Probably the best wrap-up on Blackboard absorbing WebCT is on Stephen Downes’ post. Stephen links to a lot of the commentary and criticisms post-merger. One anonymous poster showed some frustration with the merger, "We’ve customized WebCT over the years to fit our needs. We have to grow exponentially rather quickly due to legislative mandate, and there isn’t much choice here."
This is the reason that open source fits the academic, e-learning business model. Every time that some proprietary system is bought, sold or goes down the tube, then the institution has to figure out how to deal with a system that is no longer supported or upgraded. Open source is not just about free licenses, it also allows you to own your core technologies. For academic institutions doing business on the web, the LMS/LCMS/CMS is core technology. However, most institutions do not have the means to actually "own" a proprietary system. Enter open source.
Open source enables each insitution to join a community of users & developers and share in the vision of what the software should be (the dynamics of the community should be a key factor in selecting OSS). They can help to drive pedagogical models (such as Moodle and its constructivist model). Had WebCT been an open source system, and had the core developer community decided to take an extended vacation, then some of the existing WebCT users could get together and continue to develop & support the platform. This could be with internal resources or as a buyer share group from a third-party support company. One of the long-term benefits of open source is that you are not held hostage by your technology provider.
In order to achieve this independence, institutions have to take a slight risk. They have to give up the illusion that the vendor will handle all of their problems. Comments on Stephen’s post and on SlashDot indicate that there is little vendor support anyway.
This merger is a great opportunity for educational institutions to fully understand what is the optimal relationship between their learning services and their web technology.
PS: Thanks to Dave Cormier for the title.

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