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Open source news not as good as it sounds

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Setting aside for a moment the debate going on in enterprises over whether to use Microsoft or open source alternatives, this week has seen much noise over two other battlegrounds: schools and local government.

It all started with word that a forthcoming report from the British Educational Communications and Technology Association (BECTA) will claim primary schools can halve IT costs if they go open source.

Microsoft quickly responded, saying it would not back down from a fight in the education market. It trotted out the old 'competition is good for customers' justification.

For local authorities, the news is that almost two-thirds are looking to increase their use of open source software because of cost and dissatisfaction with Microsoft, according to research from local government IT user group Socitm and the Financial Times.

Both developments look promising for the open source contingent but demand closer examination.

Microsoft said it won't cede the education market and should be taken seriously. Remember what it did to Apple, once the dominant computer supplier for schools? Now Windows on a Dell machine is the more likely tool in the classroom.

Even more so, both of these pieces of research base their case for open source on the fact it could save money for schools and local authorities. But cost is only one of the issues. Schools and councils also need a certain amount of know-how to switch to open source - both for the practical implementation and in even knowing it's an option - a point columnist Simon Moores brought up in an article today.

This is where education and local government start to look a lot like corporations. Ease-of-use, familiarity and the hassle of any migration must be weighed alongside cost and lock-in, no matter which market segment you're looking at - and perhaps even more so for those traditionally lacking the resources and technical know-how of the private sector.


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