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Open source groups warn Greece will waste millions on school software (europa.eu)
56 points by Tsiolkovsky 1813 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

Actually it seems that it wasn't a request for tenders but a request for public comments on a tender plan. Along with Greeklug, Microsoft Hellas and other companies also submitted comments. Funnily enough, Microsoft Hellas feels that the nature of the proposed tender favors open source solutions and eliminates MS Office from the competition.

Open source/Free software should be used by governments not because it's gratis, but rather because it can be audited and modified by public servants.

Implementing a free solution costs money in training, deployment, etc. But I'd rather pay that price than having a company lock my government data.

Microsoft does make its source code available under the "Government Security Program", so a similar level of auditing is possible.

I don't quite understand the problem with governments not being able to modify proprietary source code though - where is the practical disadvantage?

Proprietary software comes as a huge blob of compiled code. Most often you can't just throw any part of that code away - it will "void the warranty". And you certainly can't check all the code in that blob.

With open source, you can customize your systems to a great extent. You also employ local specialists to do so. And you can make minimal systems for critical applications. With predictable behavior. Ones that don't message box or screen saver on you.

I do understand that there are useful applications for open source software (I've used it myself for a few projects), but in the context of providing laptops for students and servers for running the school IT infrastructure there really does not seem to be any huge advantage. What possible customisations would be required to the core source code of Microsoft's Windows and Office to have them work more effectively in an educational environment?

The grandparent was arguing about governments in general, not just education.

My point still stands. Why would a government need to modify the source code of Windows or Office? Any customisations or modifications to the stock install would be done by reconfiguring parts of it using the standard tools, or by writing (or purchasing) additional software.

A government might want to check that the blob isn't opening access to closed networks; or secretly collecting data somewhere; or secretly adding hidden meta data to documents.

Source code is not required for such auditing, it just makes it easier in some ways. Anyway, the main method of distribution of open source software is as precompiled binaries so the same issue arises there.

If the binary blob does not match the source code, that will be discovered quickly. Also, if the Government (or other entity) is doing an audit, it does not seem like much work to compile from source.

Assuming it was designed to be moddified in the way nessasary. Once you want unanticipated changes, having the source makes things much easier.

A mega-list of open source software (for the skeptics):


By the way, there's also a petition to promote open source software in American schoos, too:


> "The specification is a copy of the proprietary vendor's e-mail and office software."

I wonder who could have written the spec.

Tongue in cheek: How many millions of lost GDP will it cost Greece, a few years down the line, to have a workforce not trained in standard business software?

1) Do you really think that someone who can do "standard business tasks" on linux will be unable to do it on Windows?

2) Perhaps you have not heard or understood that people are dying of hunger or freezing from cold because the government has increased taxes on food, electricity, gas and oil/petrol. This is not the majority of course, but they are enough.

3) MS products are "standard business" in your business. That does not mean it is for every one nor that it should be.

4) Schools are not training centers for businesses. For god sake, public education is about other values, not creating what some businesses require.

I don't think you've got #4 correct. If you look at the beginnings of mass public education, it corresponded to the needs of the industrial revolution to have a workforce that would be content doing repetitive tasks in an authoritarian environment for many hours a day.

As I watch my kids go through school (my oldest started college this year), it was clear since 6th grade that education is about finding your path to a career. The only way that works is if the education people are receiving is of value to businesses.

So, while it is certainly possible for an individual to pursue an education for its own sake, the educational system is a training center for businesses.

There never was an industrial revolution in Greece. Yet (or what is more) there is a respectable number of Greeks around the world who started from the Greek educational system.

Everyone (I hope...) is free to believe whatever they think right. However, in some respects, I feel sad about your kids.

My belief is that education should shape values, ethics and other boring things.

1) Yes. People who were proficient in Office 2003 needed special training to use Office 2007. There's a real cost to switching tools.

2) Holy cow, that's a loaded argument: "Use Linux or people will starve!!!"

3) Agreed.

4) Fully agreed.

"1) Yes. People who were proficient in Office 2003 needed special training to use Office 2007. There's a real cost to switching tools." This is actually a strong argument for the futility of windows and office-oriented teaching. Why bother if the skills willl become obsolete in four years?

1) Which makes me curious, will all these people making decisions comparing MS solutions - other solutions will remember they had to pay this cost?

2) This is nowhere near what I said. You should better think before you speak, especially when it is about people dieing as a result of other people's decisions.

YES, there is an increasing number of people committing suicide saying in their suicide notesthat they can not live being a burden and/or without dignity (http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2012/11/22/greece-in-crisis...) because of a government/EU/bankers inflicted "crisis".

YES, there are a lot of disabled people who are being left to die as a result of "reduced spending" (http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2012/11/06/health-s-o-s-gre...)

YES, since this winter it looks like there will be even more people with health problem because of other "unforeseen consequences" I would never believe could happen (http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2012/12/27/athens-suffocate...).

In a situation where the government a)is taxing people living on 0 euro per year (through a system which claims that even if you declared 0e income you need at least 3000e to survive/exist so you will be taxed for 3000e income) b) cuts down on 280e/month pensions c) cuts down on health spending to the extend that hospitals ask patient's relatives to buy consumables d) people stopped turning on their heating because heating oil has been heavily taxed (4x in less than 10 years). There are already enough occasions of people died in fires (http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2012/12/10/freezing-and-dyi...)

Then YES, a few millions paid to microsoft annoys me A LOT and I do not want to be paying for MS skilled workers.

