It’s that time of year when around 30,000 educationalists from all over the world descend on Olympia in London for the annual edu-geek-out that is BETT.
I’ve been going to BETT now for 3 or 4 years as an exhibitor or just helping to promote Open Source and Free Software with other like minded members of our amazing community.
This year we helped our friends and colleagues at Open Source Schools and Open Forum Europe on the Open Source Café. The simple objective of the show was to inform the education sector about Open Source and where to find help, advice and common ground with peers who’ve “been there” and “done that” already.
This year was, frankly, quite exceptional.
The stand received financial sponsorship from Red Hat, Linux IT, University of London Computing Centre and The Learning
Machine (Ingots) for which everyone is very grateful. Canonical, the commercial entity behind Ubuntu very kindly provided us with 600 Ubuntu 9.10 CDs (500 Desktop and 100 Server) to give away (thanks Larry) and there were a similar number of CDs containing a great collection of Education-centric Open Source desktop applications for Windows from Free Software for Students that was compiled and produced by Peter Kemp and David Wilmut. That’s around 1200 CDs in total full of completely Free goodness and fun. We encouraged all the recipients to copy, share and pass them on too! At the end of the show we had only a few (quite literally) of each remaining.
An interesting sum was carried out: The value of equivalent proprietary software was estimated to be over £4000 for the pair of CDs – I actually think that is rather low considering the volume of stuff in the Ubuntu repos including several real Enterprise grade applications such as OpenERP and Alfresco – so we have potentially delivered a net saving to the education sector of at least £2.5m. And of course this does not include all the free copies that will be made and passed around!I noticed a real sea-change between this show and last year’s. I don’t actually recall speaking to one school or Local Authority this show that had no-idea of, or that wasn’t aware that they were using, Open Source Software. Most were really proud of their achievements, many were rolling out or had completed roll outs of OpenOffice.org rather than waste many thousands of pounds on unnecessary & proprietary Office Application Suite Licenses. Many more used and raved about Audacity – the ubiquitous audio capture and editing tool. No one I spoke with was reticent toward Open Source and many were keen to talk and share their experiences. This is what the Open Source Schools project is all about: using the principles of FOSS; of community, collaboration and sharing, and providing a location for this to happen. If you are involved in education and have any interest in Open Source, or even better are an expert, get involved and share your experience and knowledge gained.
We also found time to meet up with friends and colleagues from Sirius, Mark Taylor and John Spencer. Sirius has been very successful in the education sector, they are the only Open Source vendor to be on Becta’s “approved supplier list”, and were nominated for an award this year for the work they and North West Learning Grid put in to the National Digital Resource Bank.
The national digital resource bank will deliver a vast range of publicly funded resources under a creative commons licence and populate your learning platforms, preparing them for effective use.
It will also create a sharing community of educators who will identify, review and improve a common set of national digital assets.
The world is really changing very fast. I go to parties and find people in all walks of life (i.e. not IT professionals) who are aware of Open Source, Governments are (some faster than others admittedly) waking up to the reality that FOSS provides significant benefits over proprietary software in many ways more than just money, and Enterprises are adopting not just Open Source Software but the principles behind it too to make their own businesses better.
BETT 2010 confirmed this trend in spades. Roll on BETT 2011.
Miles from Open Source Schools and one of the organisers of the event has also posted a review of the show that you can read here.
My eldest son James, who’s 9, suggested something to me on Saturday morning over breakfast that made me quite proud and very chuffed.
The conversation went something like this:
“Really James? Do you think so?”
“Yes, you’d have to be CRB checked [sic], but you could come and explain about Ubuntu. If Mr. Jeffs [The Headmaster] knew about it we’d have more money to spend on useful things for the school.”
“That’s interesting James, what do you mean?”
“Well, Ubuntu is free isn’t it. So we wouldn’t have to buy Microsoft Windows any more. And it is better than Windows isn’t it. And it doesn’t get viruses like Windows either does it Dad. So I’m sure Mr. Jeffs would think that it’s a really good thing…”
Both my kids use Ubuntu at home; they are 5 & 9. They skip easily between Ubuntu & the Windows machines they use at school and with their friends. They also switch without difficulty between applications too. When necessary James does his homework in OpenOffice.org and takes a USB stick to school with the files saved in a nasty proprietary format.
