Pete Roythorne on money-saving technology options
Since May, there's been a lot of press about how ditching Microsoft programs and operating systems (the language that makes your computer work) and using "open source" alternatives can save schools "millions". If you've looked at the cost of upgrading your school's Microsoft product licenses recently, you may be taking notice. If you're switching off because it sounds too complicated ... don't.
The debate was fuelled when government technology agency Becta released a report entitled Open Source Software in Schools, which claimed to demonstrate that "although the implementation of OSS (Open Source Software) in schools needs careful planning and support, the use of OSS can offer a cost-effective alternative to proprietary software".
So what is OSS and how can it save you money? Open source refers to any program whose source code (that is, the heart of any software program that makes it work) is made freely available for use or modification by users and developers. Historically, software companies have generally not made this code available to the public, probably for fear of devaluing their product. Also, the open source contract dictates that any charge for the software is small and some are even free. For a full definition, go to www.opensource.org
Open source equivalents can be found for most packages that you would use in schools, but the best known example is the Linux operating system.
Although Linux's Graphical User Interface (or GUI, pronounced "gooey") is not as developed as Windows, it still lets you use a mouse to point and click. Techies the world over have been falling over themselves about Linux for years, so it's about time that the benefits filtered into the education system.
Other popular packages include Ability Office, OpenOffice and StarOffice.
These all do much the same as their Microsoft namesakes, yet at a fraction of the cost, and you don't get sucked into the upgrade cycle of having to throw away your old machine for new versions requiring more memory and disk space.
If you're concerned about functionality, don't be. An open source system will let you have email and word-processing functions - in fact, everything you have already. It should even run any software you have.
If you're considering a switch to open source, it's a big job, but one that bares further scrutiny. If you don't believe me, then visit www.orwellhs.suffolk.sch.uk (click on open source) and check out what happened at Orwell School in Felixstowe.
Becta's report www.becta.org.ukcorporatepress_out.cfm?id=4681
Ability Office www.ability.com
Linux links include www.redhat.com