Nothing is available for free and nor is open source software. There is a direct or indirect cost for deployment and management of all software. It may be broadly referred to as total ownership cost. Someone will have to be responsible for maintaining the system and applying security and feature updates. This is true for both proprietary and open source software.
Bazaar model of software development
It has been observed that an open source software mostly costs less than its proprietary equivalent. The cost differential can largely be attributed to the bazaar model of software development. Almost all open source projects adhere to this model. Quoting from Eric Raymond’s paper, “Linus Torvalds’s style of development — release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity…”. Surprisingly, result of such an approach is not only a “coherent and stable system” but also a significantly cost effective method of consistently producing high quality software. This method is so effective that now we also have a hitherto non-believer of this model, Microsoft, actively practising it.
Good Samaritan practices
Most open source software for educational use is available for extremely low cost or even free. And all good and mature open source projects have great documentation and a vibrant and helpful community. The community’s vibrancy plays a key role in the software’s stature and progress.
The open source operating system distributions are much different from the hitherto popular Microsoft Windows variants. Hence, their deployment and maintenance requires engaging specially qualified personnel or acquiring new skills in-house. Both the options are economically viable and are easily possible.
Most OSVsOpen Source Vendors also provide ongoing support at very reasonable prices for the same open source product. This also ensures no vendor lock-in and keeps the support costs at check. If the turnaround support time is not a constraint one can also rely on the great amount of free support available via the project’s forums.
License cost a huge factor
There are many open source products available, providing most if not all functionality as that of the proprietary alternatives and that too at a lower cost. Hence, even with the extra effort, the gains due to license cost savings and productivity boost are much greater. So much so, that Microsoft started offering significant educational discounts to counter the Linux threat. This reaction from Microsoft also helps validate the impact of open source in education from a cost stand-point. A year 2009, IIM-Bangalore study estimates that the quantum of savings by adopting open source in education and e-governance in India could well be over Rs. 10,000 crores. And this is only a conservative estimate.
Thus, due to the low TCOTotal Cost of Ownership, adopting open source software products results in significant saving of funds for a school. These funds saved can be better utilised in several other areas such as school infrastructure development and teacher training programmes.