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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Keep Taxpayer Dollars Out of Bill Gates' Pocket

Believe it or not, the Adam Smith Institute blog sometimes provides something besides fodder for negative posts. When it does, there's a pretty good chance Alex Singleton is the author. In "Should UK education be switching to OpenOffice?" Singleton argues that open source software would reduce computer costs by half in primary schools and by a quarter in secondary schools.

Of course, since "public" schools are spending (in Milton Friedman's phrase) other people's money on other people, they've got no real reason to want to save money. When the neighboring city of Siloam Springs voted down a millage increase for schools, the school administration announced shortly afterward that it was cancelling its planned purchase of new computers. Instead, it would upgrade existing computers at far less cost, with almost the same increase in performance. Well, well, well! If they hadn't had their money fix cut off, they wouldn't have even considered doing something that cost-effective.

8 Comments:

Blogger Per Bylund said...

I won't argue with you on the political argument (since I do agree). However, even though the point is well put and correct, I am not agreeing with the details. I am aware of quite a few Swedish public organizations exchanging their licensed Microsoft (and other professional business) software for open source competing software applications in order to save money. With the lack of service, upgrades, support, etc it has been a very costly "cut" of costs. They have ended up paying a lot more for their computer software (and the "needed" services to keep 'em running) than they would ever have paid were it Microsoft standard software.

I'm not saying Microsoft's products are much better, but there are a number of reasons public institutions perhaps shouldn't "go open source." It might be because the open source market is still somewhat immature, but there is a lack of structure and of taking responsibility (customer relations and responsibility).

Since public institutions seem to be utterly incapable of providing internal support services and caring for their own infrastructure (and competence), "open source" might not be a good idea - in any sense.

This might not be an "eternal truth," but that's the experience from the mammoth Swedish public sector.

July 29, 2006 12:34 PM  
Anonymous autocrat said...

I am aware of quite a few Swedish public organizations exchanging their licensed Microsoft (and other professional business) software for open source competing software applications in order to save money. With the lack of service, upgrades, support, etc it has been a very costly "cut" of costs.


I wonder where/how someone would get the notion that an organization would lack service, upgrades and support by going with Free software.

Not only do the linux distributions themselves offer commercial upgrades/support, but most of the more integral software entities themselves - such as databases ( PostgreSQL, MySQL ), collaboration ( OpenXchange, Kolab, Sendmail ), file sharing ( Samba ), web application frameworks ( JBoss, Jeronimo, RubyOnRails, Zope, Catalyst, PHP ), etc, etc, etc... - also provide various forms/grades of support contracts.

July 29, 2006 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Open-source good, microsoft bad.

July 29, 2006 3:04 PM  
Blogger quasibill said...

Well, this is exactly the problem with the state, right? It can't even mimic an actual market participant, because it has no way of gathering the knowledge necessary. Even in Per's Swedish examples, the problem is that they have no way of knowing if they are being penny-wise but pound-foolish. I see it all the time in local government, where they cut corners on capital spending, and then spend years paying increased maintenance costs. Although in their case, I'm not entirely sure it isn't intentional (nice payback for contributors who are local contractors...)

July 30, 2006 4:33 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I'd have to grudgingly agree with Per's point... there's nothing inherent in OS software that makes it "better"... it often is, but a lot of the time it's designed for more people who really know what they're doing. But quasibill makes a good point, too - since they can't calculate costs correctly, it's hard to know what the kids "actually need".

July 30, 2006 7:12 AM  
Blogger Per Bylund said...

quasibill:
Well, this is exactly the problem with the state, right?

Exactly. Even if open source software was always cheaper, no matter how you use or implement it, it would still "magically" increase costs for any public institutions "going open source."

Jeremy:
there's nothing inherent in OS software that makes it "better"... it often is, but a lot of the time it's designed for more people who really know what they're doing

Also a good point.

I was of course referring to publik schools and other public organizations that have remade their whole software architecture because open source "is so cheap." There are of course companies offering service and support for open source too - but the public sector would of course choose the once who do not (the "cheaper" ones...).

July 30, 2006 10:05 AM  
Blogger Per Bylund said...

Anonymous:
Open-source good, microsoft bad.

I have a problem with the religious view often present among people very familiar with "IT." Either you love Microsoft or you are a "hard-core" Microsoft hater. I can't see, politically or philosophically, that Microsoft is neither better nor worse than its competitors Sun, Apple, IBM and so forth. They all use the State to bash on each other - instead of investing that time and energy in making better products.

As a professional systems developer I have come to realize the enormous advantage of using Microsoft IDEs. Windows might be a pretty shitty product (at least it was before), but the support offered for people developing applications on that platform is generations ahead of most competitors.

But as a part of "Big Business" I don't appreciate Microsoft, of course.

July 30, 2006 10:10 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Not to geek out too much, Per, but MS has put a lot of money and time into "wooing" developers. I agree that their IDEs tend to be good, and lately they've been pretty responsive to developer demands. I think Visual Studio is a great product, if you want to spend all your time coding for MS consumers (granted, most development companies do, but I think this is starting to change as selling the software itself becomes less of a core business and more of a means to service-oriented biz models, a la Red Hat, Eclipse, and other companies).

Kevin, reading Tim O'Reily's talk on Web2.0 might be interesting reading. Don't worry about the technical terms - he talks a lot about how biz models are changing to de-emphasize reliance on source control for providing value through the creative combination of different services and data sources.

July 30, 2006 10:53 AM  

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