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How Do I Start a University Transition To Open Source? 497

Posted by Soulskill
from the baby-steps-version-control dept.
exmoron writes "I work at a small university (5,500 students) and am in a position to potentially influence future software purchasing decisions. I use a number of FOSS solutions at home (OpenOffice.org, Zotero, GIMP, VirtualBox). My university, on the other hand, is a Microsoft and proprietary software groupie (Vista boxes running MS Office 2007, Exchange email server, Endnote, Photoshop, Blackboard, etc.). I'd like to make an argument that going open source would save the university money and think through a gradual transition process to open source software (starting small, with something like replacing Endnote with Zotero, then MS Office with OpenOffice.org, and so on). Unfortunately, I can't find very good information online on site licenses for proprietary software. How much does a site-license for Endnote cost? What about a site license for MS Office for 2,000 computers? In short, what's the skinny on moving to open source? How much money could a university like mine save? Additionally, what other benefits are there to moving to open source that I could try to sell the university on? And what are the drawbacks (other than people whining about change)?"
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How Do I Start a University Transition To Open Source?

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    • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:57PM (#26773809)

      Nah, too political and the political process takes too long.

      No, what you have to do is the following:

      1. Shoot all Windows admins. I know, it sounds brutal but trust me, it'll be better for everyone on the long run. It's no more than what they deserve after all. I mean, they freely chose to support the Evil Empire.

      2. Send all the brainwashed Windows users to the appropriate re-education camp to have them deprogrammed. Now, some might say that this is no better than what Microsoft has done all these years, and I'd agree, but sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

      3. Send in the LPTs (Linux Proselytization Teams) to spread the Word amongst all those who didn't get the message the first time around. After all, there are always some for whom the deprogramming process doesn't work perfectly, or who managed to escape the initial roundup. It's necessary to root them out so they can be given proper guidance. Really, it's for their own good.

      This may be hard for some of you stomach, I understand, but just think how free we'll all feel when Microsoft is gone forever.

  • by the_B0fh (208483) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:06PM (#26773337) Homepage

    You won't be able to win this with the money argument. Microsoft will swarm all over you, giving free stuff away. They have a fund just to give away free licenses to anyone who's even thinking about trying open source.

    No, since you're a university, the way to approach this is to let the undergrads explore. Sell it as a learning experience. Why is OSS so popular nowadays? Maybe the University itself, as a place of learning, should offer this? Don't limit it to just OSS, bring up OSX as well, to be fair. Let the students explore.

    Now, how to get everything work well together? Why, we depend on open standards of course! The entire Internet is built on open standards, RFCs and so on. All the software must be open interfaces (exchange has imap, for example, and AD has ldap). Keep doing this. Get in touch with the contracting office, and ask them to consider putting language in for their RFPs and RFIs to include "must work with appropriate open standards".

    Slowly, but surely, things will get better.

    • by the_B0fh (208483) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:09PM (#26773369) Homepage

      One more thing - recognize the shortcomings of OSS too. Not everything that's OSS is perfect. There are shitty OSS things too. For example, openoffice sucks, compared to MS Office. Be open about things.

      Also look at external offerings. Why run your own mail server, when you can do google apps - I think it's free for non-profits and .edus. Gmail, and instantly, you just saved a bunch of money, and a bunch of work. Now those people can be put to working on other higher priority stuff.

      • by cgenman (325138) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:17PM (#26773459) Homepage

        Always remember that a bit of job training is in there too. Your artists *need* extensive Photoshop experience. Same with Maya, 3ds max, protools, etc. And asking non-techies to switch from MS office is like convincing 70-year-olds to drive on the other side of the street.

        E-mail is a perfect place to start the transition, especially if nobody uses meeting requests. But go one piece at a time, and realize that people in academia are frequently motivated by things other than money.

        • by Gorobei (127755) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @02:17PM (#26773993)

          Exactly. Trying a global migration to OSS, or anything else, is doomed to failure. I saw a similar thing in a crazy "lets get rid of Linux" effort at a big bank: doomed to failure because a few groups really wanted Linux as the compute farm OS. One size does not fit all.

          The best thing to do is find bottlenecks that are tying the users to a specific OS - IE only webpages, mail servers, print services, weird apps, etc. Spend your effort prying these loose. Fight pointless mandates (you must use XYZ software to do random task ABC.) Get support in place for other OSes: if your helpdesk thinks in terms of MS software only, you are screwed - get them used to MacOS, Linux, etc. Then let the users do what they want: they'll be happier, and you'll see a lot more software diversity, which will in turn encourage more infrastructure openness.

          • by FishWithAHammer (957772) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @02:39PM (#26774265)

            This is huge and vastly underestimated. Your goal should not be to transition to open source--that's just as bad as an all closed-source ecosystem. Your goal should be to transition to infrastructural openness so people can use what they want. If they want to use Office, great--just make sure that their documents save in ODF so everybody can access them, etc. etc.

          • by GrigorPDX (513102) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @03:24PM (#26774781)

            Seconded. You'll never get anywhere driving it from the top down with mandatory "we're switching to XYZ campus-wide" decrees. Make it optional. Introduce voluntary users to a good OSS tool in a non-critical area - clubs, non-credit courses, etc. - where the stakes are lower. Make sure they have a good experience by having lots of in-person help. If it goes well for them, word of mouth will become your friend. "Hey, Dr. SoAndSo did this really interesting thing with ..." "I wonder what Prof. ThisNthat is doing that has her students so engaged and excited?" Your early adopters become advocates for the cause. They can also help other users on campus get going with the new tool(s).

            It's very similar to grass-roots organizing: start small and build momentum.

      • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @02:03PM (#26773865) Journal

        I absolutely agree that the problems with OSS solutions need to be considered, but to say that OpenOffice 'sucks, compared to MS Office' is far too narrow a statement. All products have relative merits and problems, and there is a time and a place for most of them.

