I Was Just Thinking…

Why did I become a fan of Open Source

It was 8 or 9 years ago as the CTO of a small rural institution that I began implementing open source solutions for the enterprise. I had always been frustrated that many innovative technologies were out of the financial reach of my institution but the demands for services were continually increasing.I do call this the Dilbert Directive.
See Dilbert Directive Here
The typical scenario in which I discovered many wonderful solutions were out of reach financially usually went like this:
1) Go to conference and listen to engineer or other brilliant geek give a fabulous presentations about a given product (they almost always profess to never know anything about pricing)
2) Corner the sales person at the exhibit hall booth they tell you they need more info about your situation and they may or may not give you pricing info to start with
3) Bug them long enough and they finally say “Don’t hold me to this” or “This is only list pricing” or maybe even “Wow that is really small” when you talk to them about the size of your institution.
4) Extrapolate a ball park pricing base on years of chasing whatever the lastest “holy grail” of the that particular area of technology happens to be at a given time
5) Walk away… knowing your financial reality does not match up with what it would cost to successfully and sustainably deploy the technology discussed at a given meeting.
Experiencing this year after year was very frustrating and that in conjunction with Vendor Churn was very discouraging. Vendor Churn, which I and others define as: “Vendors changing processes which force upgrades and revisions in a pattern which you the user/customer have no control over.” This usually occurs when the flow of new sales dries up and the company finds a need to stimulate sales thus causing you to churn through an endless cycle of changes you may or may not want. These and other issues led me to continually long for alternative solutions.
The first alternative solution I encountered which really made an impact on the way I viewed software was my introduction to the Modular Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment…AKA Moodle in 2004. Prior to my introduction to Moodle, I had not encountered a group of technologists who had a passion for a particular technology product, who believed in what they were doing, and who had an agenda for the product which did not involve trying to sell me something. Prior to this time I had not experienced this pragmatic open source ideology. Gutek (2004) defines ideology as the shared beliefs and values of a group with a commonality which bestows upon its members a sense of “belonging, or identity, holds them together, and provides their agendas for action” (p. 142). In the early days of open source many participants felt an ideological pull to the open source movement according to Pfaffenberger (2001) who says the ideological passion for the movement from the beginning stems from a grave threat to the advancement of knowledge and human welfare created the free or open source software movement of the 1980s because the realization a for-profit industry was about to lock up indispensable public knowledge. Technologists drawn to open source are serious and to a degree idealistic; however, idealism generally does not get in the way of a pragmatic solution to a problem. Stallman (2002) says open source is not the same as free software. The difference between the two movements is in their values, their ways of looking at the world. For the open source movement, the issue of whether software should be open source is a practical question. An open source project is started to solve a real world need, not an ethical one. Stallman states, “Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement.” For the Open Source movement, non-free software is a suboptimal solution. For the Free Software movement, non-free software is a social problem and free software is the solution.
I was a teacher before I was an IT director so it has always been a focus of mine to think about how technology decisions impact the primary purpose of an institution.  





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