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Five reasons that prevent my ‘school’ from adopting Open Source: (from a non-western perspective) May 30, 2007

Posted by NAyK in Article Watch, Discussions-Conclusions-Hopes, Linux, Mac, News, Open Source, OpenOffice, Recommendation, Software, Windows, Working with Linux.
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Recently the NZ government aggressively pushed the adoption (some say too early adoption) of open source software (NeoOffice) for their Macs (news-report here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10442388) I found this a fascinating discussion but in the end unrelated to my situation because while my heart goes out for the permeation of open source for the sanity of the global IT customer/user, my own school (in a non-western country) is ions away from moving towards open source awareness let alone adoption.

A bit about my ‘school’: My school (without naming names) is a small set-up for advanced learning; with about 50+ computers for faculty and students. All computers run Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP. All computers use Internet Explorer (except a few faculty who have chosen the adoption of Firefox. The Firefox option does not exist for the students). For office software, all student computers have Star Office 7. While the faculty have either Star Office or MS Word 2003 (education version). Some faculty have their own MS Office solutions, through OEM licensing when they bought with their laptops. The same is true for students with Laptops, though students with desktops (usually assembled of local one-room shops) may have some pirated software, but all MS oriented. In the entire campus, there is only one Mac, and that sits in the Publications Office.

There are at least five reasons why for the next five years my ‘school’ will probably still be dependent on Windows-based products and not touch anything from open source.

1. Our institution is not government funded, hence management policies are determined in-house and by the Board. While currently, finances are not preventing positive IT implementation, there are still enough financial constraints to give the impression/feeling that “we can’t take risks” with open source.

2. Since our IT supervisors (we outsource our IT solutions and support) are MS Windows oriented, their recommendations will obviously be Windows-based solutions. In fact, one deterrent for resisting the implementation of Linux in student computer labs is that, according to these IT-guys, the Windows server does not (cannot?) recognise which site a student on a Linux computer is browsing. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but in a school situation where internet monitoring is important, such arguments are clinchers.

3. Our management (raised in the generation of typewriters) is not IT friendly, and any adoption of new technology (even if it is windows-based) is not thought of positively.  For example, out of all the faculty, I know only one has a blog. And that too he needs help to manage it.  Of course there are exceptions; we have probably two-three IT geeks hidden in the faculty/management. But they are still in the Windows mold and trust Windows enough because it works for them.

4. There is also a false (in my view) impression that grammar check and spell check improves grammar and spelling. That is why, there has been a push for the adoption of Microsoft Office on all our student machines; because it has grammar check. (Currently we use Star Office). There is also the false impression that the software with more tools means greater productivity. In actual fact, neither student nor faculty, in my experiences, uses the computer for more than writing academic documents (which require footnotes, table of contents and indexing). Still, the idea of ‘better’ software is always, ‘potential’ to do more.

5. Finally, there is no understanding of open source philosophy. Open Source philosophy, of free (as in money) and free (as in for cooperation/transparency) is unheard of.  Linux is probably just a catch-phrase out of context. And right now, people feel they have bigger and more important things to worry about than the operating system and software running on their computers. I say this because this lack of understanding of the ideology of Open Source exposes how despite being an advanced educational institute that focusses on the discussion/critique and development of ideological thinking among students, they fail to understand the ideology (and politics) that control their decision to continue with Microsoft, or the alternatives the lie, waiting for adoption.

In summary: as you can see, we’re far away from implementation. I almost wish that the government was funding our institution and would then force us to adopt something like what the New Zealand government is doing. But alas, I realise that even if our government was funding us, they will still push for Microsoft, because what is here below (the people) must reflect what is there above (our governments that reflect our people).

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Comments»

1. Dirk Gently - May 31, 2007

I see reflections of that mindset in many areas. I went for a job with a local community internet cafe which was starting out, and still hadn’t bought their equipment, and was told it’d be part of my role to help buy and set it up….ideal chance to start off with Linux you’d think. Me too…..except the board (who meet once a month for a quick coffee and have lots of topics to cover) decided to sign off on lots of M$ gear BEFORE hiring anyone.

