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Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

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Does Free Software cost jobs?

Open source and its contradictions

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Last year I generated quite a response when I suggested that the major expense of school ICT, namely the human resources required to keep it all going would be cut and cut again. The model of school ICT that had come to pass required huge amounts of skilled technical support.

Everything from re-imaging, installing new software, authentication, virus protection, filtering, backups, security, storage, hardware failure to licence management creates a non-trivial task that requires technical support. Schools had a choice pay-up or have a system that did not work.

During my years as an Open Source apologist trying to turn schools on to more reliable lower cost free software alternatives I saw the existing situation described above as not much better than a scam bleeding over funded schools dry.

Well everything has changed. Schools have stopped spending and the firms that sold to them are making big redundancies as illustrated by the cuts imposed recently by RM plc. My college has frozen all posts and within ICT the only post to be unfrozen is a web developer post. All of our ‘mission critical’ apps are available through the web (which is how I survive using only my Chromebook) so it seems obvious to me that the conventional model of Domains and their technical armies will naturally wither away.

I am feeling a little uneasy. As part of an Open Source company my mantra to education was ‘reduce overheads, reduce support, save money, do more for less’...well the message got through ... right alongside the recession. Trouble is we did not create a single long term job during this crusade. The company I was with has no-one now employed in any aspect of education.

There is no army of salaried opensourcerers doing ‘more for less’, just a long line of redundancies from the old guard.

All the developments in education are web-based and mostly leveraging globally available free stuff much of which indeed owes its existence to free, open source software. Virtually none of it represents a single British job.

Web2 (sounds quaint now does it not?) will soon dominate school ICT and take it forward but it will result in the loss of thousands more technical jobs. Suddenly the victory over the ‘proprietarists’ seem Pyrrhic, in our Capitalist system no fat profits equates to no jobs.

May be the US Government was right when it once famously saw the Free Open Source movement as nothing more than a ‘bunch of Commies’. Maybe IT has a cost that we must pay if we want a thriving industry, Apple certainly think so judging by their levels of profit... and recruitment.

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