Giving It All Away

By Anne Ward

As the Internet continues to grow into a place to do things as well as to view things, school leaders face attractive, but nevertheless challenging, new choices.

The growing pool of new applications is moving toward open source, Web-based, and free products. But “free” here means “freely available,” rather than freely implemented. These new tools still require hardware, networks, staff, training, and expertise to use and maintain them.

Loosely defined, open source software is available to the general public to use, modify, and distribute, usually without charge. The right to modify the software addresses many situations that otherwise could force a school to lose investments of time and effort, such as software obsolescence, an incompatible computer upgrade or platform switch, disappointment with the software’s capabilities, or a development company that no longer offers upgrades. Open source licenses vary, as described at www.opensource.org.

Development of open source software tends to proceed more collaboratively and quickly than that of proprietary software, addressing some of those potential dilemmas. Ongoing modifications generally improve on previous versions of the software, as developers imagine new functions and benefit from the peer review process that fixes “bugs” in the systems. And open source software tends to supply better interoperability standards in synch with other applications.

All those advantages are making open source the top pick more and more often in education, government, and business institutions.

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