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    Open source software can change the face of the education industry

    Open source software is becoming more prominent within education as more institutions turn towards it as a means in which to ease their pain points.

    A number of education institutions around the globe are looking towards open source software (OSS) as a means to gain more control over their solutions. From this a new report by independent market analyst Datamonitor predicts that spend on OSS (including maintenance and services) by the Education sector globally will reach $489.9 million by 2012, compared to $286.2 million today, providing sizeable opportunities for technology vendors. The report, Unlikely bedfellows - open source initiatives and commercial vendors in the education market, gives insight into how OSS is becoming more prominent in a number of geographies. The report goes on to note that if the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project - aimed at children in the developing world, proves successful it could have a large impact upon the education industry and OSS in turn.

    Institutions believe OSS will enable them to have further control over their solutions and bring an increased value from their product

    According to Datamonitor, OSS is proving a success because institutions believe that their current IT applications are falling at the wayside – and by using open source software, they will be able to gain further control over their solutions. With OSS, the code is open for all to see – thus developers can view the code of the software – and are free to make changes to the software. This means that institutions are able to make technological changes to the product. If there is an aspect of the technology that an institution finds is inappropriate for its needs, then the institution is able to adapt it as it sees fit.

    “Software lock-in is becoming a particular issue, with higher education institutions feeling that upgrades are forced upon them when they are neither needed nor wanted”, says Justin Davidson, Associate Analyst at Datamonitor and author of the study. “A number of institutions believe that proprietary solutions prevent them from effectively sharing their information and methodologies with each other – and that by implementing an OSS they can communicate shared learning methods and ideas. By adopting OSS, institutions can more effectively share upgrades and fix glitches in the software – along with other methodologies of software – specifically Learning Management Systems.”

    Open source is a risky option – Institutions should not take the decision of implementing an OSS lightly

    With open source, it is imperative that due care and attention are maintained – as there are a number of specific challenges that can occur when implementing OSS. For example, institutions may find that they stumble over a number of issues when attempting to implement OSS. Primarily among these issues is a lack of experienced personnel within an institution. Maintaining and upgrading open source solutions is not a simple process and while communities exist behind open source solutions, there is no one at the end of a phone to help fix glitches – as with proprietary software.

    If the OLPC project proves successful it could have a large impact upon the education industry
    The jury is still out on OLPC. However, if it proves successful, the program could have profound effects on the purchasing of technology within the education industry. It could open up technology to students within developing countries. Furthermore, it might force the hand of western technology vendors to ensure they provide affordable services to developing countries. Microsoft is offering a version of its Windows OS to developing countries for US$3 – which should help to ensure it maintains a foothold within the developing world. If OLPC becomes more successful it is likely other vendors will seek to gain headway within the developing markets by offering very cheap or free products.

    If OLPC does well, institutions in the west, especially K12 (secondary schools), may see it as a way to move forward – due to the vast cost savings. Already examples of OLPC being used in the west are occurring – in Alabama, in the US, they have agreed to purchase 15,000 XOs (the laptop from OLPC), for US$3 million for students from grade 1 to 8. If more institutions look towards the XO this could then force the hand of large proprietary vendors in terms of the services that they offer to education institutions. In essence western institutions might find the potential cost savings of the XO too great a temptation – and it is possible that the shape of education will change for good.

    Davidson concludes: “OLPC, to date, is in its infancy. So far, it has not been possible to judge its success with assisting developing countries to have widespread adoption of technology within education. However, it is possible that OLPC will have both an impact on education within not only the developing world but also the West – as education institutions look towards it as a way in which they can promote technology within their institution. Vendors need to consider the affect of this potential impact upon their business carefully – and how they may respond as education institutions seek to adopt OLPC, or a model similar to it. Importantly for vendors is that they don't see OLPC as a challenge but an opportunity to further develop and improve the services they offer to education institutions.”

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