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On a regular basis we see studies claiming that the way forward in effective IT is with open source concepts. This means open source software, Linux desktops, Linux servers, Linux embedded devices, and the list just keeps on expanding.
At the same time, the forces behind big label proprietary software applications rail back against open source by saying the open source approach to enterprise needs will end up costing more money in the long run. And in instances where FUD doesn't work, these same companies ride along with the old "legacy software" argument, explaining how open source solutions simply cannot match up in quality to their proprietary counterparts.
Now here's the interesting part. There have been poorly promoted news stories by the mainstream press in which non-profits, libraries and schools have gone with open source solutions only to realize a substantial savings in terms of overall cost. So while the enterprise world continues to grapple with the perceived "expense" of making the switch, some entities not trying to earn a profit appear to be making a successful go at it.
In this article, Ill explore which applications have allowed non-profits, libraries and schools to make the move over to Linux and web-based services and away from a licensing nightmare brought to us by our friends in the proprietary software universe.
Schools making the grade
In the States, we still see limited grants from proprietary application vendors that helps their software continue to make its way into the classroom. But when more computers are needed, the schools often find they are on their own when it's time to expand on existing inventory. Either this free proprietary software comes on a gifted computer for a PR stunt or not at all.
Now with shrinking budgets for proprietary software licenses, more than ever schools here in the States are positioned to embrace the value of an open source desktop experience using Linux thin clients, multi-seat configurations, or dedicated single use PCs.
This translates into users being able to utilize less hardware resources while servicing more individual users. This means that students, non-profits and even libraries can keep up with the latest technological advances without a huge outpouring of funds.
In countries throughout the world, I've seen schools jumping onto the Linux bandwagon at an amazing pace of adoption. Countries with limited financial resources have made the switch to the Linux way of doing things almost completely. Closer to home, I've seen evidence that Canada is also embracing the Linux experience more each day. Yet here in the States, Linux/ open source adoption seems to spend a lot of time in a holding pattern. Why?
I'd start with empty promises from proprietary software companies, the belief that we must ready students trained in a given proprietary OS, among similar issues, which have long been a limiting factor for open source in American schools.
To counter this, I believe the solution will come from efforts like SchoolForge as it can serve as a resource for schools looking to unplug from the proprietary software treadmill. Some of the most valuable offerings from this resource include the coveted SIS (student information systems) software. Solutions provided at the SchoolForge portal demonstrate that running a school and a classroom without a proprietary operating system is actually quite doable.
Open source applications like iTALC that run on both Windows and Linux systems, allow schools to decide which operating platform is going to be the best choice for their classrooms. For most Linux distributions, iTALC is available both in its master and client installation formats.
Perhaps just as important, iTALC's Windows support means that schools can test out the idea of running an open source classroom before they bother switching operating systems. Sort of a safe way to try things out before making any longer term commitments with a new kind of software licensing scheme.
Bundled with other open source applications like ClaSS, Open Admin and a number of great learning management systems, schools are able to spend more time on teaching and less time finding funds for similar proprietary software alternatives.
Looking to the local library
I've been told that a growing number of public libraries are now embracing open source solutions to manage patrons, books and other related activities. Some of the software that has made this possible includes applications like the following.
The Evergreen Project: Described as a software suite that helps patrons find library material such as books, etc. Compatible with both school and public library type environments.
Koha Integrated Library System: Considered a full-featured library management system, Koha provides features found with Evergreen in addition to being an application that runs within the browser. This means less hassle with client software updates.
In both the above cases, you will find that a library will be able to take either software product and run with it for their needs. However, I have been told on countless occasions that Koha is just "easier" to use and maintain.
So what about Linux desktop computers within the Library? Does Linux make sense for PCs used by patrons looking for some quick computer access? In this blog post from 2007, we see one librarian who took it upon herself to offer new life to some older PCs with a fresh installation of the Ubuntu Linux. Keep in mind, these PCs were donated. Access to the Linux desktop allowed these older PCs the chance to provide service to the community members who visited that local library.
Non-profits profiting from Linux freedom
Like public schools and libraries, non-profits also have a vested interest in making sure every dollar taken in will be used to its fullest. Therefore using donated hardware and Linux with open source software is the only way to go if the end goal is proper management of the donation received.
What kind of software can today's non-profits expect to find available for Linux? SourceForge is loaded up with countless applications designed for donation management, database work and organizational management needs. Some great examples include the following apps:
AGENCY: Case management software for non-profits.
Volunteer database: Provides front-end control for reviewing and managing non-profit volunteers.
Install both of these applications onto the preferred Linux distribution sought out by any given non-profit, and the rest takes care of itself. Office suite needs are handled by OpenOffice (now LibreOffice), while other default Linux applications will generally fill in the gaps with anything else.
The high cost of switching to Linux
Does using open source software cost more with maintenance and training than its proprietary counterparts? There are those who seem to think so.
Then how have schools, libraries and non-profits managed to make the switch to Linux work for them when clearly they have a smaller percentage of spendable funds available than do their for-profit counterparts? Seems like something is amiss here. Yes, some schools that have switched have moved back to proprietary software in some instances. But there are also many that have not.
Why? What is it that allows these community-based entities to make Linux work for them while big business continues making excuses on how it cannot be done? Sounds like someone is either lazy, disinterested or would rather stick to spending money on the familiar.
At the very least, we need to see much more Linux adoption in the public sector. Clearly hiring a small IT firm or bringing on someone full time to manage the Linux magic is working for many who have switched. Shouldn't those receiving limited funds within local governments also look into this as well? I mean, isn't it time we finally opened up government contracts to all software companies?
So what does all of this mean and how can we as individuals put everything above into perspective? I think making the information about the value of moving to Linux is a good start. Most of us are not working at libraries, running non-profits or handling IT for local school districts. Therefore, we must do what we can to promote the successes of those who do work in this world and have made a successful switch to Linux.
Clearly, not every "switch to Linux" is going to have a happy ending. Sometimes, switching from proprietary to open source mid-stream is not the most cost effective approach. Yet as centralized control in IT management becomes more accessible, I think we'll see a greater likelihood of groups turning away from the proprietary licensing treadmill looking to open source solutions for better alternatives. We just need to ensure that when the research is being done, positive examples are being shown to those who will listen.