Turned out, I was being interviewed by stealth and they didn’t take to kindly to me telling them they’ve spent a fortune they didn’t need to buying substandard equipment they don’t really want, and as a result……they didn’t hire me. My guess is that they preferred someone with no opinions of their own, who knows that life is lived by agreeing with those who made the decisions.

The business case for sticking with M$ is overwhelming, why switch to a secure free environment with free software when you can keep your hand in your customers wallet by charging for everything from support to software?

From every other angle Linux makes perfect sense…….although I’d go for an older, stable Linux as a reliable workhorse possibly like Debian if I was starting a business and had to buy all the set up. The last thing you want for normal users who “time is money” is program crashes.

Most PC people start with Windows as users and progress from there. Some never breathe the fresh air of Linux…..if you’re the designated “office IT guy” charged with making sure the 10 PC’s in the office work reliably, chances are you’re used to Windows and don’t want to risk this new fangled Linux you’ve heard about……lucky offices have Linux people in those positions who can make the case for Linux in a non-offensive and positive way pointing out the business benefits of a decent OS so the next round of upgrades may see a switchover.

2. Jordan_U - May 31, 2007

“In fact, one deterrent for resisting the implementation of Linux in student computer labs is that, according to these IT-guys, the Windows server does not (cannot?) recognise which site a student on a Linux computer is browsing. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but in a school situation where internet monitoring is important, such arguments are clinchers.”

I feel sorry for you, your IT has been outsourced to people who do not understand what the internet or Linux are, if they knew either of these things they would never make such a laughable claim. All operating systems connect to the internet the same way. If you block access to an ip address or filter certain keywords from URL’s the only way for Linux to magically not get detected would be for some student to use a proxy of some kind like http://hidemyass.com/ , if your school filters out proxies ( which they should unless they are completely incompetent ) then that shouldn’t be a problem, and is again no t specific to Linux because it is just a web site. A student could easily use tor park on a windows machine to get past any firewall ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torpark ) and is very hard to prevent use of in a windows environment. BUT on Linux they would never be able to run Torpark in the first place ( if the IT people have told you that they have “locked down” the machines so you wouldn’t be able to install applications, they probably don’t know what they are talking about, try running any of these programs on any machine, I would bet $50 that they all work : http://portableapps.com/ )

So basically what I am trying to say is that the claim that your IT people made about not being able to see where Linux boxes are going to on the internet is very telling about their incompetence, seriously look into whether you should continue paying them. This has no bearing on switching to Linux though, it is still likely not the best solution for some valid reasons, I am just saying that you should dump your IT :)

3. CDBaric - May 31, 2007

You CLAIM your institution is a school of advanced learning and yet your comments indicate just the opposite.

Your school is backwards and stagnant. You should ask how they feel about that theory of the earth rotating around the sun.

They are not only doing a dis-service to their bottom line, they are educating their students to use products which guarantees data lock-in and faltering security.

There is nothing that guarantees extinction like a refusal to learn, especially at an institute of higher learning.

CD ‘Bar’ Baric

4. Midnight - May 31, 2007

While I can understand that your school may have real reasons to not use Linux in their situation, I too am puzzled by the statement that your school is about “advanced learning” and yet seems so primitive.

Admittedly, technology isn’t the only important learning area, but it is important if these students are going to join the global workforce today.

And when it really comes down to it, there is nothing about open source itself that is holding you back, it is all about management and a poorly informed IT provider. There is no risk in turning 1 or 2 of your 50+ machines to Linux and other open source tools and seeing where that takes you. Setting up a proper proxy is really what you want to track your student’s browsing as it will also reduce your reliance on an external network which you probably pay significantly for and will improve performance by caching content. Windows XP is new technology in comparison to a lot of what represents the base of Linux, in that it was a big jump from previous windows editions, and Vista is even more of a big jump. Linux represents a more steady stream of change than Windows does which means it can be trickled out to users slowly without the shock of jumping from version to version.

