Again, some interesting conversations going on in the comments section of the Smell the Pansies blog entry, as well as previous conversations. As I was reading some of the comments, I remembered that Jim over at Open Board Blog is an school board member and an open source advocate. In fact, many folks I know are open source advocates…but that does not make them free software advocates. In fact, I’d bet that most define “free” in “free and open source software (FOSS)” as $0 cost to the end user. That’s how I’ve always defined it, but now I see that “free” refers to principles of freedom, not cost.

That clarification aside, Jim promptly writes the following in his blog:

Personally speaking, I’m not sure if I’m either or perhaps a little of both. I do know in my position as a school board member I’m mostly interested in freeing our K-8 public school district from the long-term financial, legal and practical constraints of proprietary software and it’s onerous licensing. The obvious answer to me is to use more ‘free’ or ‘open source’ software, whatever title you want to give it. If you can also use it as an educational tool to teach kids about programming and hacking, all the better. But my fundamental goal is to free ourselves of needless restraints and spend less money. I give Richard Stallman the credit for making this choice possible for us.
Source: Are You Strident Enough?

In that one sentence (italics), Jim has captured my understanding of FOSS software. That’s exactly what I want to see happen in schools. We just don’t have the money to keep pouring down the throats of big business. Yet, a side-effect of FOSS in schools is that we free ourselves. This seems to go in opposition to what Peter Rock (GNUosphere) writes in the comments:

Open source does not include the message of freedom. However, free software includes the message of open source.

I disagree…it seems that free, open source software carries the message forward of freedom, something that we recognize. I certainly did not get the feeling of euphoria, of being FREE, FREE AT LAST! of switching from proprietary to open source at home. Or put another way, from impractical, expensive licenses of Windows OS to practical applications of open source at home. The excitement of being free didn’t come from not having to pay money–a fringe benefit–but from having a completely different set of options that enabled me to be creative, innovative with tools that had no penalty of illegal use hanging over them.

As I reflect on this, I do find myself agreeing with the powerful effects of being free using GNU/Linux, but wishing for the more practical aspects of open source and proprietary software co-existing. I’m not yet willing to forego proprietary solutions. Is leaving society behind, going off into the wilderness to experience freedom FROM oppression, trying to exercise the freedom TO do what is appropriate…is that an extreme?

Tom Hoffman asks, “Do you read my blogs?” Well, yes, but I lacked the schema to understand it. I’m not sure I understand it even now. That’s why I’ve written about this here…because there was/is a gap in my understanding, and I wanted to rely on my personal learning network to help me “get it.” Tom writes the following in his blog entry:

While this K-12 Open Technologies approach has the potential to help adoption of open standards, I think it does it at the expense of the open source software and the free software movement. They should not co-opt the open source name for their own purposes, or dilute its meaning in the minds of educators. If they want to promote free and open source software, they should simply do so. If they want to promote an open standard, they should do so. Just don’t use the name of some wealthy and prominent organizations to re-frame and water down the meaning open source software in education.

So, Tom, are you referring to CoSN’s K12 Open Technologies site? In reading this announcement:

According to CoSN’s April 2005 Primer on Open Technologies in K-12, open technologies and standards:

•Allow educators to pick one or more standards-compliant applications and know that they will all work together without a lot of customization;

•Permit school districts to mix and match proprietary software with open source applications; and

•Enable the sharing of data between applications, which eliminates redundant data entry and increases data integrity, security and privacy of information.

What I don’t understand is objections to this Open Technologies. As an educator, why do you object? In reading the descriptions of the open technologies term, I don’t see any watering down…and the potential for K-12 schools is there to realize the by-product other open source users stumble over when they make a commitment to using open source software–Freedom.

And, is open source still needed as the Read/Write Web takes hold?


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