Posts Categorized: OpenSource

Open Source Seminar

These are my notes and some of the thoughts behind a presentation on open source that I will be giving in Moncton on Wednesday June 9th. The link shows my four points that I have promised to present.

I have only been seriously looking at open source and all of its ramifications since last September, when I started to post information for my clients and colleagues. Any comments or feedback would be greatly appreciated. If anyone is planning on attending, you can see here if it will be worth your while. of course, some changes will be made to this outline in the next few days.

What is open source software?
According to Wikipedia, an open-content online dictionary open source software ?��Ǩ?�generally is any computer software whose source code is either in the public domain or, more commonly, is copyrighted by one or more persons/entities and distributed under an open-source license such as the GNU General Public License (GPL). Such a license may require that the source code be distributed along with the software, and that the source code be freely modifiable, with at most minor restrictions, such as a requirement to preserve the authors’ names and copyright statement in the code, a concept known as copyleft.?��Ǩ��

According to The Cluetrain Manifesto (1999), "Markets are conversations." and "People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products." Read the other 94 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto and then look at World of Ends (2003), which states that "The Internet’s Three Virtue are – 1. No one owns it 2. Everyone can use it 3. Anyone can improve it.

Building once, and selling to many at no additional cost, is a model for making money, but not a model for innovation. Unfortunately, this is the model for proprietary software development. The Internet has enabled enormous collaboration opportunities, at minimal cost. I believe that interconnected people and organizations can work together in sharing their know-how at a reasonable price, without huge software license fees eating most of the budget.

Technogy should enable innovation, not stifle it.

The Business Case for Open Source

Information technology infrastructure should not be the largest cost of any human performance or learning project.

It is not your technology that gives you a competitive advantage but your company’s strategy, leadership and the talent of your workforce.

Licensing from a trusted collaborative partner saves money and leaves the technology open to further development.

By driving down the cost of software or content, the open source model frees capital for other projects, thereby fostering innovation.

Most of the market leading products in the learning content management space (and other enterprise applications) are so costly that many organizations cannot pay the price of admission. Let’s face it, most organizations do not need a space shuttle to go to their mailbox.

What Others Have to Say

A recent article on The Myths of Open Source in CIO Magazine, stated that open source is not really about free software. Open Source is about standards, like internet protocol, which enable collaborative development. By giving access to source code, new applications can be developed quickly and collaboratively. If your organisation needs to collaborate, you probably need open source.

In April 2003, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) urged the Canadian Treasury Board to support the use of open source and open standards. CATA believes that open source ?��Ǩ?�provides a foundation for lowering costs while increasing stability, scalability and security. This change in procurement strategy [by the Canadian government] provides an opportunity for our members to capture new markets?��Ǩ��.

Business Models

Focusing on Open Source allows a consulting services company to have discussions with clients focused on solving pressing problems while presenting broad options to the economic buyer.

Proprietary software development is usually controlled by a single company, with clear business objectives. Sometimes these objectives do not align with the overall market need. For instance, a proprietary software company was recently asked if its new application would be available in another language. A group of potential users even volunteered to do the translation, but the company was not interested. If this application was Open Source, the users could have gone ahead and translated the application presentation layer. Open Source applications can spread to marginal markets, such as developing countries, very quickly.

Buyer Cooperative
Here is an example of a business model, based on a for-profit cooperative, aimed at reducing members’ dependence on IT vendors. Project Avalanche is a cooperative which serves the technology needs of a wide variety of companies. The members pay an annual fee and share software, intellectual property, and further development costs. The business structure and legal framework also mean that members have a secure right to the use of any collaboratively-developed software. Analyst, Patricia Seybold says, ?��Ǩ?�By sharing, evolving, and managing the quality control of each other?��Ǩ�Ѣs software – software that is destined for deployment in large enterprise applications – and sharing best practices and other IP, corporate developers will be able to move much faster at lower cost. Project Avalanche is also a needed whack in the side of the head for today?��Ǩ�Ѣs commercial software companies?��Ǩ���it will give them lots of opportunities both to be more competitive and more coop-erative. That?��Ǩ�Ѣs a good thing.?��Ǩ��

Open Source Learning Applications

Screenshots and quick explanations here.


Intellum Open Core

Demonstrations I will provide:

Open Office (a common entry-point for individuals into the world of open source)
ACollab (Community of Practice)
Drupal CMS (Weblog)

Creative Commons

A quick overview for those who have never heard of the Creative Commons.

CC = somewhere between no rights reserved, and all rights reserved

Basic CC License Components

Derivative Works

Other Commons Licenses:

Public Domain (not really a license)
CC-GNU-GPL and CC-GNU-LGPL (for software)
Recombo (for creative mixing)
Founders’ Copyright (as originally intended, for 14 years)

Also will explain iCommons Canada

Good manners are still important

Even in the world of open source, open content and open culture there are social norms that those in the corporate world should be aware of. If not, their bad manners might be blogged around the world. Sebastian Fiedler’s comments on Lisa Neun crashing Blogwalk 2.0:

So, good folks out there in open culture, if you spot any corporate Lisa busting your grassroots, low-budget, organized in your free-time, self-financed gathering… either give the poor thing a free-ride (but beware… this might trigger a paradigm shift without a clutch… Dilbert readers probably remember this one), or simply bill the freaking organization she belongs to.

Let’s all remember our manners folks.

