On Open Resources in Schools

A wide range of expenses consumes educational technology budgets. Very obvious expenses marked the cyclic spending that characterized the first decades of educational computing; computers arrived in boxed, as did software on disks to be inserted into the computers. As networks were installed, expenses became more hidden from users. Servers, routers, and switches (each with a price tag comparable to multiple desktop computers) tend to be installed in closets and back rooms. Those devices all require expensive software that is maintained by subscription; these recurring costs allow the systems to function, but add to the cost of owning the device. With the arrival of networks, software and other services were accessed via networks, so software downloads and license keys replaced disks for installations.

Coinciding with the transitions described above has been the increasing availability of open source software. An individual or a group will write open source programs, then release it, and allow others to make copies and distribute it without paying license fees. The open source community is highly collaborative, and the person who writes the original program will often seek the active participation of others to improve the performance of and add new features to the software.

While technical support is usually not available for open source software (one way programmers make a living in the open source community is by selling support services), there is usually a large and active community that poses questions and problems. The solutions are then made available on the Internet, thus completing the open nature of the community of users. For many purposes, open source software provides functionality equal to (or better than) that available from expensive proprietary software. 

In many schools, open source software has been used to minimize demands on technology budgets. Ubuntu, a version a Linux, has been developed as an alternative to Windows, and it is not uncommon to find it in schools. In addition, many pieces of open source software for managing data and networks are available. Most technology professionals are comfortable with the nuances of using this software that can decrease the ease of use for less experienced users.