I offer this post in the hopes of engaging others in a dialogue about propietary software and education. I am not anti OSS, but neither am I anti proprietary software. I think there is room for both to play.

So at the risk of being categorized as a nay-sayer, a traditionalist, or worse a corporate booster, I want to continue the conversation about proprietary software and education. George Siemens brought me some new perspectives on this issue in our class this evening (click here for the ustream session recording). He described one role of education as a counter-balancing presence to the role of institutions. When private sector competition collides with academic freedom. Hmmm. Hadn’t thought about that purpose. George also commented that the ideologies of the software provider are embedded in the code. Software is a value point and the value sits with the vendor rather than the user. That perspective I do understand, for while the “best” software reflects the needs of the user community and remains viable because it serves those needs, ultimately the vendor determines what is in the next release (or not).

We also discussed tonight that nothing is completely free. By happenstance I came upon a blog posting by David Wiley cheering Florida for officially authorizing open source reading materials. Laudable yes, but when you peruse the privacy statement from Free-reading.net you will see:

We use this information to respond to your inquiries about our offerings, track your compliance with our rules and policies, and other questions or comments you submit to us. We also may use the personally identifiable information that we collect to offer you other products or services that we believe may be of interest to you, unless you opt-out as described below.

How many will read the privacy statement and opt out? As altruistic as the Free-Reading wiki appears, it is still premised on an economic model – Wireless Generation owns the site (also in the privacy statement) although in fairness the content is also offered under a Commons license Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.

What I am not comfortable about is my perception that either you are in the OSS club or you are not. And a further perception (please correct me if I am mistaken) that if you are not in the OSS club you cannot embrace the concept of open education. Where is the diversity of opinion? Where is, as George Siemens said this evening, the “intentional diversity”? It seems that there is a singularity of thought that it must be free and open or it is of little value. If we create a world of right and wrong, then are we any further ahead in creating a world where diversity is valued, nurtured and respected? And how will we create systemic change toward open education if we are more concerned about the inputs than the outcomes?

If you have read this far, thank you. If I have misunderstood a tenet, please correct me. If there is another perspective that will help me to think through this issue, please enlighten me. I am invigorated by the intellectual struggle.