Philosophy isn’t something you just tear out and replace, it is something that starts with the seeds of discussion. You raise the issue, you persist to inform them, and if they continue not to get it, you continue to inform them. Some day when you aren’t expecting it, they will ask about it, and that is when change begins.

5. NAyK - May 31, 2007

To CDBaric and Midnight:
You guys obviously come from a place that is sometimes (traditionally) known as the Western “developed world” where you have resources, exposure and a range of products to choose from. Your judgment of the falsely “advanced” nature of my institution is both unhelpful and uncalled for. To call us ‘primitive’ (Midnight) just shows how condescending and imperialistic you yourselves are.
There are a few issues at stake. Firstly, the non-western nature of my ’school’. If you understand that, then you will know that it is a very common problem affecting countries that adopt IT too fast, too soon. Most of our computer technology is inherited technology, from the West, and so usually, small-big companies and institutions just follow whoever is recommending the ‘best’ software etc. Believe it or not, there are places that have not heard of Linux before!
Secondly, there is a fallacy in logic that just because a place teaches “advanced” learning, it has to support Linux. For instance, not all educational institutes like Harvard, Yale, Oxford etc, support Linux exclusively. The fact that they use or do not use Linux does not make them any more or less advanced. They just may not agree or may agree (as I do) philosophically with the open source philosophy. But agreement or lack of it does not mean the ability to use or promote a certain kind of technology. What computer does Nelson Mandela use?
Thirdly, we do use Linux (without the administration knowing it), because our webmail server is outsourced in the US, and it is hosted on Apache. But that kind of detail does not make sense to non-IT people running our college.
Fourthly, the point of the article is the contextual nature of the problem. A western (read New Zealand) problem is seen very differently in the context where I am today. It’s almost a non-issue and we open source promoters have to struggle with basic awareness among our leadership, and it’s not just about economics or philosophy.

6. NAyK - May 31, 2007

To Jordan_U:

Thanks, your comment is most helpful.

7. Manuel Silva - May 31, 2007

I my opinion it is all about piracy. I use Linux, but the people I know use windows and MsOffice in their personal computers, and I don’t know one of them who pay for it. (they pay for XP because it was preinstalled). As long as there is piracy everything is free so why bother? Most of them even think that software is free or that it was includes with the computer when they bounght it!
When I ask a person if they consider changing to OpenOffice if they had to pay 200$ or 300$, they tell me they would.

8. NAyK - May 31, 2007

Hey ManuelSilva:

There’s an excellent article about “How Piracy hurts Open Source” The following link has the full article downloadable as a pdf file:

http://www.tuxmagazine.com/node/1000266

9. Haakon - May 31, 2007

Hi NAyk!

I live in Norway, where there is lots of money and funding, but after many years we now have recognition from the government that open standards and free (as in freedom) software is the way to leave incompatible formats and vendor-lockin behind. However, recognition does not mean implemented. Far from it. Now recognition must be passed back down the line to managers like yours, before anything will happen on a large scale. In short, expect glacial advances – slow and steady. Don’t loose heart.

In my experience, there are three things that you should address as best you can.

1) Educate yourself about copyright issues and licensing, then make sure your school is software audited internally. Why? It is important to pass on the virtue of being lawful, and it if everything isn’t in order will probably make expenses sky-rocket. This is a good thing. It makes your administration think with their wallet. If all is ok, no worries, if it is not – do not back down on that issue. Don’t make them pissed off at you, make them pissed off at threating vendors, and talk of peer reviewed software having terms more in keeping with academic tradition of sharing knowledge.

2) As a follow up to 1), don’t talk tech, talk about making school records available in years to come, talk about the availability, integrity and confidensiality of that data, talk about possibilities of reusing data across applications and so on.