Seems like I’d better write a nice letter to Mr Jeffs then hadn’t I?
Since I wrote about getting the Windows license fee refunded on my Asus 1008HA netbook here in the UK, there have been more examples where individuals have had some success.
First we had a story on slashdot in the USA that seemed to be inspired by my own:
Today Amazon credited my card with $65.45. After ordering an Eee PC 1005 HA from amazon.com, I asked them for a refund for the cost of Windows XP via the ‘Contact us’ form. At first they told me to cancel any items on my order that I wanted a refund for, but after I explained that XP was pre-installed on the machine they got it. They asked what the cost of the OS was, and I answered that I had no idea but that Amazon UK refunded £40.00. Within a few hours I got a response saying ‘I’ve requested a refund of $65.45 to your Visa card.’
Then we had some tales of difficulty in getting the refund from Amazon and Ebuyer, although I guess they will capitulate in the end as it seems the law is on our side:
If the retailer is awkward, then the way to a refund is avoid the trap of following the instructions in the EULA. Instead you request that the retailer replace the software with a version that isn’t ‘faulty’ (ie doesn’t have the additional terms and conditions imposed). You didn’t agree to them when you purchased the item and therefore they don’t form part of the contract of sale with the retailer.
The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 requires that the retailer replace the faulty item, or if that is impossible provide you with a refund. The Sale of Goods Act gives you the right to partially reject items. Essentially you assert your ’statutory rights’.
Simos Xenitellis writes about trying to acquire a machine sans Windows Tax. And finds a few locations. I note that the first comment to his post is suggesting he visit our own site http://nakedcomputers.org for more bare-metal suppliers.
It is very difficult to buy a computer without Windows (that is, to buy it with either Linux, FreeDOS or no OS) in the European market.
Why would you want to buy a laptop without pre-installed Windows?
1. Because you are simply not going to use Windows (for example, you plan to use a Linux distribution)
2. Because your school has an Developer Academic Alliance (formerly MSDN AA) with Microsoft and they provide the Windows software for you
3. Because your organisation has a company-wide agreement for Microsoft software, and you do not wish to pay twice for Windows.
4. Because you somehow have a Windows license or Windows package installation box already.
Sadly, when talking to the sales personnel of a manufacturer, it might look an easier strategy to just mention points 2 or 3. There is already some prior knowledge with the sales personnel that large organisations do not need the pre-installed Windows software.
And then we have Venkat Raghavan who has just bought an Asus 1005HA, again from Amazon, inspired by the earlier mentioned Slashdot article, and with not too much trouble has managed to get the Windows Tax refunded:
I’ve been a linux user for quite a while now. I looked to buy a netbook without Windows on it, but due to market conditions, that did not seem possible.
Based on this slashdot article, I went ahead and ordered the same item. (see my report on it here)
The first conversation was over the phone, which did not get me anywhere.
I had better luck over email. They offered me a refund of 10% on the price of the netbook, along with keeping Windows on it.
I however, asked again pointing to the slashdot article and after that they refunded me the price of Windows XP according to the article: $65.45
Thank you amazon for being so awesome!
That’s great. Congratulations on your perseverance and success.
Awesome news from Engadget about the open source future of the next generation of Eee PCs. Their ‘spies’ have uncovered information that the first Moblin-running Eee netbooks will be in stores come October. Asus, the Eee PC manufacturer, is apparently considering making open source OSes an option for all their netbooks in the future.
Please keep up the pressure dear readers. If you buy a computer where you do not “need” a Windows license, for whatever reason (see Simos’ suggestions for 4 of them above) then make sure you contact your supplier and request a refund. By all means use links and reports gathered around the ‘net to support your claim.
Hmmm, I think feel a new website idea brewing….
I installed Ubuntu on the machine. Everything worked out of the box (a firmware update was needed to speed up the Intel Wifi) and I was a happy customer. Because I don’t use the pre-installed Windows partition, I sent a polite e-mail to Dell requesting a refund for the license of Microsoft Windows and Works. I just stressed I was a happy customer (I am) and didn’t want to return the laptop. I didn’t accept the EULA and asked for an address to send the Windows restore DVDs.
