Here's the full text of a very angry letter, sent today to the educational advisory body Becta by Mark Taylor, president of the Open Source Consortium and chief executive of the enterprise support firm Sirius. I'm currently writing up a story on this, so keep an eye out for that, but the letter is far too long to include in that story in its totality. Here it is:
Today, Friday 13th, Becta's Open Source posturing is exposed as a sham, empty spin covering 'business as usual' political sleaze. Becta awarded their 'Open Source Schools' project to establishment insiders and cronies, with no Open Source credentials or capabilities, rather than organisations who could and would make the project work. The losers, as usual, are British schools, British schoolchildren, and British taxpayers.
The 'Open Source Schools' stated aims appeared both worthy and achievable:
Provide community seeding and support by providing school sector focussed online resources, online support and fora.
Community online discussion;
Identify and recruit initial community members
Annual workshop on community topics
BETT seminar development and delivery to promote open source use.
Highlight open source software developed with contribution from UK schools using an online registry of software and developers
Online discussion open by 30/10/08, seeded with 10 active members.
Grows to 20 active members by April 2009.
Grows to 50 active members by April 2010.
Community workshop in autumn 2008 and Autumn 2009
BETT seminar on the use of open source in the schools sector in January 2009
Basic guidance on how to obtain and install
Basic guidance on licensing
Basic guidance on support providers
Adoption and implementation strategies
The very, very best of UK Open Source talent lined up for the project, just a few of the names involved gives a feel:
Open Source Consortium member companies
Sirius, backed by Red Hat, KDE and the Free Software Foundation
Canonical, makers of Ubuntu
The Open Schools Alliance
And if you are thinking that this is a who's who of Open Source in the UK, you are correct.
But no, impeccable and proven Open Source credentials, capability and community building skills are apparently a hindrance to building a community of British schools using Open Source. Being Becta insiders is what matters, insiders who have no track record in Open Source, do not even give it a passing mention on their website, and until yesterday were completely unknown to anyone in either the industry or community. Just handed a quarter of a million pounds, Becta's friends are now responsible for the direction Open Source takes in British Schools, entirely removed from the UK Open Source community and industry. The result, of course, will be completely disastrous in the fine tradition of Newham, Birmingham and the so-called 'Open Source Academy'. Funny how the UK Public Sector is the only one in the world who consistently 'trial' Open Source by giving projects to those least capable of delivering them, and then claim that it 'doesn't work' or is 'more expensive than proprietary (equals Microsoft) software'. One hopes it is merely incompetence, the alternative would be corruption and surely that could never happen here...
In conclusion, some advice from the genuine Open Source community and Industry:
If you are a school, ignore Becta's project, ignore Becta, and seek advice from the people who are able to give it. Any of the organisations Becta rejected will be your best choice.
If you are a member of the Open Source community or industry not yet touched by this scandal, boycott the project and refuse to have anything to do with it. It's not about 'Open Source', it's about jobs for the boys, spin, and discrediting non-proprietary software.
If you are anyone else, throw your hands up in despair at yet more political sleaze, cronyism and incompetence, and vote for someone other than the current government at the next election, preferably someone with policies on Open Source and Open Government.
The Open Source Consortium
Bringing Free and Open Source Software to the Public Sector