3) Offer real solutions to real problems. After all, who are you serving, and what can you do for them? Start at the top – find out what your head master dreams of from the ICT solution. Probably something that helps him report how teachers and students are doing – he is accountable to the board or government in some fashion. Can you help him, using free (as in freedom) software? Then your teachers. Do they need to compare grades, share teaching material – find out what they need. Can you help them using free software? Do your students need the same software at home to do home work? Maybe just a few do, but they have friends that can come on over, right? Then it would be helpful if they used an open standard like ODF and OpenOffice.org 2.x to write their papers, don’t you think so to?

Managers and teachers are not techs, so provide help and make THEIR job easier.

10. NAyK - May 31, 2007

To Haakon!

Hey man! Thanks. That’s one of the most helpful things I’ve read in a long long time. You not only seem to understand ‘open source’ but you seem aware of the education (and hence linux in use) aspect of things.

Excellent. Thanks again.

11. Rand al'Thor - May 31, 2007

About the monitoring of internet. The big brother thing. You always like to be the big brother. But I suppose the way to do this is setup a proxy-server. All acces is monitored on the proxy-server. And if that access is made by a windows or linux pc, it wont even make a diffence in the log. I suppose all pc’s dont have cd/floppys. You dont want those smart kiddies booting live-cd’s. Does m$ make live cd’s btw?

12. Haakon - May 31, 2007

Hi again NAyK! Thank for those kind words – you’re welcome! :-)

About your point 2) above, I believe Jordan_U is right when he says they are not that competent, but you need to investigate and document a bit to be sure.

When they claim not to be able to see what the web browser is doing on a GNU/Linux machine, it means they somehow access the local log file on each machine. I don’t know why they do it like that, thus I cannot say for sure if this is an act of incompetence or not.

I do know that the sensible way to do it – on either platform – would be to set up a set of central web-proxy-servers that all web clients must ask to fetch external content for them. Why is this more sensible? The proxy-server shields the client from the Internet, thus direct Internet connectivity is not needed. A caching proxy-server would keep a copy of say the front page of the local newspaper. Internal users would then get the page many times faster from the cache. If you are using dial-up or somehow pay for traffic costs from the Internet provider, users would not use the line so much, as the cache would reduce the need. The proxy-servers logs what the internal browsers wants regardless of platform – Windows, Mac, GNU/Linux – whatever. Finally, adding a content filter – either for viruses/worms or blacklisted web addresses is easiest to do at the proxy. A free (as in freedom) software solution for doing this is Squid-proxy combined with Squidguard-filter or Danceguardian, and Virulator.

It’s generally not a good idea to claim others incompetence without backing it up with hard facts, and what does it matter? It is probably better for you to ask them if setting up a proxy-server solution as described would make the administration costs go down, which would benefit the school more than having a bad relationship with your provider. If they cannot provide this on their chosen platform, I would start looking around for other providers.

13. Neil - May 31, 2007

Comment to Rand al’Thor – M$ does make live CDs, but only as installation and diagnostics tool, and running from command line, no GUI.

Best alternative is Bart PE – using this program you build your own Windows live CD (you need an original Windows installation disk first) with a whole load of tools built in. Very useful. http://www.nu2.nu/pebuilder/

For an example of a a very forward thinking setup that has taken a whole educational establishment onto linux, see http://www.linex.org – this is a project of the regional government of Extremadura, Spain. Instead of investing in M$, they have written their own version of linux, with specific distributions for different levels of academic life. It is now installed on 90,000 computers across the regions, saving a fortune. Schools typically have one computer running Windows, and the rest their own system. They are in negotiations with other regional governments (and Brazil too) for this software to be used elsewhere.

14. Notthisday - May 31, 2007

You do know that your posts are copied without any further notice, don’t you?
http://u-tux.blogspot.com/
I saw several other blog posts appearing there from different, Linux related pages. While it might be nice to spread the voice it is definitely not nice to do so by copying the article and posting on advertisement overloaded bloat pages without giving any further credit to the real authors.

If you get enough people to inform about google the blog might disappear…

15. Razib - May 31, 2007

I am trying to tell about the misurable lives of the street people of Bangladesh in my site Canvas of life. Please add a link of the site at your blog to let the world know about them.

