commentary Linux and open source software have a problem in Australia's education sector.
And that problem has nothing to do with the value-for-money or fitness--for-purpose of the software. It has everything to do with fighting an uphill battle against entrenched ideology and frightened government bureaucrats.
A recent report published by the UK government shows how adopting Linux and other open-source solutions could save education possibly tens of millions of pounds every year.
The UK government's ICT agency, British Educational Communications and Technology Association, suggested that schools could slash their total computer costs by up to 50 percent if they "stopped buying, operating and supporting products from the world's largest software company". Incredible and sobering information.
But what does this mean in the Australian context? Will we see Australia's state departments of education suddenly jump at the chance to save hundreds of millions in computer system costs?
Not likely. But why? The answers lie in intimidation and trepidation. In simple terns, fear and lack of vision.
Here's how it works. Most government primary and secondary schools don't care about saving costs by using cheaper alternatives. You see, they effectively pay nothing for their proprietary software -- the schools' owners, the respective Departments of Education do. And the mandarins therein don't like anything that rocks the boat, and are thus greatly threatened by Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Nothing rocks an ICT boat like FOSS does.
Which is why you find that in almost all circumstances, the Departments of Education in each state are also the most pro-Microsoft. I've been trying for over two years to make headway with some of them. They tell me that they are scared of doing anything which will upset Microsoft.
Yes ... you read that right. The representatives of our elected government are scared of displeasing a vendor!
If these departments suddenly stopped paying for proprietary software and switched to FOSS, the schools know they won't reap any of the purported savings. So, why would schools bother with trialling FOSS? Where's the incentive?
Additionally, teachers also know that they will need to learn a whole swag of new software, with minimal time and support. Teachers' time and stress levels are at a premium already. Without support from the powers that be, this makes migration away from "the world's largest software company" a hard and thankless task.
The upshot of all this is that every report commending the advantages of FOSS for the education sector falls on deaf, disinterested and frightened ears. This means that unless there is action from the absolute top, there will never be any action. Period.
We want the incredible waste of money to be stopped right at the top. And if those discussions don't succeed, then it's time for the talk shows and mainstream newspapers.
I'm sure average Australians would love to learn how Linux and open source can save them -- as taxpayers -- hundreds of millions in software costs ... money which can be spent on something useful for a change. Our schools, teachers and students deserve as much.
Con Zymaris is a Director of Open Source Industry Australia.