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Universities spar over open-source benefits

A recent brouhaha erupted at Educause as to how much value there is in open source.

OStatic reports on academic debate (literally) around the value of open source at the recent Educause conference. Apparently Adrian Sannier, university technology officer at Arizona State University, stirred the pot by claiming that license cost savings from open-source software will be eaten up by the consulting fees allegedly required to make it work.

Aside from being silly, ignorant, and wrong, it's a valid point. :-)

I work with a range of system integrators that work with both open-source and proprietary software. From these I hear over and over again that it costs less to deploy an open-source system because of open standards, open APIs, and, yes, open source. It turns out that the more you know about a system, the easier it is to tailor it to a university's (or to an enterprise's) needs.

Indeed, it's not truly cost savings that should drive university buying decisions between open source and proprietary software, given that universities tend to get excellent discounts from vendors in both camps. Instead, universities should be looking to buy software that maximizes their freedom to tinker and tailor, two things that I've found many of my Higher Education customers have in common.

Regardless, this whole thing is a bit of a canard, anyway. Years ago we left behind the world where customers had to give up on functionality or stability when going to open source. That was true 10 years ago. It is emphatically false today. Most categories of software now have viable, even superior, open-source products.

Universities, therefore, should buy into the software that works best, and that enables them to tailor to their needs. More often than not, these days that software is open source.