This isn’t a rant about open source software itself; please note the difference BEFORE bashing me in the comments or on the net.
However I recently saw a post on /. about how a university network admin wanted to start switching the university over to open source.
The only thing that came to mind was why on earth would you want to do such a disservice to your students? While open source is great, most large companies (which is where most university students want to end up) don’t use much if any open source applications. In the article he’s talking about replacing Office 2007 with Open Office. Which is a fine idea for home, or for a business; however an educational institution should be more concerned with making sure that the students have access to what they will be using in the real world when they get into the job market.
Ideally I think that these students should have access to both applications, but they definitely shouldn’t be taking away access to the propriety software which the student will need to know how to use in the job market. For example a student who is majoring in Business will probably need to know how to use PowerPoint, and the differences between PowerPoint and the open source equivalent. However if all they are taught in school is the open source version, and they are asked to bring a presentation to an interview and give it, and the presentation doesn’t work in PowerPoint they will not be getting that job.
Many open source fans need to remember something. While you may not like Microsoft and other close source companies (but lets be realistic, for the most part you don’t like Microsoft) these companies software are the tools that over 95% of companies use. And while it’s great that you want to teach people that there is an alternative out there, if your role is to educate users you have to show them all the options. If you choose to only show people the open source option, and not the propriety option then how is what you are doing any better than what you feel Microsoft does? But if users don’t know how to use the tools which companies are providing then the users won’t be able to get jobs. If people can’t get jobs then they can’t buy computers to run open source software.
And don’t think that if all the job applicants can’t use Office this will force companies to switch to an Open Source version. This will simply give the companies more ammunition to send more jobs overseas where people are still being taught Microsoft products.
I guess the summary of this post is this. If you want to teach open source, then be open about it. Teach both ideas, and give your students a fighting chance to get that good job they were promised when they went to college.