NYT features an article titled Brazil: Free Software’s Biggest and Best Friend. I think it’s no surprise that the strongest development of FLOSS in education is about to come from Brazil or any other less developed country. Educational sector all around the world is struggling for resources. There are major budget cuts even here in Finland.
Education is not the best sector to make money out of software. For example in Brazil, only 19 percent of public schools have computers. The core reason for an educational institution to exist is to make sure that teaching continues and learners have a place to study. If a budget cut is prepared, developing ICT is one of the first to suffer from the hit.
In the information age there is need for computers in schools but only the lowest possible level to get up and running: access to internet and basic desktops for creating documents and maybe playing around with some educational applications and research tools. This level of computing is the part that is heavily commoditizing. FLOSS is doing a great job to commoditize the basic software infrastructure (from servers to basic productivity software on the desktop to thin client environments to save up in hardware costs). Out of any other industry, education is the section that is trying to cut the costs of basic ICT to the minimum.
That’s where FLOSS enters the game.
In Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has instructed government ministries and state-run companies to gradually switch from proprietary Microsoft operating systems to free operating systems, like Linux. Government funded software projects need to release results as FLOSS.
It’s no surprise Microsoft is going to fight policies like this by offering their software at a loss. Every lost user in schools is out of their pocket in the future. Once the students get out of the school and join businesses, they will prefer to use the software they used at schools. If Linux gets a strong hold in the educational sector, Microsoft has lost the game in the long run.
"Proprietary software companies hand out free copies for the same
reason that cigarette companies give sample packs to college kids – to
encourage addiction." – R. Stallman
This is simple economics and a proven method to make money. The winner is not the user, it’s the corporation.
What FLOSS offers is a way out of these constraints. Although I’m not the biggest advocate of the Stallmanian philosophy of software freedom, here is where it matters the most.
OK, the kids might get addicted to FLOSS. So what? That’s at least a better drug than the one coming from the slippery salesman mr. M… You don’t know what has gone into that stuff.