interested to seek
out these flaws and eliminate them. Open Source allows for that. In
terms of who will survive, if resilience is an issue, the
open-source culture will triumph not because cooperation is morally
right or software "hoarding" is morally wrong, ...but simply because
the closed-source world cannot win an evolutionary arms race with
open-source communities that can put orders of magnitude more
skilled time into a problem.
And so, Legal Counsel goes off to try and convince the district,
that being accountable to the taxpayer's rights, and saving money by
embracing Open Source alternatives are issues that must be addressed
sooner, rather than later.
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