Community to Gillard: 'Consider Open Source'

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Community to Gillard: 'Consider Open Source'

The Australian Open Source community has called for the consideration of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in the implementation of the Rudd Government’s Digital Education Revolution Policy.

In an open letter that was submitted last week to the Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, members of the community expressed its support of the Government’s investment in Australian ICT capabilities, education and training.

The letter is signed by nine leading FOSS advocates, including: Open Source Victoria’s Education Spokesperson Donna Benjamin; OLPA Australia Director Pia Waugh; Red Hat Australia General Manager Max McLaren; and Samba Developer Andrew Tridgell.

Central to the FOSS argument is the low cost associated with Open Source Software, which could enable more flexible use of the $1000-per-unit National Secondary School Computer Fund (NSSCF).

“We aimed to get the letter out in time for the Council of Australian Governments meeting last Thursday, because the computer fund was on the agenda,” Benjamin told iTnews.

“I'm usually the first to say that cost is not a winning argument when advocating free and open source software to the education sector, but for now, in relation to the NSSCF it really is,” she said.

“I wanted to keep the focus tight and the message simple: ‘Consider open source’ -- the hope being there would be time for more discussion later.”

A May 2005 report by U.K. government advisor Becta found the use of Open Source Software to reduce hardware costs by 53 percent in primary schools and 32 percent in secondary schools.

Furthermore, Benjamin expects current FOSS systems to be more attractive than those at the time of the Becta report due to improvements in manageability.

Open Source advocates have also identified potential benefits for schools in teaching ICT skills, licensing costs and interoperability of IT infrastructure, and enabling students across the socio-economic spectrum to access licensed software to use at home.

“There's a lot of misconception out there about Open Source, and we're finding that some of that starts and is perpetuated in schools,” Benjamin said.

“Open Source software runs most of the world’s super-computers,” she pointed out. “It's no longer an emerging technology -- but it doesn't have a marketing strategy, or budget.”

The open letter has yet to receive a response from the Government, but already there have been discussions in the Open Source community about potential Government initiatives for the future.

Suggestions include: the development of an education program for schools about implementing Open Source software; investment in existing education-focussed Open Source projects; and mandating open standards for interoperability and data storage.
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