16. IT Guy - May 31, 2007

To NAyK.

Just to inform you, Mandela doesn’t know how to spell ‘pc’ or even personal computer…

So leave him out of it, since he won’t even know what MS is or even Linux…

Furthermore, your institution seems a bit one track minded. I work for a very big Semi State Institution in SA and the most of the IT guys shake in their pants when they hear ‘Linux’. They don’t care to even look in the Linux direction.

They are so locked onto Microsoft that they cannot see past it.

Best of all they complain about problems such as virusses, traffic, OS problems (like Blue Screen of Death), etc. and the extreme costs, but they are not even willing to look into other alternatives. They say costs are too high and they want to restrict costs as much as possible, but if you follow the MS way, you must accept the problems that come with it and never complain about the costs.

17. Abd El-Rahman Farag Hegazy - May 31, 2007

I Think that this isn’t the unique school that can’t use linux over their PCs
it is the problem of alot of schools ans universities
for example here in egypt no any university use linux
although there is good number f students that hear about it and have the ability to run it at least as home user i think this problem is related to politics that MS pay to these universities and schools to support their so as to it ensure that all of these student will grow up using windows
God with u and help u in helping other to use linux
thanks very much for ur cute post

18. NAyK - May 31, 2007

To Notthisday: (regarding someone plagiarising the contents of this and other blogs).

Thanks for the tip. I was recently made aware of it but I’ve been a little confused.

I guess I consider my work harmless with absolutely no financial stake,and so I don’t feel it bothers me other than that it just drags a few hits elsewhere.

But plagiarism is a problem and some people do get ‘hurt’. Also, for someone to try to make money (do people actually make money with these ad-on-webpage-things?) passing out other people’s work as their own does seem a little unethical.

But I’m still ‘thinking’ about all this and so I’m not sure what I could even do about it and whether I should do it.

19. Dmitri - May 31, 2007

the Windows server does not (cannot?) recognise which site a student on a Linux computer is browsing

So what? They are not seriously thinking about spying on students, are they? I think just about everyone knows that this doesn’t work: if students want to look at adult things, they’ll just switch off the firewall settings, run a different browser, or find another way to bypass the restrictions.

20. NAyK - May 31, 2007

To Dmitri: One philosophical conundrum (open source or not open source) exchanged for another (regulated student internet usage or non-regulated student intenet usage).

However, to say that we MUST use open source AND to say that if open source does not help us regulate internet usage then that is not a problem because regulated internet usage is WRONG, is not an argument that helps greater open source adoption. :)

21. Dirk Gently - May 31, 2007

I just looked at the u-tux blogspot blog……it’s plagiarism, passing your work off as his/her own. If I were you I’d tell them to cease and desist, and to remove ALL your content…as well as reporting them for copyright theft to Blogspot.

They don’t restrict themselves to one article….they have several of yours when I glanced down the list. It is no accident or script, this is manually done and intentional.

I found a blog there a while back which was posting 35 new entries per day…ALL paragraphs from Digg etc……everything created by other people. A few comments got my stuff removed……yours is MUCH more serious and malicious than mine was.

22. NAyK - May 31, 2007

To all those who were concerned about u-tux.blogspot dot com plagiarizing my stuff. Thanks. I was amused that this person (u-tux) has even adapted my blog-site title AND tagline. Which was funny. But I can see that the site is filled with other articles as well… not just my own. Which, like Dirk Gentler suggested, looks quite serious.

I wasn’t able to find a way to contact google/blogger. For copyright infringement reporting, it seems a complaint has to be in written (postal) form or fax (not email). http://www.google.com/blogger_dmca.html Man that makes it difficult.

