Friday, December 02, 2005

SOFT micros

WARNING! The following article, and especially the picture, may offend some readers...

I just had to blog this image! No one could be more embarrassed about the 80's than Bill Gates. Was software really a sexy thing back then, or was Bill in desperate need of...

It cracks me up!

But on a less funny note, our IT (non) support bosses are still stuck in this hey day era of thinking. But the dissapointment of growing older and even more disfunctional has led them to cynically stomp on their younger upstarts, blocking requests for free and open source software and decentralisation.

Recently, I felt compelled to spend what little free time I have defending a request to install Picasa (amongst other things - OpenOffice, GIMP, AvidFreeDV) when a colleague supporting the request, forwarded on IT (non) support's response...

Those IT boss men tried to white wash the request with more non speak over licenses (for Picasa this time) and business cases. I sent an email to Picasa asking if they could clarify their position on single user use when schools and colleges are involved. Picasa's reply in less than 2 days:
Hello Leigh,

Thank you for contacting Picasa customer support.

We are more than happy to allow your educational organization to use
Picasa on multiple computers.

In using Picasa, we ask that your organization does not:

*Redistribute the software for profit
*Profit directly from the use of Picasa
*Claim authorship of the software or any of its components
*Reverse engineer the software for any reason

We understand that your group has some concerns regarding the clause in
our End User License Agreement which states that "the agreement allows you
to install and use the Picasa Software on a single computer." This
agreement specifically applies to single users, so do not be concerned
with statements referring to single computers. It may be helpful to review
this document to make sure that your group will not be using Picasa in any
way that blatantly is at odds with the Agreement.

Please review our End User License Agreement below for specifics.
Why it had to me contacting Picasa about this is what troubles me most. I am a part time teacher for the organisation considering the request. Surely it is the job of IT support to thoroughly review the license, including contacting the software owners and reading the support forums!

Now, with the license issue out of the way, we are expected to argue a business case for using Picasa!! A BUSINESS CASE! Shouldn't they be asking for a LEARNING CASE? By the time we get this little piece of free image editing software approved, there'll be an even better one out!

I already know where they stand on OpenOffice, they have no idea - and GIMP, they probably think their slave in the basement has escaped again! And what if my enlightened head teacher requested a few machines with dual boot options into Linux or Windows? Forget it I'd imagine, expect no support from IT Support.

Now, before we all go and beat up the nearest IT geek, in my experience it is the IT bosses that are the problem (consider picture above). Those faceless suites hiding behind committees they controle with smoke, mirrors and fear. The everyday IT support staff are quite fearful of their bosses, and have expressed similar levels of frustration to me on a number of occasions.

There are numerous LEARNING cases to be made for offering free and open source OPTIONS in a school and college. Most have to do with access and equity, not to mention the basic need for a broader digital literacy in our community, and for people to be aware that there is a developing world outside microsoft and proprietary software. If we can get FOSS options available right along side the proprietary software in our schools, then those teachers and students out there that prefer, or are not able to spend large amounts of money on software have an option for the viable alternative. Those people could walk into school, turn on a computer, choose between Windows or Linux, choose between MS Office or Open Office, etc etc. Those privileged and ignorant people who insist that the proprietary software is what they will use (and pirate) will at least be forced to recognise accessibility issues, and start considering open standard formats more for their work. Listen to OpenOffice for example:
Users of office software are coming to realise that their real investment lies not in the software itself, but in the spreadsheets, databases, and wordprocessing documents which they have created: their own intellectual property. The only way to guarantee access to this investment long term is for the data to be stored in a vendor- neutral, open-standard format.
That's right fools! Are you thinking long term? Are you absolutely sure that Microsoft will be a dominant software vendor in 10-20 years? Things change didn't you know (consider picture above again). I'm one who already thinks that OpenOffice is the better office suite. What if those reading this decide that too? I'd say your closed Microsoft formats are in peril... your anxious excel sheets, poorly animated powerpoints, and try hard word layouts may not be worth much in the free and open world. Better open them in OpenOffice and start saving them in open standard formats quick smart, before you embarrass yourself in front of that wealthy Brazilian mining client knocking on your door.

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John Martin said...

Hi Leigh,
Just caught your name on and thought to check out your blog. As a n IT geek myself, I can sympathize with your frustration on the narrow-mindedness of administration when it comes to innovation. Open Source software opens the door to opportunities that would not otherwise be realized. Even when it is not the mainstay but a support tool, open source tools are invaluable. My HelpDesk crew and I have found OpenOffice to have saved the bacon of a number of students who experience failures with their MS documents.

Keep fighting the good fight Leigh!

- john -

Anonymous said...

Leigh, i work in IT ( Uni ) and see this all the time... May be its a power or a generational thing, i hope it will die out in 5 years, just in time to see MS go under....

Get your hands on a Linux live CD distro and have fun with that , or if you really want to watch your IT manager jump, get Mac into the class room :)