Miguel Guhlin and I have gotten into an electronic sparring match over the use of Open Source materials in education. So much so that he has written two entries in his blog about it: here and here. If I read Miguel correctly, he has the following arguments for the use of OS in education:
? It is cheaper.
? It is just as good
? Obscure school districts and poverty stricken countries are doing it so everyone should
? Did I mention it is cheaper?
? Oh, and the famous, ?You could buy a teacher salary with the money you save? argument.
(BTW, Miguel left off the famous ?We need to defeat the evil Microsoft? argument that so many of his fellow OS-ers espouse, mainly I suspect, because Microsoft is digging it?s own grave by being unable to change with the times.)
Miguel should run for president, or at least governor. Look at his closing populist argument: ?How many teachers will we push out on the streets? How many classrooms will we pack with students? How many schools must close?? (Damn, the only thing he left off was ?How many unborn children must die before this nightmare ends?? Perhaps another blog post.)
All because we use Adobe Illustrator instead of Tuxpaint.
He even goes off on Superintendents that DO NOT adopt open source in their districts have some kind of mental disorder, some sort of moral failing, and intimates that they don?t want to save money, and are completely out of touch with the mainstream way of thinking. Baloney. If anything, the mainstream is moving away from OS. Just by looking at the number of internet connections (see below) it appears that Linux simply is NOT a growing OS.
Okay, I may be the only person in the world that stands up and fights, but that has never stopped me, so, Miguel, here is my response to you:
What kind of car do you drive?
The reason I ask that is this: I know a well-known OS proponent. He uses the exact same reasoning that you use to justify open source purchases with the main reason being ?it is cheaper.? (But he also hates Microsoft for some reason or another.)
I noticed one day that he had purchased a new car. A new foreign car. Very pricy. Very European. I wondered why , a guy that preaches to anyone that would listen the advantages of ?cheaper is better?, would be driving a car that obviously is not ?cheaper.? As a matter of fact, I would say a good sum of cars were cheaper than the one he purchased.
So why would one buy a car that is expensive, when it is just as easy to buy, say, a cheap Corolla, or an inexpensive Kia, or even a used car. Heck, in El Paso, you can check Craigslist and find hundreds of used cars under $3000 bucks. If you apply the Open Source arguments in buying a car, then it should make sense:
? a cheap car is less expensive,
? as good as,
? lots of other people are doing it,
? and you could do something else with the money you could save by purchasing a less expensive car.
But we don?t purchase cars like that.
We buy cars not because they are cheap, but because of the experience they provide. A more expensive, better built car gives the drivers and the passengers a better experience driving. It feels better. It looks better, and, I suspect, the service is better than used, or less expensive new.
It is just better. Period. New is better than used, and in general, more expensive is better than less expensive. If cheap was better and the only factor for purchase, then the Yugo would have been a hit in the US. It wasn?t because it was poorly made, poorly supported and was a bad driving experience.
(The same argument could be made for houses, food, clothes, and pretty much anything else that is purchased.)
So Miguel, what kind of car do you drive?
Now, let?s go back to open source:
Yes, I will agree that there are good open source programs out there. Moodle is as good as anything in the commercial world.
Open Office is ALMOST as good as MS Office.
But , and here is a big but..
The experience, for the most part, is different. The experience from a variety of areas is different, and Miguel forgets to look at something very critical: Total Cost of Ownership.
Yes, Free looks better. Free looks good. (There is even a series of commercials out right now about how free is better.) But, free is not typically free. There is a phrase used on the internet ?Free as in Beer.? What that means is, a bar offering free beer is a great looking deal, until you find out that it costs $10 to use the restroom. Suddenly, the free beer deal isn?t so good. (There is a ?Gentleman?s Club in El Paso that has a big sign on the building that says ?Free Sirloin Steak Lunch.? Sounds good, but the cover charge to get the free lunch is $20. Same thing.) Open source has a free beer situation: the initial cost is good, but the support is another matter. Relying on a loose conglomeration of coders as your tech support seems good, but..you are relying on a loose conglomeration of coders for tech support. They MAY be there , but they may not be as well. So what happens when they are not there? Suddenly, your costs go up as you scramble to cover your ass and find solutions. Despite what you may think, when you buy from an Adobe or an Apple, or even a Microsoft, you are buying support as well.
Miguel also mentions that there are cloud and free software equivalents for just about everything. Hmm, just about. (He fails to mention that the cloud ?free programs? are often the ?low end? to hook you and that to actual good experience costs money. Want the complete experience of Voicethread? Get your wallet.)
There is no free equivalent for Kidspiration.
There is no free equivalent for Lego Mindstorms.
(And these are just a few examples. Nothing in the OS world looks or works as well as iMovie or Garageband. Nothing.)
My iPod won?t work on Linux.(And there are 75 million or so iPods out there…)
My iPhone doesn?t talk to Linux. It talks to Windows and Mac.
Peripherals ship with Mac and PC software. Sorry, the Kodak ZI8 that I purchased 485 of last year doesn?t ship, nor does the company make, an open source version.
Do Nikons ship with a LInux program? No.
In order to find an OS version, you have to
1) Hope someone has written one somewhere
2) Hope that the program is one step above sub-alpha testing
3) Hope that it is online and the server that houses it in Bulgaria is still up and running
4) Hope that it works
That is a lot of hope just to get my digital camera to work with my computer and if Miguel has been paying attention, the future is video, which frankly is about three generations behind on Linux. 21st century skills are more than just teaching kids how to use Skype and Twitter, it is about collaborative authoring, using video editing tools, and audio creation. Frankly, on Linux, those are poorly supported. Yes, there ARE programs, and YES, there are websites, but if I want a 1st grader to make a video, I would much rather have him spend time creating content with iMovie than wasting time uploading and downloading from, Jaycut or trying to figure out the the very unfriendly Kdenlive.
It is hard enough just getting teachers to learn programs to integrate in their classes. Can you imagine also telling them, ?In order to install this program, ?$ sudp apt-get install kdenlive?
No thank you. Give me iMovie, preinstalled on every Mac , FOR FREE, anytime.
Imitate vs. Innovate
Jaron Lanier once wrote once about how Open Source actually squashes creativity in the coding community. I have always felt that the OS community is actually very imitative rather than innovative. They wait for a program to be developed and researched by those same companies that they hate, then they make carbon copies of them. However, since they are always following, they are almost always a few generation behind.
Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven?t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they?ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designs as if they were facts of nature. Linux is a superbly polished copy of an antique, shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it.
An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely, polished copies, it hasn?t been so good at creating notable originals. Even though the open-source movement has a stinging countercultural rhetoric, it has in practice been a conservative force.
So what message do we send our teachers and our students when we adopt open source? Along with open source comes ?Refurbished computers? years-old hardware that should have been put on Fred Sanford?s truck a decade ago.
So here are the messages we send to teachers, students and parents:
? We are cheap asses that think you deserve the absolute least expensive software we can find.
? You will be fine with a second-rate experience.
? No bid is the go bid.
? Imitation is better than innovation
? We want you to use an Operating system that only 1% of the population uses:
So, what kind of car do you drive? How much was your house?
Could you have bought a cheaper version? Why didn?t you?