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U.K. schools under open-source pressure

Adopting open-source software could save the British education system a lot of money, but only if it stops prioritizing short-term solutions over long-term goals.

Education, at least here in the United States, always seems to be underfunded. Apparently, it's much the same across the pond in the United Kingdom, where the BBC News reports on a growing furor to stretch limited education dollars with open-source software.

Although the U.K. has been under pressure to look more closely at open source, it turns out that there are some valid reasons for delaying a move to open source--or, really, to any new solution: it takes time and money to evaluate new technology, and schools don't often have much of either. It can also be costly to retrain people to use alternatives.

In the long term, however, as Gerry Gavigan, the chairman of the Open Source Consortium, points out, the cost savings from moving to open source can overwhelm the near-term difficulties of things like retraining:

Ongoing training costs don't go away merely because of a change from proprietary software to free and open-source software. What does change is liberation from the training costs associated with an externally encouraged or enforced upgrade cycle.

Something that isn't always taken into account when calculating software procurement costs is the ongoing costs arising from licensing or technology lock-in.

In sum, while it's easy for Microsoft to make the argument that sticking with the tried-and-true is the most cost-effective solution, that is a shallow, myopic answer to the ongoing problem of adequately funding technology in education. We need to take a longs-term view, whether that means shifting more resources to Microsoft and proprietary software solutions or moving money to open-source software. Short-term solutions to long-term problems won't work.