As it turns out that the blogger tech support is really really difficult to find. And what they have is a help form that you’re expected to fill… ie. you need to be a member etc. It turns out you need to be really smart to be able to contact support, as this post suggests. :) http://blogger-tricks.blogspot.com/2006/08/how-to-contact-blogger-support.html

[I guess here’s another reason why WordPress is better (?), just because I know how to contact the people who’re working on this stuff… I even know one or two by name (ie. Matt etc). ]
Anyway, this is not a blogger vs wordpress post (so the above is an aside) and especially since my ‘friend’ DirkGently believes that blogspot is better! http://dirkgently.wordpress.com/ :) But in the context of ‘open source’ and ‘closed source’ it does make an interesting parallel! :)

I guess my only fear is that this person shouldn’t accuse ME of plagiarizing “his” work or something warped like that. So I guess I’ll continue to pursue the blogger help maze a little more. :&

23. Jordan_U - June 1, 2007

Sorry for jumping to the conclusion of incompetence I had not thought about the possibility that they might simply be looking at logs or browser history as mentioned before. I am interested in why you disagree with open source philosophically and also would love to help in whatever way I can with any IT problems ( although I am far from a sysadmin ) you can email me any time ( to my email provided when I submit comments ). And I will probably be a subscriber to your blog too :)

24. Top Posts « WordPress.com - June 1, 2007

[…] Five reasons that prevent my ’school’ from adopting Open Source: (from a non-western per… Recently the NZ government aggressively pushed the adoption (some say too early adoption) of open source software […] […]

25. Jose - June 12, 2007

>> The business case for sticking with M$ is overwhelming, why switch to a secure free environment with free software when you can keep your hand in your customers wallet by charging for everything from support to software?

Don’t see what you are talking about. You can charge for installing and managing and customizing… FLOSS. The nontrivial licensing costs I think you are talking about go to the vendor (Microsoft). The more money that goes for someone else, the less that can go to you.

26. Jose - June 12, 2007

>> In fact, one deterrent for resisting the implementation of Linux in student computer labs is that, according to these IT-guys, the Windows server does not (cannot?) recognise which site a student on a Linux computer is browsing. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but in a school situation where internet monitoring is important, such arguments are clinchers.

Keep in mind that Linux is much better suited to the network than Windows [faster, more tools, etc]. The links that follow are solutions people have put together, but other solutions as well as the ability to do the setups by yourself (homebrew) have existed for a long time… I am trying to say that it is not a good idea to discount Linux because you are not *currently* aware of a solution to some problem.. especially if it involves network computing.

I could be mistaken, but I think this screenshot shows that for which you were looking (spying on people) http://italc.sourceforge.net/screenshots/italc-1.0.0_01.jpg . I came to that website via this article: http://education.zdnet.com/?p=1079 .

http://www.distrowatch.com/
http://www.ltsp.org/

Also consider using debian. See this too: http://www.linuxtoday.com/infrastructure/2007053000626RVDBSS . The article demonstrates a debian installation, and the comments point out some gotchas.

27. Jose - June 12, 2007

>> In fact, one deterrent for resisting the implementation of Linux in student computer labs is that, according to these IT-guys, the Windows server does not (cannot?) recognise which site a student on a Linux computer is browsing. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but in a school situation where internet monitoring is important, such arguments are clinchers.

Keep in mind that Linux is much better suited to the network than Windows [faster, more tools, etc]. The links that follow are solutions people have put together, but other solutions as well as the ability to do the setups by yourself (homebrew) have existed for a long time… I am trying to say that it is not a good idea to discount Linux because you are not *currently* aware of a solution to some problem.. especially if it involves network computing.

I could be mistaken, but I think this screenshot shows that for which you were looking (spying on people) http://italc.sourceforge.net/screenshots/italc-1.0.0_01.jpg . I came to that website via this article: http://education.zdnet.com/?p=1079 .

28. Running from Open Source: or how my ’school’ is avoiding Open Office implementation « Tryst with Linux and other Alternatives - July 7, 2007

[…] while back I wrote about why my school would not adopt open source. (Post is found here) At that time, I did not have any influence in our IT affairs. Only in the past month I’ve […]

29. where can i download a fax program for windows vista - January 29, 2008

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30. Anonymous - March 7, 2008

salam


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