The following is a trackback response to a post Miguel Guhlin wrote on December 26th relating to open source and intellectual property issues, in part raised by his viewing of the excellent “Free Culture” web-presentation by Lawrence Lessig.

I am with you on wanting to support open source alternatives, Miguel, but I don’t think the rest of the world is ready to follow suit yet. I have an upcoming article in the January edition of School Library Journal which elaborates more on why I hold this position. I don’t even think a critical mass is ready yet. I am not sure what will push them over the “tipping point” to move in this direction, but whatever that might be I don’t think it will happen in the next 1-2 years.

I do think diversity in operating systems is a bonus rather than a curse, however, as long as developers and designers follow accepted web standards. (Sadly this is not always the case.) The spread of viruses on similar computer operating systems emphasizes this point. Microsoft’s imminent efforts to transition those currently running Win2000 and WinXP to “Windows Vista” is going to be very important to watch in the next year. Maybe more people can be encouraged to “leave the dark side” of the Windows OS and come over to an alternative, whether that be an open source one or a commercial one like the Macintosh OS. Certainly the popularity of the iPod has been a big plus for Apple helping encourage more “Mac switchers.” I am not sure what could be used to similarly encourage teachers to use Linux instead of Windows, except the EXPERIENCE of using it themselves in a technology workshop… but of course in a school district purchasing context the teachers are not the most important ones to convince (although ideally they should be)– I think the district administrators and the IT leaders are the cornerstones of that decision.

Most adults (digital immigrants) are too set in their ways to change easily when it comes to computer operating systems, however. I have seen this plenty of times with just Windows/Macintosh discussions, much less open source / Linux discussions. The financial aspects of this may eventually prove most persuasive to school boards, esp if the MIT laptop initiative is successful and broadly embraced by several or many other countries worldwide. As schools can increasingly provide equivalent computer functionalities most of their users enjoy on a daily basis with a free operating system (Linux), open source software options, and web-based tools (web 2.0 technologies), it will look increasingly irresponsible from a fiscal standpoint to continue to pay thousands of dollars in licensing fees to Redmond. This is probably Uncle Bill’s greatest fear. But I hope it will become a reality. I think we are already seeing major trends in that direction, but I don’t think most users or school district technology folks are sharing this vision yet. Along the lines of this discussion, I think school districts should be purchasing WEB-BASED digital curriculum instead of software programs that run on a particular OS. This makes the legislative banner of robust bandwidth for all school districts (but especially rural ones) all the more important to take up in the months and years to come.

Even if a critical mass of people embraced open source operating system and software alternatives tomorrow, however, the issues of IP and copyright remain. They are related but not exactly the same.


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  • http://www.mguhlin.org/ Miguel Guhlin

    I disagree. The more we move towards web-based technologies, the greater our dependence on commercial systems that will increasingly regulate how we work, where we work, and more.

    By removing the power of computing, communication and collaboration from our hands–in the form of individual workstations that are increasingly connected on a free internet–we are placing the power in the hands of companies like Apple, Microsoft, Dell who are focused on trapping every dollar spent on tech.

    Even as we increase communications and collaboration, we must fight against commercialization. We can bring about change. . .it takes time. But that arena for that battle is not education. The change must be made in society, in the legislature, and that effort will transform education rather than teachers fighting for change in education. It’s as if some think the impetus for liberation would come from the peons enslaved and oppressed.

    Linux is a lifestyle choice, a decision to live free from commercial bounds. It is the ideal, but that state is far from ideal at this time. Nevertheless, we continue to work towards that because it presents the most significant alternative to a commercialized life where we are in a “Matrix” where reality is decided, determined by private companies. We increasingly have choice, and efforts to limit that choice (read my posts about how Digital Rights Management (also opposed by the EFF and Public Knowledge)) must be fought against…even if it means parting with our beloved Macs and Windows computers.

    Each of us is called to be a Moses to liberate and the staff will be free open source–ideas and software. Wes, are you ready to be Moses? How about Gandhi? I can see you, walking the streets in white robes, a staff in your hand, the people clamoring your name…go ahead, Wes, cast aside your dependence on the colonizing influences of your mind (e.g. Apple, Windows) and weave your own tale.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Well, I am not sure I am ready to take on a mantle of leadership that could be compared to either Moses or Ghandi, but we’ll just see where all this web 2.0 dialog and writing takes us, ok?! Maybe I am not immersed enough with the use of open source tools to “see the light” yet as you do, my friend! I think the banner of fighting commercialism can be a commendable one, but I think ultimately the commercial interests are going to remain with us for better or for worse, and what we can do most effectively is insist (through our purchasing power mainly) that they follow web-standards for maximum compatibility. I think open source tools are going to force commercial offerings to further define and differentiate themselves in the marketplace apart from what open source / free options can do without cost. Hopefully this dynamic will be positive from a creativity and innovation standpoint. The forces of old media that are behind DRM will continue to pose a substantial obstacle to progress in many arenas, however.

    I’m not ready to give up my Mac at this point! The multimedia stuff I can do with videos and DVDs is too powerful and cool. If LInux can provide this in the future, I’ll certainly consider it, but I am guessing that by that point Macintosh will be further innovating along other lines. I strongly suspect we’ll see a Macintosh tablet powerbook/iBook soon. I think companies like Apple will be constantly pushing both the design and functionality envelopes, and other commercial entities as well as open source options will strive to keep up. Do most users need this sort of cutting-edge power and capability. Currently with what people do, maybe not? But the future is dynamic. I don’t see all commercial entities as equally evil.

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  • http://openboardblog.blogspot.com JimMc

    Ok, ok, the referee is stepping in here. Wes says we need to move towards web-based technologies and apps, and Miguel says we can’t become dependent on outside commercial interests (I say both from an economical AND a technical support standpoint). You’re both right (is that wishy-washy enough for you?). To me, the Internet is the mainframe of the 21st century. It makes PC operating systems irrelevant. You can run anything from anywhere. But remember, we have both the Internet and INTRANETS. That can alleviate Miguel’s valid concern about losing control. Install web apps for your network on your own web server. Is my thinking totally off-base here?

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