How to Support Open Source with your IT Budget


open source in schools and classroom
open source used in schools and classrooms


So, in an effort to climb out of the woodwork and be visible once again, I decided to post someone else’s article. I never equated being visible to being motivated 🙂 Seriously though, we had asked our good buddy Tony to give us some posts as he has an enormous amount of experience as the current IT Director of a huge campus (2500+ students) and he has obliged us with what we thought was a fantastic concept. Here is his post, and later Patrick and I will comment further.

How to Support Open Source with your IT Budget
by Tony DePrato
Many schools use open source unofficially. They download programs like VLC and then clone them across all their installations. They run servers with Apache to provide numerous services to their communities. Yet normally they cannot donate or contribute any money to these open source projects because of the way supplier registration works.

I would be nice if every year the IT budget could have a line item called ‘Open Source’.  Then the IT director would be allowed to take various amounts of money and donate them to the projects that the school depends. However, this probably would not work. Most accountants do not understand the concept of open source, and even if they did they would never officially support a payment that did not require an invoice.

I think the solution is simple. IT directors need to employ a multi-faceted strategy to ensure that every year open source projects get additional financial support.

1. Raise awareness with parent and student groups who raise money. Let them know what benefits they are getting from open source, and explain how cost would increase for the community if these projects do not keep growing.

2. Lead fund raising efforts for IT projects that use open source software. The project can be the benefit to the community and the money can be donated to the open source project. There are so many projects that can support various groups within the community, but are difficult to budget for or get approved.

3. Create reports that bottom-liners such as accountants can understand. Build these reports year after year to show how much money is saved by using open source software. Make sure these reports include projections of savings if the software is continuously used and projections of budgetary increases if the open source software were not used any longer.

If open source software can find awareness among users, eventually bottom-liners will have to start paying attention to the numbers and make the needed changes in policy to allow schools to directly and publicly support software that is empowering their communities.

Omar’s Follow-up:
Tony makes a great point. So many schools utilize open source products saving them mounds of cash and the hassle of trying to budget for a particular piece of software. Sometimes there is an immediate need for a product, whether it be in the classroom (like Audacity for audio editing) or for the entire school to alleviate  network/performance issues (like Firefox or Google Chrome).

These projects are usually maintained by people who earn nothing for their efforts barring the satisfaction they get for being part of an active development community producing something very worthy and useful. Schools could very easily set aside a budget for their open source support given that it saves them so much! Imagine the cost savings of switching from MS Office to OpenOffice, or Adobe products to Gimp, etc.

This brings me to my final point. In the classroom, we as ICT teachers should promote the idea of open source support. In today’s age of torrenting and piracy, kids may not realize how beneficial these open source movements are to them in the long run. Opening this up for discussion in the classroom would be a great idea and can be done in many different subjects:

  • English: Taking a side/pros and cons
  • ICT: Discuss the shift, the benefits, the big open source projects, the tech behind alot of it, etc
  • Math/Economics: Cost savings potential, Why Open Source in a Capitalistic world
  • Social Studies/Humanities: Social forces at work behind open source

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