        Commercial software is often (but not always) not completely matched in terms of features when compared to the closest open source competitor. The key is to find out whether anyone was actually using those particular features and thus whether they'll be missed when they're gone. Office software is a good example because a huge percentage of users really do only use the basic features - one can't argue that OpenOffice does everything that MS Office does, but that's a moot point if OpenOffice does everything that the users need.

        Backend software is also a good place to start, but for the opposite reason. While it's likely that many of the features are being used, it's the IT department rather than the end user that is running the software - this makes it far easier to draw up a list of what can and can't be replicated with open source, rely on your 'user' to be able to adjust to a different way of doing things, and so on.

        The summary mentions Gimp vs. Photoshop, however, and this is perhaps not such a good place to transition. It's the kind of software that is far more likely to have users who actually do need many of the features. The advice I would give is to make sure you know exactly what your students need from their software - Photoshop licenses are expensive, so when an engineering student needs to make some pretty buttons for their website it seems completely fair to direct them towards Gimp. If, on the other hand, the graphic design department were deprived of Photoshop, I think they would have a very legitimate right to complain - not only because they may well need features that are simply unmatched in the OSS alternative, but also because it is only fair to give students experience of the software that is standard in their industry. Same goes for a lot of CAD software, mathematical programs, and other specialist applications.

        Office software, however, isn't used as a specialist tool by many people; it's a general utility for fairly mundane tasks. Everyone's experience will differ, but just as an example this is what I've found using OpenOffice:

        Personally I prefer Writer to MS Word. My needs when it comes to word processing are fairly basic, and Writer fulfils them. It also has a few less annoyances than Word in my general day-to-day use - diagrams stay where I put them rather than being randomly scattered around the document when I go back to change a line or two, to take the first example that springs to mind. Obviously there must be some logic to the way that Word handles inline images, but it was never apparent to me. OpenOffice wins for me on word processing.

        I have no real need for PowerPoint at the moment, other than to open the occasional .ppt file sent to me by someone else, and for that purpose Impress seems perfectly functional. The fact it's free tips the balance in favour of OpenOffice for my current purposes, but to be honest I'd probably use Keynote if I actually had to produce PowerPoint-style presentations on any regular basis.

        Calc is where OpenOffice falls down a bit for me. It's not bad, but it's lacking some of the useful features that Excel has. This ranges from taking three steps to do something I could do in Excel in one, to actually having to export to .xls and use MS Excel on one of the shared machines. I still use Calc on my own machines because it's free, but it's a definite weak spot and Excel is the only component of the MS Office suite that I actually find to be the best on the market.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by the_B0fh (208483)

          Dude, MS Office sucks, but for the most part it only sucks when you start doing things beyond typing up a memo. Say, futzing around with tables and so on.

          OO.o sucks in other ways. Part of it may be due to my perception since the StarOffice days (when it tried to take over your desktop - how freaking obnoxious). But definitely opening a word or excel file is far faster than doing it in OO.o. Additionally, if you open anything other than a "calc" or "excel" file, it'll open it in writer, instead of giving

        • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @08:49PM (#26778133)

          I think this is the problem with the Ask Slashdot Question.

          This is how I read it: "Dear Slashdot. I don't use Word, Excel, Photoshop or any other proprietary software in my day to day work. But on the occasion that I need to crop a photo or graph a single column of data OSS seems to be just as good as the software I never use. How do I switch everyone else out despite their obviously ignorant desire to be held captive by giant evil corporations?"

          The answer might be: "Dear Slashdot Questioner. Before you try and pry the closed source software out of your user's hands... perhaps you should remember that you're just an IT help monkey and might not be the best person to evaluate the merits of Open Office Calc vs Excel for the business department. You might not be able to judge the various merits of Photoshop and Gimp in the graphic design department. Or you might be completely clueless as to the relative value of Blender vs 3dsmax and Maya. Please leave tool selection to the various department heads. And we'll leave your decision between a Cisco router and a Netgear router to you.

          Cordially,
          The Educational Faculty.

          P.S. We know where you live.
          "

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        "Also look at external offerings. Why run your own mail server, when you can do google apps - I think it's free for non-profits and .edus. Gmail, and instantly, you just saved a bunch of money, and a bunch of work. Now those people can be put to working on other higher priority stuff."

        But it is not free-libre. You cannot study or modify the gmail codebase, with the exception of the web front end. Google can pull the plug at any minute, and suddenly an entire university is without email. Google could a
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          But it is not free-libre.

          Nobody whose opinion matters actually gives a shit if it's OMG FREE-LIBRE.

          (No, this isn't trolling. It's simply the truth. Free software is not a goal of a university's IT department, getting a quality system is. The two may intersect or they may not as the case may be. In this case, GMail is a poor solution, but not because it's not open source--it's a poor solution because it doesn't effectively allow for horizontal integration. But most open source solutions suck at this, too.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        > Also look at external offerings. Why run your
        > own mail server, when you can do google apps

        Right, why be Microsoft proprietary and have *SOME* control over your destiny when you can be Goolge proprietary and have *NONE*.

      • by York the Mysterious (556824) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @02:52PM (#26774421) Homepage
        Do your research on migrated to Google first. Gmail looks fantastic from an end user standpoint, but their hosted e-mail solution is a real joke. My university considered a migration from an old UNIX server to hosted Gmail last year. Not a chance. You can't do the simplest things like remove a user from the global address book, or create complex mailing lists. It lacks the features that Exchange had when it still ran on NT 4. I really hope that Google pulls it together, but at the moment Gmail doesn't cut it even for a small sized University (were were 8000 students). I'd say look into Zimbra, but the OSS version lacks clustering and you really want to cluster for fault tolerance.
    • by v1 (525388) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:15PM (#26773431) Homepage Journal

      Microsoft will swarm all over you, giving free stuff away. They have a fund just to give away free licenses to anyone who's even thinking about trying open source.

