Thursday, 15 February 2007

Leigh Blackall's Learn Online.

I’ve been reading some of Leigh Blackall's great articles and I'm pretty impressed with his Blog Learn On Line. Some of you may know it as Teach and Learn Online. He's recently changed from Blogger to WordPress.

Every article is worth reading, but if time’s an issue right now, (and when isn't it?), I recommend you start with these two:

Flexible Learning in New Zealand part 2 (You might like to read part 1 while you're at it.)

Deschooling Society.

I think this piece is essential reading for all teachers. It's a great read, especially if you're familiar with Illich's work. But don't be put off if you're not. This is worth the time investment even if you've never heard of Ivan Illich or his deschooling ideas.

True to Leigh’s usual style, all the stuff on the blog is interesting, extremely well written, and thought provoking.

NOTE TO LEIGH: The Moment of Truth piece, struck a chord with me. My son, Simon, has a highly successful IT company. He and his guys have done some impressive stuff with network and internet security for government and large corporate clients, including Australian Defence.

I’ve been given the opportunity to sit in on development meetings from time to time. Listening to the guys talk about the problems they have to clean up daily, and hearing their horror stories, made me realise, a long time ago. that there's a lot a junk being given away in the public domain and it often causes more hassles than it’s worth.

The old cliché stands: you get what you pay for.

So what’s the problem? Why are people so hung up on free stuff?

Is it just that they have tight budgets and really can’t afford to pay for good proprietary product? Or is that humans, especially the Oz variety, just want something for nothing?

When I make a purchase I usually look for quality products. And I’m sure most people would like to have leading brand, top of the range, goods if they had the cash to fund the purchase.

Instead of us all getting behind the freebies, and making them appear to be in high demand because of consumer preference, why don’t we get together and lobby for domestic multi-user licence arrangements?

Hey, think about it. If fifty thousand consumers lobby Microsoft for domestic multi-user licences, don’t you think they would sit up and take notice?

Multi-user licences for the domestic market would allow ten friends to share the purchase cost and then they could all legally install the software on their home computers.

Microsoft sales would increase, unstable freebie software would diminish, and we would have standards again.

And don’t knock standards. I’m probably older than most people who will read this, and for many years I worked in the software engineering division of a large consultancy firm. I can remember the bad old days when every company had its own custom designed software. It was a nightmare. The designers were never available when things went wrong; training cost rocketed because new people had to be taught how to use the in-house systems; and don’t forget the endless update costs. Every time the programmers decided to make changes, whether they were needed or not, the business carried the cost.

I know it's all very exciting to get freebies, but how do you validate programming quality? And what do you do about the system configuration changes freebies often make when you install them? Even small config changes can send you down the path of destruction and you system can become highly unstable in no time at all.


Leigh Blackall said...

It really depends what you mean by freebies. The majority of the worlds servers run on free and open source server software - even Microsoft! The Firefox browser is easily the best browser and it is free and open source. Ubuntu Linux is a great operating system, that come packaged with OpenOffice which IMO is much better than MSWord and GIMP which is not as great as Photoshop - but not far off it either. All free and Open Source.

The education departments in Australia do negotiate mass deals for discounted rates. That is why all schools have Microsoft products and not open source options. And THAT is why Australia has very few software developers and programmers (because OpenSource is not available), and THAT is why Australian foreign debt is mostly in IT.

Watch the Richard Stallman video.

Thanks for the generous words about my Blogging Suzzane. Nice to see you're still at it!

Leigh Blackall said...

Sorry, I meant to say OpenOffcie is much better than MSOffice in my opinion.

Tell me, do you have MSOffice on your home computer? Is it paid for or pirated? If it was paid for who much did it cost you? And if your granddaughter asks you how it works, will you be able to point her to the source so she can find out?

Suzanne Fleming said...

Wow! What can I say? Not a much; except to say again there is a lot of junk out there and people, at their peril, tend to download anything they can get their hands on. I acknowledge and agree with most of your comments, but I am still not convinced that professional jealousy isn’t a major motivator driving people’s distaste for Microsoft products. And I have trouble dealing with this. My hair stands on end when I hear people bagging Bill Gates like he's some sort of evil being, hell bent on taking over the world. Where does that come from? Tall poppy syndrome? Maybe, but where ever it comes from it’s pretty misguided.

Bill Gates and his mates have done more good than harm. Where would we be if Microsoft hadn’t spent millions on research and development? Still using Basic I think. God anyone who remembers Basic has to be happy we’ve moved on.

Again, I have to repeat, that when it comes to IT, I believe standardisation is a good thing. Let’s not go back to the dark ages. Can we at least be selective when we choose products? It’s important to be discerning about what we download. The real problem I have with so many freebies, is we have no way of knowing who created them and what config changes they make to otherwise stable machines. To back this up, I have lost count of the number of times people ask me to ‘have a look’ at their computers because they’re doing strange things. When I give in and check them out I find dozens of strange downloads, and systems changes that are difficult to fix.

Well I did say I wanted to start a great network of people having their say. I think I’m getting it. Thanks Leigh. Please keep sharing your opinions with us all. I suspect there will be many people who agree with you. On this one, I could be a lone voice in the wilderness.

Leigh Blackall said...

We all want standards. You accept closed standards that can and are used for cornering markets and getting consumer lock in, I prefer open standards that maintain personal freedoms and user flexibility.

The problem here is that you lump all Free Open Source Software as the same, and being a cause of the problem. There are plenty of commercial software that cause problems to a system too.

The hords of yellow peril downloading evil free software is what comnputing is about. It creates a teachable moment. If IT can't create and mainatin safe working environments for that, then they should rethink centralised networks. Millions of functioning home networks get by.

The hatred for Bill Gates comes from the creation of closed formats that cause the incompatibility you refer to. You dream of a standard operating system, and would sooner trust corporate governance than democratic, academic, open development of one. Development that is motivated my social justice and good programming rather than marketing and profit.

Sorry to say it like that. Did you watch the video? Could you? The video format is in an open standard. Not one that is readily playable in your windows media player, or Mac Quicktime - because the comercial software has trouble acknowledging formats that break out of their market cornering.

I hope you will watch the video, and I hope you will eventually take up the cause for free and open source software as being more in line with the traditions of teaching and community education than IT Security and Microsoft/CISCO trained support, that seems to have no trouble acceptingthe idea that we will install coke machines in every classroom and ban the use of BYO water.

Go on, try it. Install OpenOffice and use it for a month. Discover the features it has that MS Office does not. Experience the frustration of your colleagues using closed formats that force you to have to buy expensive software. And feel the joy of being able to teach your next outreach class how to set up a computer with no software costs!

Suzanne Fleming said...

Hi Leigh,

I'm working hard to become better informed. I don't want to spread false info and I certainly don't want to put anyone off open source software, especially if it could improve their life. I've been reading a lot of material and I'm beginning to see a clearer picture. I will respond to your comment in more details soon.

Until then there is something important for us both to consider.

You're viewing this topic from a social improvement perspective, but I've been conditioned to think about software from a commercial one. Funny really, because I spent, more than fifteen years in community development and social research, in an earlier life.

However, for the past eighteen years my conditioning has come from business activity, with a strong emphasis on software development. I’ve been driven by the profit motive all this time and I honestly believe we get what we pay for. I also believe there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Please be patient with me. I don't want to be one of those people who argues only to support their own biases.

Thanks for helping me out here. Don't give up on me yet. Please!


Kiri said...

Thanks for writing this.