12.16.08

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‘Microsoft’ University: Open Source Too Expensive

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Microsoft at 9:22 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

For a little bit of background, see our previous posts about this ongoing mess at the ‘Open’ University (OU) [1, 2]. It was, on the face of it, sort of infiltrated by Microsoft. Here is the latest development, courtesy of Mark Ballard:

But the OU has refused to precipitate the wholesale switch of students from bought Microsoft software to (where appropriate) free open source alternatives because it would require too much effort and the costs would be too high at a time when the governments is squeezing student funding.

How does it cost more to move to Free software? The lamest excuse is to say, “let’s save money by staying with Microsoft and refusing to change.” Is denying Free software now an issue of cost, as opposed to those legends of “readiness”, “reliability”, and “dependability”? Since the OU is located in the UK, someone ought to urge them to ask London hospitals about the cost of viruses (cost of lives too). What about the LSE, which was suspended at a critical time due to a major .NET crash?

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11 Comments

  1. AlexH said,

    December 16, 2008 at 9:26 pm

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    It costs money because they have to provide support, and in general their students have the software already.

    They distribute copies of StarOffice/OpenOffice.org and invest millions in free software. “Microsoft University” is pretty far from the truth.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    December 16, 2008 at 9:29 pm

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    That’s why it has scare quotes.

    Regarding cost, not only short-term considerations need to be seen.

  3. AlexH said,

    December 16, 2008 at 10:13 pm

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    Given they’re willing to invest millions in developing a free software portfolio, I don’t think their outlook on costs is particularly short term.

  4. Needs Sunlight said,

    December 17, 2008 at 1:45 am

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    It would not be the first time an insider, operating on MS grant money, torpedoed an upgrade or discussion of open source. That includes even discussing open standards:
    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/09/01/commission

    The cost argument is bullshit. Few if any users need more than a bit of moral support when upgrading from MS to better systems.

    The disruption is generally in the support staff, which have to be fired and replaced. If they let the MS problem get out of hand, then they won’t be able to retool and usually don’t know enough about IT to become useful in a working environment. However, a second way there might be migration costs is that whenever the MS onsite sales team (aka support department) gets even a whiff of an upgrade, they work feverously to rip out any non-MS infrastructure, especially mail and networking protocols. The web servers and intranets also get nailed hard and heavy with VBA and other insecure, unstable lock-in.

  5. Jim said,

    December 18, 2008 at 6:37 am

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    no suprise then that the new Vice-Chancellor is to be Martin Bean who is a microsoft employee

    http://www.open.ac.uk/platform/news/ou-news/new-vice-chancellor-announced?ONEML=pf001&MEDIA=pf001os_07

  6. Dante said,

    December 18, 2008 at 8:08 am

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    I can see the problem; as an OU student, I will run on Linux. For the OU itself, they’d need to train their tutors and ask that most of their students switch from one almost globally known interface to one that is, lets face it, different from Microsoft’s desktop.

    Note I am not saying bad, or good, but different.

    The obsucre naming conventions for Linux software, for instance, are part of the learning curve. (IE, instead of something with a catchy name, like Azure, or some rubbish like that, it’s given the name of 3543lb.3.0) The fact that there is no one clear guide for installing software in Linux aimed at a M$ customer is a big problem.

    I

  7. Jim said,

    December 18, 2008 at 8:26 am

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    well I am an OU student as well.
    cant say I see much difference in the interface between MS office and open office or star office which the OU supply.
    Better to teach word processing rather than a word processor.

  8. Charles Oliver said,

    December 18, 2008 at 1:09 pm

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    I have to agree with the majority of comments disagreeing with the tack of this article.

    As mentioned the OU distribute StarOffice to students. They also use FirstClass which has a Linux client (not open source) and a web interface.

    Though they aim their requirements Windows, they at least mention Macs on their student pages and it’s quite possible to access all that is required using Linux.

    That’s not a brilliant situation but it’s better than some other UK universities. I have recently been using the facilities at another UK university and the only way I can access parts of their system is via XP in Virtualbox.

    Though the tide is moving against the Microsoft monopoly it’s not gone yet and I guess the OU have to support what people have on their home systems.

  9. Bob Mottram said,

    December 18, 2008 at 3:51 pm

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    Traditionally higher education in the UK was the preserve of a wealthy upper middle class elite, and the Open University’s remit was to open up the possibility of higher education to everyone, by providing it at minimal cost and at the student’s convenience. Given the OU’s goals it absolutely seems like a no-brainer that if they’re requiring students to use computers that the software should be primarily FOSS based – both for reasons of cost and for reasons of facilitating study in computer science and related courses (you cannot genuinely study a Microsoft Windows OS, since the code is a secret).

  10. Roy Schestowitz said,

    December 18, 2008 at 3:55 pm

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    Here is an explanation of why Free software is required in education.

  11. Jo Shields said,

    December 18, 2008 at 4:42 pm

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    Here is an explanation of why Free software is required in education

    It’s a reasonable argument – I especially liked the OLPC approach of allowing 1-click access to the source of any app on the system

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