The answer was fast and professional:
Thank you for contacting Dell online customer service.
We will not be collecting the software CD’s from you, but would arrange for the amount to be refunded back to your account.
Please allow 5-7 business days for the amount to get reflected on your account.
And indeed, a few days later € 96,78 was added to my credit card. That’s what I call a customer service WIN.
I found this on my Google News reader this morning.
Australia’s open source community leaders have written an open letter to Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard calling for consideration of free and open source software in the implementation of the Digital Education Revolution for the National Secondary School Computer Fund.
The letter, signed by 10 local open source professionals, calls for greater use of free and open source software in schools, particularly with the election promise of $1000 to fund a computer for every secondary student in the country.
You can read the letter in full at the same URL: www.techworld.com.au/article/251554/open_source_community_pushes_canberra_school_computer_fund, bet here’s the key paragraph:
… We urge you to consider the cost-saving implications of advocating the use of free and open source software in schools to further the aims of the digital education revolution and maximise the impact of this critical investment in the future.
Although I applaud and condone the sentiment behind the letter, I can’t help but feel that concentrating on one single aspect of FOSS (the cost) was rather missing a trick here. As we approach the BETT show next week and my head is firmly in FOSS-in-Education mode right now I think there are other really great features of FOSS that are in my opinion at least as, if not even more, important than cash:
- The Freedom to Study the software. As Alan Bell so eloquently put it the other day, this freedom to study should be mandated by all Governments where educational software is concerned. When you attend other types of creative classes (woodworking, car mechanics, chemistry for example) the whole point is to learn how things work and how to use tools to make new stuff. With ICT (as it is called here in the UK) based on proprietary software, you cannot even ask how it works, or how it could be improved. Talk about how to kill curiosity.
- The second point that greatly concerns me, is that by relying on proprietary software in the publicly funded education sector, when your children come home with digital school work (in proprietary binary formats), the educator is essentially expecting every parent to buy and use the same software as is used in schools. At the very least, schools should be also mandated to use Open Standard Formats for digital documents so that parents are free to choose what software suits them rather than be dictated too.
So, whilst I do wholeheartedly support the goals of the request in the letter to the Australian minister, I really think they have missed an opportunity to highlight other significant benefits of FOSS to the wider community as well as just the teachers.
On a technical level, there are other significant benefits too: Virus and Malware Freedom, increased reliability, extending life of existing hardware, flexibility to change (want to use/test/investigate Suse, Fedora, Ubuntu Server? Simple).
Of course I may be lacking some information as to why the letter is so brief and succinct. Perhaps it is about as long a letter as the minister is capable of reading or something, but I’d love to hear more on this from those in-the-know so to speak.
Whilst I’m thinking about it, perhaps we could all collaborate and come up with a list of compelling and virtually inarguable reasons for why our educators should be using FOSS wherever possible.
Come on then. Give us your best shot!
Next week, we’ll be exhibiting at BETT, “the world’s largest educational technology event” in Olympia, London from the 14th to the 17th January.
… promoting the benefits of Open Standards and the Free and Open Source Software Community. This global community creates high quality software that is Free for everyone, and best of all, the code is open so anyone can study how the software works and make improvements. Open Source and Open Standards create a lower cost, more open and competitive ICT market. Visit us to see (and play with) software for students and staff and learn where you can get local support from IT companies and user groups to get you started.
Please drop by if you are coming and say hello. Or if you know of any educators who are going, mention us to them. The educational world really needs FOSS right now more than ever before. But publicising it against the backdrop of vast marketing budgets and political influence is hard.
Think about it.
- Do you have kids who go to school?
- Do you still go to school?
- Do you teach?
- Do you pay tax?
- Do you care about the future?
If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions then FOSS in education really matters.
Do you want our Government and education system to waste your money on proprietary software like Windows, Anti Virus Software, Office 2000, 2003, 2007 etc and simply teach us how to use these products? “Just press CTL+ATL+DEL when it stops working Jonny”
Or would you prefer to spend the money on more teachers, buildings, hardware etc and teach us how to use any computer and how the software works and how to improve it and how to collaborate and how to communicate and and and?
We will have Edubuntu running on all our PCs, and lots of interesting applications to see and touch and play with.