Open-Source in Education Myths Debunked

Erin posted a link in her Jaiku to an interesting article in Campus Technology about a report that claims that open-source software is “poised for surge in education.”

Great article. I am huge supporter of open-source applications, if you couldn’t tell by now. Of course, as I was reading the article, I hit the obligatory warning about the “pitfalls” of open-source applications. I’m not blind with love for open-source; I know it is not perfect. No program, whether open-source or proprietary, is going to be without its drawbacks. But many seem to be determined to paint all open-source programs with the same broad “pitfall” stroke. I wanted to look at two common myths surrounding open-source and debunk them a little bit (with quotes straight from the article above).

  1. “Maintaining and upgrading open source solutions is not a simple process.”

    Ever heard of the dummies series of books? I have been using open-source programs for years now, all as a non-IT person. I’ve never found them to be difficult to maintain or upgrade. I’ve never actually had to do any maintenance at all. That is like saying that maintaining a home computer is not a simple process. It all depends on what you get and how you use it – you may never have to maintain a thing!
  2. “There is no one at the end of a phone to help fix glitches–as with proprietary software.”

    People always seem to assume that if you don’t whip out the plastic when you are in the middle of doing something, then it is “free.” “Proprietary always gives you free support.” Ummm….. no…. nothing is free. They just roll the cost into the final product. Most medium to large open-source projects can point you to some company that you can pay to get phone support. Overall cost is going to end up being the same or less that what is rolled in to proprietary products.But, my question – is phone tech support ever really that great? It’s hit and miss at best. What if the person on the other end of the phone is an idiot? What if it is not 24 hour service, and you need help after hours? What if they have to put you on hold for an hour? This is assuming that a company even offers service – some don’t, believe it or not.

Hopefully, someday we will stop comparing open-source to proprietary and just compare product to product, regardless of the status of its source code. that’s the only fair way to look at this issue. Not all open-source programs are the same, just as not all proprietary programs are the same.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

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