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The great myth about open source

February 6, 2009

The great myth about open source is that in order to adopt an open source application like Sakai, Kuali, or Moodle is that you have to hire developers to support it. It baffles me that this is still how most CIOs seem to understand the option: They can either purchase proprietary software, or they can adopt open source and replace the license fees with development staff.

There’s a conversation underway today on the EDUCAUSE CIO list about whether one could look to open source applications like Moodle (or Sakai) as a way to deal with the enormous financial pressure today and the severe budget cuts many are experiencing.

It’s disappointing that the conversation is a simplistic comparison of license cost vs. hiring developers. The reality that open source can be easily aquired and supported with the help of companies that specialize in supporting open source is entirely missing. Yet most institutions who adopt open source do so with help from a company that supports it. The Mellon Foundation who supports a lot of open source projects in Education estimated that most of the software they’ve helped develop is adopted this way. I think it was ~ 70%. And there can be considerable savings. rSmart did a simple comparison last year between Sakai and Blackboard, for example.

As a community there’s still a lot of education that needs to take place. Many just don’t fully understand the options they have. And while there are many benefits to the open source path beyond cost savings, there can be significant cost savings. And it’s an important time to understand how to benefit from them.

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