Inside Higher Ed has a fascinating story about a Microsoft executive’s partly successful attempt to undermine an endorsement of open source software in a report by a national commission on education.
Changing the Report, After the Vote: Except for David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, every member of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education found enough to endorse in the draft the panel produced last month to support it over all. All of them, certainly, also found some aspects of the report objectionable, yet swallowed those objections and agreed, at a public meeting August 10, to sign the report. The panel’s members agreed at the time that the report would undergo only minor copy editing and “wordsmithing”� between then and when it was formally presented to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings later this month.
That agreement was nearly imperiled last weekend, though. Gerri Elliott, corporate vice president at Microsoft’s Worldwide Public Sector division, sent an e-mail message to fellow commissioners Friday evening saying that she “vigorously” objected to a paragraph in which the panel embraced and encouraged the development of open source software and open content projects in higher education.
Microsoft didn’t get everything it wanted, but it got more than half a loaf: as a result of a lot of back-and-forth detailed by Inside Higher Ed, a ringing endorsement (“The commission encourages the creation of incentives to promote the development of open-source and open-content projects at universities and colleges across the United States…”) got severely watered down to a pretty mealy-mouthed statement (“The commission encourages the creation of incentives to promote the development of information-technology-based collaborative tools and capabilities at universities and colleges across the United States, … Both commercial development and new collaborative paradigms such as open source, open content, and open learning will be important …”).
I keep trying to get our university to use more open source software, or at least to offer it as an alternative to the commercial stuff. It’s an uphill battle especially at the applications level. Yet I still believe that in a school in which a substantial fraction of the class will end up in very small firms, we have a duty to teach people how to use free tools rather than saddle them with habits which will contribute to high overheads.