      If one of his major goals is to save money (and not be an OS zealot for example, changing to OS just because etc) then doing something that causes MS to open the charity chest be an alternate, possibly acceptable alternative?

      Call up MS's volume / edu license group and ask for quotes, saying you're comparing TCO with MS and looking at switching. Not only will you get your quotes, but the Free Gifts Fairy at MS will call you and offer all sorts of nice things to drop the idea of FOSS. Even if you're not seriously considering FOSS, that's a nice way to say, cut the bill for next year's software upgrades in half or better isn't it?

      I mean, if MS is going to try to bribe you, may as well take advantage of it if you can, as a serious option.

      • by bfizzle (836992) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:30PM (#26773563)

        I've seen this happen as well too.

        I seriously doubt the OP will be able to justify the move the OSS. Your Microsoft rep will drop the cost of all your software purchases with a Campus Agreement to below what it would cost your university to use OSS.

        OSS isn't free. There is the costs of training and implementation... and finding well qualified employees to run your systems will not be easy on a education budget. Don't forget support costs!!!

        I'd highly recommend calling your Microsoft rep and start negotiating. I doubt you'll be able to justify OSS to management. What you will be able to do is get a campus agreement and provide software to your whole campus community and pick up premier support for your sysads for close to what you are already paying.

        I will warn you that you are moving into Microsoft's subscription model doing this, but you will win concessions by doing this.

    • by Foofoobar (318279) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:27PM (#26773541)
      well this is true and not true. Money saved is most definitely not the only talking point. Talk about security. Talk about cross platform functionality and open standards (after all alot of students use Mac and some use Linux too). They want a system that is secure, costs less but also works with all computers being brought into the network. Open source supports open standards, is more often cross platform and easier to secure. Not to mention it is often free.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rob1980 (941751)
      No, since you're a university, the way to approach this is to let the undergrads explore. Sell it as a learning experience. Why is OSS so popular nowadays? Maybe the University itself, as a place of learning, should offer this? Don't limit it to just OSS, bring up OSX as well, to be fair. Let the students explore.

      I suspect that'd be about as effective as convincing a Pepsi campus that selling Coke would be a valuable "learning" experience for the undergrads. Personally I'd start by selling copies of Ope
    • by Vario (120611) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:30PM (#26773565)

      Parent is right: money is not the argument, that is worth the switch. Software companies, Microsoft included want students to learn MS Office, Adobe, Matlab, Autodesk Inventor, etc. Some companies even give their student versions of really expensive software packages away for free, just have a look at Autodesk [autodesk.com].

      For the students it is of great value, if they are able to work efficiently with open source software. Just a few days ago I helped someone to switch from Endnote to Zotero+Jabref. It was quite a pain to convert from the Endnote format to something more open like the Bibtex format and there are several websites which show you 10 different hacks how to do it somehow.

      With open source the file format is always documented, at least in the code itself. So if you want to work with your reference in 5 years without upgrading Endnote to Windows 8 this is the only sane choice.

      For science in general it is necessary to check your results carefully and be able to reproduce other people's work somehow. How are you going to judge a paper claiming: "We simulated bla with this $$$ software package and it looks marvelous"?

      Besides file formats and reproducibility in my opinion it is in most cases better to teach something that can be useful for the next 5-20 years, instead of some fast moving target. Software vendors often change their products and break backwards compatibility (Labview is great, but going back 2 versions is a no go) not because they invented this new must have feature but to sell the next version. If your students can do statistical analysis in Gnumeric and R they are well equipped for advanced work and do not have to worry about all the errors in Excel (statistics in Excel [daheiser.info]).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        For the students it is of great value, if they are able to work efficiently with open source software.

        Why? Variations on this argument are common on Slashdot, but rarely backed up.

        Students can work with OSS anyway if they want to, without any help from the university beyond supplying a broadband Internet connection.

        Meanwhile, students cannot necessarily work with industry standard commercial software without the university providing it for them, even though such software is:

        1. usually more powerful and able to produce better results than the OSS knock-offs, and
        2. much more widely used in industries where graduat
    • by dieman (4814)

      Agreed, the sheer amount of free stuff Microsoft gives away at large schools is scary. I get a copy of windows for $5 as a student, Office for $10-15, etc.

    • by DrYak (748999) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @04:07PM (#26775267) Homepage

      You won't be able to win this with the money argument. Microsoft will swarm all over you, giving free stuff away. They have a fund just to give away free licenses to anyone who's even thinking about trying open source.

      They give free license (or outrageously cheap site license) for universities. *BUT* not everyone is getting the softwares for free !!!!

      No, since you're a university, the way to approach this is to let the undergrads explore.

      Also undergrads *DON'T* benefit from all softwares. Most often the students ends-up torrenting their office suites off pirate bay.
      Does the University really wants to indirectly encourage software piracy ?!?

      Usually, the licensing agreements with stuff like MSDNAA are :
      - University gets a dead cheep site license as part of MSDNAA.
      - Professors, teaching staff, etc... *DO GET* the right to obtain all these softwares *also for home*.
      but
      - Students *DO NOT* obtain license for MS-Office for home/personal laptops. They officially have *TO PAY* to get the same software that everyone else is getting for free and that everyone has declared necessary. (Usually, the students actually end up pirating it).