On Open Source

I re-read Thomas Goetz’s article "Open Source is Everwhere" in last November’s Wired Magazine, to try to focus on the real reasons for favouring open source. I want to reassure myself that I’m not becoming dogmatic in my support of OS systems. This quote from the end of the article resonated with me:

Open source is often framed as an attack on the corporate world at large. But in fact, the open source approach can be a boon for companies. Licensing from a trusted collaborative project saves money and leaves the technology open to further development. By showing corporations that a closed, defensive approach to intellectual property can be less efficient than liberal licensing, Cambia and a few other open source efforts are leading the way to the mainstream.
In this light, where corporations are part of the model, open source suddenly becomes something less marginal and more ingenious. It forces industry to reckon with openness rather than hide behind intellectual property. In driving down the cost of software or encyclopedias or biotechnology, open source is unleashing billions in capital otherwise put to woefully inefficient ends. Just because it’s not about making money first doesn’t mean it won’t make money second (just ask the folks who bought their mansions with Red Hat shares).

Openness is pretty much like democracy; and I can’t see many reasons against it. The same for lower costs and increased efficiencies. I also like the idea that open source is still about making money, because we all have to feed our ourselves and our families. What I like best about open source is that the development process is a real meritocracy, much like being an entrepreneur. In small business, if you don’t deliver, you can’t make an honest living.

Ontario Department of Education Signs with Star Office

As a follow-up from a previous post on open source in government, it’s good to see the Ontario Department of Education has signed an agreement with Sun Microsystems to use Star Office. Star Office and its open source (free) version Open Office provide Microsoft compatible desktop applications for documents, spreadsheets, presentations and PDF export. Star Office retails for $(CA)79.95 but, according to the IT Business report:

Financial details of the arrangement were not disclosed, but Sun Canada’s director for education and research Lynne Zucker said that the fee was minimal.

I had suggested a similar solution to the Government of New Brunswick as well as the Department of Education, and received a nice e-mail for my suggestion. Perhaps Ontario’s example will lead to our province examining the use of open source software in government. It might even keep my taxes down. Via Seb.

Open Source CMS

A very good overview by James Robertson on the pros and cons of using an open source content management system.

Community-based CMS: these systems are best suited for organisations that have strong internal development resources, as customisation will need to be conducted in-house (in the absence of commercial support). This makes them unsuitable for any project requiring ‘out of the box’ deployment.
Commercially-supported CMS: these systems should be evaluated like any other commercial product. While the licensing cost is zero, the system must match business needs.

ATutor 1.4 soon to be released

ATutor has announced the latest version of its open source, standards compliant LCMS, which should be available in a couple of weeks. The new version 1.4 includes:

Templates for creating your own custom look-and-feel
Roles & Privileges for students to create teaching assistants or additional instructors
Automatically marked tests
Search the TILE learning objects repository, and import content packages directly into ATutor by entering a URL
Evaluate content with the content editor accessibility checker to ensure learning materials conform with international accessibility standards
Visual Content Editor (currently disabled) format content without knowing any HTML
ACollab Groups for running group activities within ATutor courses, as well as file sharing, managing assignment submissions, collaborative document authoring and archiving, and more (also available as a standalone)

I will be putting the standalone version of ACollab through its paces in a short while, and will provide a detailed evaluation of this platform as we go along.

Buying into Open Source?

Though directed at the K-12 academic market, the Open Options site by the Northwest Educational Technology Consortium is still the best single resource that I’ve found for any organisation wanting a balanced perspective on using open source software. The site covers everything from total cost of ownership to the philosophy of open source. There are other sites that will give you more specific details (click on the "OpenSource" taxonomy link, under the heading of this post, for a number of references and comments).

In a recent evaluation of four systems that I conducted for a client, I was very impressed by the functionality of the open source LMS when compared to established vendors. Many open source systems now offer support services for a fee, providing additional assurance to users. When looking at open source or proprietary systems, you have to "compare apples with apples", and most importantly, understand your own needs before you make comparisons. Marketing experts tell us that most purchases are made for emotional reasons, so it’s best to establish your criteria before you go shopping.

Universities and Course Management Systems

Steve Epstein responds to an article in Syllabus describing the purchase of a proprietary course management system. Epstein feels that universities should not purchase CMS because they would be provided for free by content providers (read: textbook publishers). Epstein states:

In doing her financial analysis, Pletcher reported that she "considered license fee, plus five years maintenance, plus installation costs." Missing from the analysis are the cost of faculty development and the cost of faculty support. While these costs will continue with any campus based CMS, they are not necessary. Moreover, the cost of the present system, $3.3 million over five years, could be reduced to zero.
The cost of a CMS system is not necessary because publishers will provide them for free. For several years, leading publishers have provided electronic content that can be imported into many leading CMS. If the school paid for a CMS, this content can be used with the college’s system. If the school does not pay for the CMS, the content can still be used.

This potential model, of paying for the content and not the delivery system, shows that once again the medium of the Internet is spawning new business models. Any purchaser of technology systems has to clearly understand what the possible business models are – or wind up spending $3.3M more than was necessary.

Moodle’s Latest Version 1.2.1

Moodle, an open source course management system, based on a constructivist learning model, has released its latest version. What caught my interest was:

There are over 1,000 registered Moodle users in 75 countries
Moodle has a WebCT quiz import
WYSIWYG editor
"The new multilang filter allows texts to be entered in multiple languages, and only the best one will be shown to each user (depending on their language setting)" [ I like that!]

Keep up the good work Martin.