The impact of open source on ICT in the EU

Economic impact of open source software on innovation and the competitiveness of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector in the EU (PDF link) is worth a read, particularly for page 216:

The reason it seems desirable to promote the use of FLOSS [Free/Libre/Open Source Software] in education (ICT education and more generally all educational activities that have a bearing on the cultural relationship with information technology) is threefold:

1. It is obviously likely to have a strong impact on the future usage of FLOSS products and the build-up of the related skills.

2. It builds up essential ICT skills rather than the knowledge of specific applications from specific vendors (leading to the current locked-in-for-life situation, where vendor lock-in applies not only to organisations but to individuals who have typically not chosen their software but been provided it for free by schools).

3. It is likely to install an attitude towards information technology that favours the ability to create and actively participate rather than just consume – i.e. the scenarios under which FLOSS is most likely to deliver a strong positive economic and societal impact, by encouraging collaborative prosumer usage and a reflexive attitude on usage and the technology that supports it.

The report goes on to suggest that an active open source policy in educational institutions will encourage students to be proactive in the software community, and critical about the tools they use.

As ICT becomes more and more important in all aspects of our lives, this is very important. Users have to know a little bit about what they’re using, and be able to pick and choose their tools; these skills will make them more useful and desirable in a technology-dependent economy. Open source is the only mechanism that allows users to get directly involved and see how a product is developed, as well as to influence its development according to their requirements and skills. This collaboration – a more solid connection between users and developers – is going to directly lead to better software.

The codebase of FLOSS applications with “reasonable quality control and distribution” has been doubling every two years for the past eight years, and is projected to continue. By 2010, 32% of all IT services could be open source related, which is a huge number, particularly when you consider the large market share currently held by the likes of Microsoft. Already, 20% of software investment is into open source.

But in many ways, education is lagging behind. It was interesting to see BECTA’s list of approved providers for UK schools, none of which provide open source solutions, or last year’s advice that Leicestershire schools don’t use Moodle. When will policymakers learn to look beyond their contributors and the commercial software vendors who court them, and do some due diligence on the technology itself? Open source is here to stay, and it’s the future of software development.

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