      MS-Office is the critical point here.
      Microsoft think that, as long as they have seeded the nest (the university) and the important influencial figure (the people giving the lessons), MS-Office will get automatically adopted as the de-facto standart and every body will start using it.
      Student will probably get pirated copies anyway, so there's no point in trying to give them free licenses. At least they are getting used to it, they get brainwashed into the notion that there's nothing else worth beside MSO (like all other sheeple), and probably 5-6 years down the line when they finish studying and enter the professional world, they will ask at their workplace to use whatever is the then MSO du jour.

      The strategy to bring open source into the university should work on two points :
      - not only going open source can save licensing money in the long run.
      - open source is also a way for the *students* to get the necessary software for home.

      Currently OpenOffice.org is functionally equivalent to MSO. (And is indeed used as a replacement in several public administrations here around in Europe)
      At least, even if the university refuses to switch open source, the *students* might be interested getting it for home because it's free, it's compatible with MSO to open university's documents, is functionally equivalent, and even is currently EASIER to migrate to from older MSO 2003 than migrating to MSO 2007, as the OOo's classical interface is closer, unlike 2007's criticized ribbons.

      So even if the university refuse to change its stance you have a way to encourage a significant part of the university's population to switch to open source.

      Now you can try to use these arguments with the university :
      - if they go with MSO, not only do they have to pay (a small) site license, but they are using a solution that WON'T be accessible to the students outside the computer labs (and everyone has seen how currently there are lots of laptops everywhere. Modern students tend to use much more a laptop they carry everywhere, rather than going to the uni computer labs).

      - if they go with OOo, the licensing is cheaper (free). They also will be offering a solution that absolutely everyone can use : teacher, staff, university computer labs, students at home, on their laptops... all this regardless of the system : Windows, Mac OS (very popular on student laptops in some richer region) or the customized Linux wich are the latest craze in the netbook segment.
      *AND* as an icing on the top of the cake, the current version of OOo will require much less retraining as it looks much more like classical MSO than latest MSO. This is a really ironic argument given the fact that usually Microsoft have always been fast to point retraining as "hidden short-term costs" against ope

  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@beauTOKYO.org minus city> on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:07PM (#26773351)

    Go for the two easy wins first.

    Cut your costs on licensing. Get ALL of the decison makers together and get them to put out a 100% unified front. Announce a total conversion to open source for the 2011-2012 year so as to be plausible. Then wait for your Microsoft rep to show up and offer the incentives. Take them.

    Now you are a hero to everyone in the university who is in on the con you just pulled. This will be useful to you as you slowly do the real conversion.

    The other easy win is to cut the costs to your students. Office and Blackboard.Mandate ODF for any document that crosses the barrier between the school and the students. This relieves them of the requirement to obtain Office and YOU the cost of buying that big site license out of the student fees that is the real reason the students get those low low prices in the bookstore.

    You of course continue to offer Office Student at the regular student rates for those who want it because your Microsoft rep is sniffing around. You also be sure to have OpenOffice.org 3.1 DVDs hanging at the register for $5. Be fuzzy about just where those came from, but heck in this economy it sure does save the students money. It's just too popular to pull off the counter.

    Blackboard is a never ending cause of cross platform pain (at least it was a couple of years ago) so ditch it. It not being a Microsoft product you can probably get away with it while running the con above. You tell them that will be your token (picked because it IS no visible) conversion to be able to 'claim victory' on your previous grandious project.

    After this step students should be able to use whatever the heck they want. Many will probably be using netbooks in this down economy, thus they can buy the really cheap Linux ones. The college bookstore can be encouraged to stock with this in mind. Linux and open source would then be in a position to bubble up.

    • by the_B0fh (208483)

      good and sneaky. I have to wonder though - is Microsoft ever going to catch on, and if they do, is there anything they can do about it, short of calling the bluff?

      • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:18PM (#26773471) Journal

        If they're smart, they'll call bluffs selectively. Assess those likely to fail in a highly public manner if they all shift across to MS's competitors and use them for publicity. Academia is pretty word of mouth and the odd disastrous migration is worth more to Microsoft than the odd lack of licence fees. It's a risk, but it's probably what I would do on select cases. A good salesman should be able to suss out likely disasters. And lets face it, even if the software you are moving to is better (however you define that), you're going to see big problems in demand for support, data migration, etc. just by virtue of the move.
      • by Dolohov (114209)

        Remember that Microsoft does not really have any costs -- once the initial development is paid for, any licenses are pure profit. They have tremendous flexibility (though usually subject to non-disclosure agreements to hinder others in following suit) for the simple reason that any money coming in, minus the sales force time, is pure profit. In other words, they already have caught on, and they have no real reason to call the bluff if the customer has a real chance of succeeding with the transition.

        If, on

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dave562 (969951)

        That's what I am waiting for. It seems to be taken on faith here on /. and to some extent in the larger tech community that "threatening Microsoft with OSS conversion" is a way to extract concessions." It has become a meme at this point. It is only a matter of time until the Microsoft rep shrugs and says, "Good luck with that. We wish you the best. When you want to talk again in a few years, I'll be able to work out a, 'used to be a good customer' discount for you." Given the current economic climate,

    • by h4rm0ny (722443)

      Being selective is good advice. An interesting alternative to Blackboard is Moodle which our institution uses (and we migrated from Blackboard to do so). Any migration can be painful, so pick the likeliest show-case ones first where you can demonstrate both an improvement and a cost-saving. Slow and steady wins the race. ;)
      • Moodle isn't an alternative to Blackboard except in the same way that a bicycle replaces a pickup truck. A lot of universities use Blackboard for far more than just classes. My university, for example, uses Blackboard for anything related to student access--if you swipe your card to enter a building, it authenticates against the Blackboard database.

