Jan 26, 2007
The following question was posted on a mailing list recently, and I thought it was quite relevant to anyone looking into Open Source Software (OSS.)

"I have been asked to investigate the use of open source software to replace existing proprietary packages. I would be interested in why you have or have not used open source software and, if you are using it, what you are using and how is it working. I am specifically looking at office suites, e-mail clients, and desktop OS. We currently use Microsoft Office, Exchange, and Windows 2000 and XP for our desktop OS. "

This sort of question is becoming more and more common in K-12 today. While the "whys" and "why nots" are important, approach is at least equally, if not more important than the "whys." My response:

We use open source extensively in our district, on both the server and the desktop. There are plenty of resources on the web discussing the effectiveness of open source in K-12 environments, but for backup regarding your specific interest, I would start with CoSN's open technologies web site at http://www.k12opentech.org. This site is aimed at K12 CTOs interested in open technologies, and has a particularly interesting case study on Indiana, which is well on their way through a significant desktop initiative.

That said, I would consider approaching this a little differently. People have a tendency to rebel when you use words like "replace" and "Microsoft Office" in the same sentence. Once an attitude of "we don't want that" has been established, it can be quite difficult to overcome down the road, when you are ready to make a big push.

We have found that a more organic, viral approach to implementation is far more effective (and better received) than pursuing a cut and switch. Get some open source software into your people's hands by passing out Open CD's (http://www.theopencd.org) at every tech related meeting you attend. Be sure to hand everyone a PRINTED copy of what's on the CD, and what it does (you can find a pdf on our web site, if you would like,) otherwise, the CD will get lost in a pile of miscellaneous other stuff and never looked at. Offer to put Linux desktop software on older machines and use them to build mini-labs wherever you can. Remove specific applications, such as Microsoft Office, from your tech standards and documents, focusing rather on skills instead of specific software packages. Deploy all your machines with OSS software pre-installed on them, and remove proprietary packages from your system standard, instead requiring that proprietary packages be specifically requested when ordering machines through your department. Offer training on OSS on staff development days, even mini-conferences or tech days. Unobtrusive, gradual exposure is the key.


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  1. Nicely stated. Now we need to plan some workshops for Open Office. And if the teachers had access to that little instruction booklet, that would be great also.

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