        The open source alternatives do not do this, and you aren't going to replace Blackboard just by having a class replacement. (And Moodle isn't very good, unfortun

        • by h4rm0ny (722443)

          I agree and disagree with you. Moodle doesn't form the basis of a site security system. You could, if you wish, integrate it with an external system (I have done a very extensive system for doing just this). For me, I would not want site security being run from a system that managed student course materials. But if both systems depend on a common external data set, I have no problem with both systems drawing from it. It seems to me that linking such disparate areas of functionality so tightly is a weakness
    • There are basically 2 choices out there, Blackboard and WebCT. Both of them rot, and there are certainly other FOSS applications that are better, but which one is used is NOT anything IT has the slightest bit of influence over.

      The factors involved are mostly related to the faculty and administration of the school. Instructors have LARGE amounts of time and energy invested in learning whichever platform they're on now. Most of them are not amazingly competent in the computer field, and they have high demands

      • by dieman (4814)

        Where I work they offer both Moodle and WebCT, a non-insignificant amount of classes use moodle.

        https://moodle.umn.edu/ [umn.edu]

        Something like 800 classes use it, it appears.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by h4rm0ny (722443)

          We moved from Blackboard to Moodle at our institution. I am responsible for it and we have a very much larger installation than yours, even. But the GP is right - the instigation for the move came from a department that engaged and dealt with the academic departments. The drive did not come from the University's IT services and nor would it. IT in a university is a supporter, seldom a driver.
  • Surely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jamamala (983884) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:07PM (#26773355)
    if you don't know how much your site licenses cost, then you aren't in a position to influence future software purchasing decisions.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ivoras (455934)

      Speaking from experience: Microsoft site licenses for its products for academic institution cost $0. What's not available for free with MSDNAA [msdnaa.net]

      is negotiated to be as if it were.

      Any discussion starting with licensing costs in academic environments will be shot down on these grounds.

      The OP probably needs to find something in OSS that's qualitatively better (it will be tough).

  • by alen (225700) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:12PM (#26773401)

    i did one recently to justify the purchase of a new backup system. i got the purchase orders and added how much it all cost over the last 3 years for support, maintenance, offsite tape storage, etc. then compared to a new LTO-4 and estimated a few years out. put everything in a nice easy to read PPT to show how buying a new tape library will save a lot of money going forward.

    Same here. get all the costs associated with whatever you run. You might need to ask your boss of finance department. estimate the costs of transition and running the new solution and compare the two.

    MS licensing is a nightmare and there are a bunch of programs depending on how much users you have and which program you buy into. ask your finance people to pull copies of the purchase orders.

    I work in a 95% MS shop. Reason MS rules is 90% of all MS software is stupid little scripts to make things easier. like the box to create a new user in AD. With Open Source you need to customize a lot of it and it may cost money for the consultants, extra support, etc. I help manage 30 or so SQL servers and in the last 2 years our support costs were around $1000 for a few support cases. In all cases MS released a hotfix after we opened a case. No need for custom coding.

    we do have a lot of internally depeloved apps and it's like Quake point releases with them. constant updates and fixes.


  • I part-manage some of a University's software installations (amongst other things) and our institution uses a mix of free and proprietary software. We choose according to what is the best solution in each case and sometimes support overlapping programs - for example multiple email clients and operating systems. Your University may save money by going open source and all other things being equal, this is what you should go for. I'm a strong Open Source proponent myself. However, the real costs are not usual
  • You are going to need to assess the things that simply cannot be switched to open source and find out how they will be implemented in the new "mostly" open source strategy. For instance, almost all scientific instruments come from vendors that only have a version for windows. Since most government regulations for research, particularly for clinical, medical, and drug research, require a life-cycle validated software, there will be no open source software for these groups. Since your school is very small y

  • Site licenses (Score:5, Informative)

    by proxima (165692) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:14PM (#26773427)

    Unfortunately, I can't find very good information online on site licenses for proprietary software. How much does a site-license for Endnote cost? What about a site license for MS Office for 2,000 computers?

    It doesn't surprise me that you can't find good information about this. Even if you found valid pricing for a medium-sized business, I doubt that universities have the same pricing. Universities themselves also negotiate directly with Microsoft (at least the larger ones do), leading to differences in pricing and terms. Unis also often negotiate to obtain student pricing on products like Office. For example:

    University of Wisconsin Office 2007 Enterprise [wisc.edu]: $72
    University of Michigan Office 2007 Enterprise [umich.edu]: $47

    The real question is, if you're "in a position to potentially influence future software purchasing decisions", how do you not have access to the current expenditures on software licensing? What you really need are current expenditures and knowledge about when the current contract expires.

    • by T-Bone-T (1048702)

      I got Office 2007 Enterprise and Vista Ultimate at Baylor University for only $15 each.

      • by proxima (165692)

        I got Office 2007 Enterprise and Vista Ultimate at Baylor University for only $15 each.

        At some point I would imagine the university subsidizes the purchase, which in turn comes out of tuition.

  • where you can anticipate few bumps in the road.

    My old school has cluster of 4-8 computers around campus, used for nothing but websurfing. Even locked down completely, IE would be loaded down with strange toolbars and what not every few weeks. I always thought it would been a great solution to have linux on them, perhaps 1 real computer and the others in that closely clustered group as dumb terminals.

    Some type of way to introduce them and their cost savings to the administration at large without having it

  • Firefox (Score:4, Informative)

    by Rinisari (521266) * on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:30PM (#26773569) Homepage Journal

    Getting Firefox on all university-owned machines is a great first step. Install the IETab extension on Windows machines as a transition measure for those pesky sites which work better in IE (Blackboard, for example).

    Next, get OpenOffice installed in the same manner.

    Then, do the con suggested in this comment [slashdot.org]. Get MS to shower you in free licenses for things just so you can see how much you'd save if things were free.

    Next up is policy. Move towards a policy which favors open, published standards, not just open source. For instance, that comment says to make ODF the official format of college-student communications because it is the most accessible format (since it doesn't virtually require an expensive program to read). If any university staff so much as utters something like, "We should use whatever format we like. Students should expect to make purchases in order to advance their education," you need to combat that mentality promptly with something like, "We're in a position to lower the cost of education in both visible and transparent ways by offering better choices to our students, we need to do that."

    The last step I'll talk about is to work on the professorial end. Get professors to send documentation in ODF and PDF and require submissions in those formats. Get graphics teachers to do a week or two on open source graphics tools. Get a professor to teach a class or hold lunch-time discussions on the use of TeX for research documents and proposals and such. There are very few science majors who would not benefit from instruction in TeX.

    • Agreed on policy (and on TeX, that should be virtually required for science students), but if you think wasting graphics classes' time on open source is worth it given all the other stuff that has to be covered, you're a little bit nuts. The open-source graphics world can't step to the proprietary, and until it can it should not be in the discussion.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Rinisari (521266) *

        You are pretty much correct, and primarily because I was not sufficiently specific.

        Graphics design and media art majors should waste little time on GIMP, Krita, Inkscape, and the like. You are correct--these packages are not as robust as Photoshop and Illustrator and probably won't be.

        However, 100 level classes which out-of-major students might take to fill credits or get some kind of liberal arts visual performance credit could talk a little about these options. It's unlikely that an English major is going

  • Of course not, the proper way it to strip out what you have and start from scratch. Otherwise, the entrenched installation will continually pop back to the forefront. Converting from one system to another is a painful, wrenching process - much like getting to cold water. It's best to jump in, do that whole-body shiver, and then get on with your swim. Getting in slowly is a good way to decide you don't want to do it at all.

    You'll need a serious migration plan for everything - from common, office apps which h

    • by FishWithAHammer (957772) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @02:08PM (#26773907)

      You'll need to organize training for everyone. Twice. And you'll need a kick-ass help desk for everything from copying files to equivalents of obscure Excel formulas.

      He's never prying Excel out of the hands of his accounting professors and to try to do so is fucking retarded. They simply won't do it and will continue to mandate Excel, which shoots holes in this entire game that the submitter wants to play.

      He's not going to be doing this. I get the feeling that he's a helpdesk monkey with delusions of competence, though, seeing as how he doesn't even know the cost of his Microsoft licenses...

  • by John Whitley (6067) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:33PM (#26773595) Homepage

    You can do it by paying attention to what your users need, not just what you want. OpenOffice.org may be an acceptable substitute for MS Office apps in your organization. Or, you may hobble the faculty because they're required to submit Word documents for various publications, using Word templates. It's bad enough having to suffer through this in Word, but having to manage this with another layer of indirection sounds utterly intolerable. That situation sucks, but you aren't going to change it by unilateral decree.

    Likewise, using the GIMP vs. Photoshop may be great for some of your users. But if they're using features daily in Photoshop that aren't supported in GIMP, soon they'll be GIMP'ing up dartboards with your face on it.

    Simply put, users care about applications that meet their needs and organizations should too. If you are truly in a position to influence these decisions, then your responsibility is to understand and meet those needs, not serve your own ideology. Working contrary to users' needs is a terrible way to promote the OSS software cause; you'll make more enemies for OSS than friends.

  • Microsoft Licensing (Score:5, Informative)

    by ScytheBlade1 (772156) <scytheblade1@ave ... 9rl.com minus pi> on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:37PM (#26773623) Homepage Journal

    With Vista (and "above" - 2k8, win7), Microsoft changed the way they do site licensing. Instead of having one key for every computer, every client does a DNS lookup for a Key Management Software Server (KMS server), which then simply activates the client computer. It does not keep a record of how many activations you have used, only the last 50.

    Likewise, you just call them up, tell them how many computers you have, and they give you a price. A few minutes and many thousands of dollars later, you have a key to plug in to KMS. Magically, every Vista+ box that you have on site is licensed and activated. This can include student computers if you wish. The activations 6 months, after which time they *must* talk to the KMS server again.

    http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/resources/vol/default.mspx [microsoft.com]

    Now look. I run centos/debian/openbsd/gentoo/xp/vista/server 2008. I really hate (operating system) licensing. I hate the simple concept. But KMS is really the way to go. It takes right next to no system resources. In the KMS docs, they say that most 100k+ client customers are perfectly content with 2 KMS servers (with the same key). Next to zero system load.

    Second, Office.

    http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/suites/HA101080191033.aspx [microsoft.com]

    There is also their Software Assurance program.

    http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/sa/default.mspx [microsoft.com]

    Software Assurance has one big downside, and one big upside. The downside is that it is a yearly fee. It is more or less a subscription. The upside is that you are entitled to free upgrades of "the product" as long as you keep paying. This means that if you purchased SA on Office 2003 a year before 2007 was released, your 2003 license can be automatically upconverted to 2007 free of charge. The same applies to... all of their products. XP --> Vista --> Win7, SQL 2000 --> 2003 --> 2008, Visual Studio, the works. It is not a required upconversion either - you choose if and when you upgrade.

    As a result, buying your weight in gold worth of Software Assurance also gives you 24/7 software support. It more or less gives you everything. Tech support, upgrades, technical resources... it is essentially the equal to a Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscription in terms of the support you get, the products that you get, and the upgrades.

    Really, your best bet to understanding MS licensing is to contact one of their reps. Gather everything that you can find before hand, and give them a call. Grill them endlessly. Ask questions, and don't let them leave until you know everything you needed.

    What is the benefit of open source/free software? EVERYTHING ABOVE IS ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT.

  • You aren't going to save any money moving everything in the university to a whole new platform-- especially not if they're using all new products like Vista and Exchange 2007. What a tremendous waste. Re-installing everything and retraining all the employees and rewriting documentation for students will be outrageously expensive. If your University were looking to change/upgrade from some old outdated system or start a whole new system somewhere (like a new building?), that would be a different story.

    It sou

  • by rAiNsT0rm (877553) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:48PM (#26773727) Homepage

    I am being 100% honest here. I too work at a univeristy, a bit larger but same deal. You are shooting yourself in the foot big time, but well intentioned.

    There are far too many individual needs in this setting to do what you propose. Instead identify and choose a few specific spots where open source actually makes sense and offers a huge advantage (there are a couple) and make it happen. Start small and be smart about it. If it goes smoothly and shows real savings and improvements you may have earned the chance to do the same in another area.

    Openoffice sucks. Period. Large-scale monitoring and maintenance can also suck. Sometimes Mac OSX is even the best choice. You have to take off the rose-colored glasses and think critically about everyone's real needs not just your pie-in-the-sky dream.

  • by HerculesMO (693085) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @01:51PM (#26773759)

    In most organizations, it takes only a small group of whiners to transition the whole of an IT focus to something else. Trust me, I've been through this battle.

    Make changes where it *makes sense*. Microsoft Office currently is best of breed, no offense meant to OpenOffice but seriously... it's not even in the same realm. Windows on the desktop obviously goes side by side with this.

    Where you can make arguments are on the backend where users don't really have a say. Say you want to launch some web servers -- go *Nix and Apache instead of MS and IIS. Want a database cluster? Go *nix and MySQL. These are changes that *can* happen.

    I have seen far too often that 'techies' get involved and just because the technology is more superior (in some way) they totally discount the business benefit from having it set up that way. What is your roadmap for the future of IT? What paths are you looking to cross? Say the CIO wants to invest some money into Sharepoint, or wants to use WIM (standard image format) for deployments, or wants to lock down users better (AD Policies). These things are *windows specific*. You can make the argument, but if you can't look at it from a business perspective, then you are already on the path to failing at your argument.

    Usually the cost of changing everything, retraining users, and getting them to be AS PRODUCTIVE as they were before is far more expensive than to keep technology the same and use branches into other things to accomplish business tasks.

    And don't say you're an educational facility... you're a business first, and any good business is in the *business* of making money or showing results. That's what you call an organizational unit :)

    Good luck to you, but make sure you have your ducks in a row before you go making arguments of vast change, because if you don't know what the future holds or what the goals are, you will just look like an idiot.

  • If you want to transition to OSS, start with new deployments where there is no legacy cruft to support... Try Moodle instead of blackboard for new deployments, it will save a fair bit of money and make it more accessible to students many of whom will have macs, linux or mobile devices like iphones.

    Simultaneously, work on promoting open standards, have open standards used as the official protocols for communication with the university... And provide software to students/staff, in the form of full application

  • Many people seem to underestimate Microsoft's true power. You can't fight them with money, you have to fight them with ideology.

    Normally something rare and highly demanded is valuable. Microsoft, and many other software companies, create an artificial value with high costs and licensing.

    Microsoft can then exert this power by 'reducing' the cost of something unnecessarily expensive because it doesn't cost jack shit for them to make another copy.

    Schools are the best angle of attack for Microsoft. Everyone is

  • This one is easy. Find out how much your university paid for the MS licenses over the last few contracts. Divide that by the number of students/users/relevant people to get a 'cost'. Then point out to the students, publicly and loudly, that because the University management felt compelled to enrich the billionaires at MS, they paid $xxxx more each year.

    Then say there are just as good alternatives that will not only allow them to save money, but be more secure and take copies home to use on their home machin

  • Total cost of ownership is Microsoft's standard argument against FOSS competition. You save on license fees, but what does educating people (administrators, tech support, end users) about the differences between MS and FOSS products cost you?

    There's a big possibility to spread FUD this way, but there's also a certain truth to it. Research this topic, it will invariably come up in one form or another.

  • I can't really say anything about the cost of proprietary software, so I thought you might appreciate some information about what Open Source can be used for: My university has many thousands of students in all kinds of maths, engineering and technology-related fields. There's a custom zope installation for managing your schedule and course registration that's also used for other things like a secure central authentication gateway for professors who want to roll their own systems yet still need to interfac
    • by dysfunct (940221) *
      I forgot to mention that although Open Source software has greatly advanced over the years, it apparently still won't protect you from forgetting to select the "Plain Old Text" formatting option.
  • What I would suggest you could roll out, though, seeing as you didn't mention Adobe, are open source things for graphics and design. The Gimp, Inkscape, and Scribus all do things you can't do with MS Office, and I think are a great place to start.

    Not foisting them upon graphics professionals, but having them there and available for anyone who wants them.

  • Other people have said it and I'll just reiterate: you can't win based on cost. That's a moot point.

    So let's assume you can't get MS to step up with free licenses and you want to transition MS Office to OpenOffice. First you'll need to set up a training program for everyone on staff - you are shooting yourself in the foot if you don't. Next, you're still going to need Excel in some places because there's all kinds of nasty spreadsheets you don't know about using VB macros and COM plugins.

    Finally, you're

  • There has been a lot of good advice posted already, but I'll add what I can from my own experience. I was a computer science professor at a larger (~15,000) university for 20 years, and we used open source for virtually everything, but it was like pulling teeth to get the university to switch, mostly because of attitudes of people in the Data Center. The first thing, back in the 80's, was to get them to connect to the Internet. They thought their IBM Bitnet connectivity was all anyone would ever need. I

  • I recently started a new job in local government, who is actually quite pro open source. BSD, Solaris, Linux all welcome.

    However, I realised, as you may, it is about the bigger picture.

    It is all very well putting forward new solutions, but you need think about it in this way:

    How much would it cost to retrain all the users. Retraining several thousand users won't be cheap.
    Would the users accept such a notion, or are they very anti change
    What is in there at present is a known quantity. It works. Why should th

  • If you set yourself up as "the open source guy", you'll frighten people and have a constant struggle on your hands. Besides, wholesale conversions generally come with big problems anyway, and people will blame open source for everything.

    Instead, do things gradually. Start by introducing specific FOSS applications on Windows. Start offering Linux, but don't force anybody. Collect data on how much money and effort it takes to support Windows vs Linux. Migrate some server side applications to Linux and FO

  • I know nothing about university computing, but I know a bit about K-8 and much of it is probably transferable.

    1. Your licenses are almost certainly academic licenses. They used to be, and probably are, dirt cheap, you can possibly get a price by calling an educational software distributor ... maybe. The big cost in new versions is the people cost of reconfiguring/upgrading all sorts of badly written, poorly documented software that turns out not to be compatible with Windows 7 or whatever.

    2. Your exist

  • I work at a large private university and to my knowledge maintain the largest network of Linux/UNIX systems on campus.

    I'd like to make an argument that going open source would save the university money and think through a gradual transition process to open source software (starting small, with something like replacing Endnote with Zotero, then MS Office with OpenOffice.org, and so on)

    You're doing it wrong. Rather than gradually transition systems away from MSFT and Windows only solutions you need to g
  • You have a very laudable goal. I faced a situation with a small private school for high functioning children with learning disabilities. I stepped in as a consultant (A friend of mine is on the board of directors and I did this as volunteer work) to fix the situation when the system admin was terminated. The coffers for the IT budget were nearly drained from an expensive, maintenance intensive setup. The school was in such bad shape financially as a result of misspent money on IT that admin staff took a
  • by mongoose(!no) (719125) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @02:37PM (#26774243)
    But if you're not in a position to know how much your university spends on software and be able to compare it to how much revenue the university has, you're not in a position to really make a change to open source. Second, thinking of my dealings with fellow university students (I'm an OSS using university student as well), I know many of them would rather use the MS/proprietary version that just works than deal with often buggy open source software that's not always compatible or has bugs left and right. Your university has to deal with the outside world, which is still deeply entrenched in MS Office, unless you're going to show all your students how to export from Open Office to an MS Office format, expect a lot of complaints. Granted, Open Office isn't as buggy as some things, but if you have engineering students who need a good CAD program, don't count on finding a good open source program for them. I wish you luck, but you're really fighting the tide here.
  • by psydeshow (154300) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @06:58PM (#26777109) Homepage

    Why does an organization or enterprise need to be all one OS or another? Do you really want to be responsible for the fate of an entire university's computing infrastructure?

    The "transition" to open source at your institution is already happening. Get in touch with faculty and grad students using open source tools. Encourage them to request open source software and services from the University. Work with anyone and everyone you can to make sure that the websites and application they are responsible for work with Firefox and WebKit.

    Use open source tools in your office, and document how you made it work with the University's services. Work with the IT folks when you can (cooperation is your friend!) but when you can't, or they are dragging their feet, quietly find some other way to do it.

    Unless you have a mandate from administration and funding for your own shop, you can't actually force any kind of transition. Bide your time, keep in touch with other users, and use your expertise to help out where you can.

    If you want to propose something to the administration, providing professional and secure PHP and Ruby-on-Rails services to students and faculty will do more for open source adoption than just about anything else I can think of.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by psydeshow (154300)

      Also, remember that rdesktop is an excellent compatibility layer for those times when only Windows will do.

  • by MacColossus (932054) on Sunday February 08, 2009 @11:28PM (#26779227) Journal
    It even runs on Windows and Mac OS X if they won't let you run it on Linux. It imports Blackboard courses. The lowest Blackboard product for our 1,200 student school was $15,000 per year. For the cost of a server and the same amount of time it takes to upgrade Blackboard you are there. Step by step documentation was so slick I set it up on Ubuntu Linux with little prior Linux server admin experience. I did have prior Mac OS X Server experience.
  • by kklein (900361) on Monday February 09, 2009 @05:37AM (#26781035)

    I am an assistant professor. If you came to my office and told me to use anything, I'd kick your IT-fiddle-monkey-ass to the door.

    Here's something I really want university IT guys to get through their thick skulls:

    You work for us. Not the other way around.

    If I want to use a Windows machine, you need to figure out how to let me. If I want to use a Mac (which I do), you need to make sure I can get to my servers. If I want to use Linux (which I hope to be doing one day--when the software I need to do my research is available on the platform), I expect your support there, too.

    In the specific case of what you're proposing--moving to OSS for all everyday tasks, I have to be totally clear and honest here: You are wholly unqualified to make that call. It's not your job; it's not your responsibility; it's none of your damned business. You don't even know what I do; how could you know what I need?

    Finally, let me say this: My first jobs in academia were in IT support, and I, too, got drunk on the power. I, too, was young and full of myself, and I, too, ran around telling people what they should do, instead of listening to what it is that they needed to do, and helping them do it. Now that I'm on the other side (and older and less full of myself), I see why I pissed people off so much in those days. I sucked at my job.

    If you try to meddle in your customers' business, you suck at your job, too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by brainee28 (772585)

      I am an assistant professor. If you came to my office and told me to use anything, I'd kick your IT-fiddle-monkey-ass to the door.

      That's because you have little respect for others based on the tirade you just posted.

      Here's something I really want university IT guys to get through their thick skulls:

      You work for us. Not the other way around.

      I'm not sure what it is that you teach, you didn't mention that; however something you may need to get through your thick skull is that professors, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals are good at their profession. They suck as any authority for IT work. They need to stop acting as if they have any experience dealing with IT whatsoever. I don't tell you how to teach your class, don't tell me or him how to run my net

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