Open office and Libre office are still not on par with commercial offerings. Linux is it's own barrier to entry at the current time.

Really? I urge you to try again. The majority of what people will use in a word processor is there. Why do you think google docs has caught on? Because your average office person doesn't need too many bells and whistles. In any case, even I am hard pressed to find things that libreoffice doesn't do these days.

1) So what? They're going to be blown away by Google Docs. Or tablets. Or wikis. Or whatever. But it's going to happen. It does not matter.

2) Why is that bad in the context of school?

How many millions will the world lose because schools have been using windows xp/7 and now the world is going to migrate to tiled windows 8?

The correct answer is: Nobody cares. You are bullshitting us. I mean, maybe it will matter. Maybe it won't. Maybe everyone will migrate to tablets.

You don't have to teach narrow and expiring skills in school. Like "Windows XP" or "Microsoft Office". The half-life of such skills is smaller than the length of the full school course.

And of course you should not rely on the teaching of narrow and expiring skills and lie to us about how someone is going to lose billions over narrow and expiring skills being teached in a different way.

Ufortunetly the average worker in the general work force isn't that computer savvy (HN readers are not a representative sample) it makes good sense to train them using the bog standard office software.

School is not a place to "train" anyone to use any software.

By the time they get out of school, there will be the next big thing around them. Thing ms dos -> windows, menus -> ribbon, classical -> tiled windows, pc -> tablet.

It does not make sense and you should not base your decisions on it..

School is a great place to train people to do all sorts of things - software use included.

It can be more useful to train students in commercial software if they are ubiquitous everywhere else. For example, in a graphic design course, one would teach students to use Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc. It would be detrimental to train them in GIMP and Inkscape, as aside from these software being substandard for serious use, hardly anyone uses them. Whereas showing someone how to use even the older CS2 version of Photoshop, these skills will transfer easily to the latest CS6.

Not in the standard course.

In case of graphic design, school should let the creativity of the children involved unfold. So now you have to prove that GIMP and Inkscape are detrimental to creativity.

The "skills" gained in school do not matter. But open source has another strong poit: convenience.

Compare two stories. A teenager took a course in design on CS2, liked it, but didn't have the software on his home computer so he didn't practice extracirricularly. After coming to the design field in ten years he discovers he doesn't remember anything and the skills he does remember are obsolete. He's also not very good since the lack of practice.

A teenager took a course in design on GIMP. He installed GIMP at home, designed every day religiously for ten years. After coming to the design field he picked up some Photoshop skills and was happily designing ever since.

Your story is unrealistic as the teenager would quite easily be able to acquire CS2 for home use, either through the heavily discounted student version or, I suppose, simply by pirating it.

Anyway, GIMP is seriously limited when compared to the feature set of Photoshop. It makes no sense for him to kickstart a design career using inferior software, just because it happens to be open sourced.

When I was a kid I had exactly zero budget for software. And I believe even the discounted version of Photoshop is on the order of hundred bucks. Piracy is not a good opton in context of this discussion.

The feature set is an interesting question but an orthogonal to one we've been discussing, that is: preferring the current mainstream, business-adopted software even if it costs significantly more.

Yes I do agree with you that piracy is not a good option, and if the hypothetical student did indeed have zero budget and enough moral character to refuse to pirate the commercial software, then open source would be the ideal choice in this situation.

By using open source products in education in the first place, you can push students to install the same software at home and continue tinkering. Without regard to their material status or moral character.

I don't see why you demote this to merely an option. It's the cruical selling point. Open source programs also tend to be cross platform (available to more students) and support open data formats (their data will not be locked, flowing freely).

I have yet to find such a person that trains to use Excel or Windows.

I do not agree with the word 'waste'.

Yes, I thought that the word 'waste' was inappropriate as well. Microsoft systems will work fine, but, in the UK at least, we pay an annual license fee for using their software. The details are (notoriously) unclear but educational licensing is significantly cheaper than business/enterprise costs.

At the client end, my students are already using a variety of devices of their own with non-Microsoft interfaces. I have no doubt of their ability to cope with client PCs that had (say) Gnome Shell or Unity running on them, certainly no issues with XFCE4 or one of the Gnome 3 'remixed' interfaces. We already use RDP to access more exotic software such as Adobe/Autocad &c. The musicians and media people have their Macs for Logic and Final Cut.

As always it comes down to the business systems, and daring to be the first institution to change. If Greece is still at the stage of putting building-wide wifi into their schools, well, it strikes me that there is an opportunity to try a different approach possibly with lower total cost.

If there are two equivalent systems, where one costs and the other is gratis then yes, money spent on the former is waste. In this case though they aren't even equivalent ;)

Duncan, suggesting that it's that simple is extremely naive. OSS has costs too. I have no doubt that OSS would be cheaper, but it would be nice to see real world cost comparisons, and not the usual zealotry from the GPL lot.

Both solutions will obviously have implementation and maintenance costs. Given that a free solution exists, however, anything spent over and above those costs - e.g. on licensing - is wasted.

It's not that black and white. The re-training costs alone could prove to be significantly more than the cost of a license. So no, it's not "wasted".

Please re-read my comment. I acknowledge that both solutions have implementation and maintenance costs - which include the cost of re-training.

Anything over and above that _is_ waste.

(FWIW, I dislike the term 'training'. Someone else said this first, but I agree: training is what you do to dogs, education is what you provide people.)

I dislike the term 'waste' when referring to software licensing over 'free' software. As I said, it's not as simple as you are suggesting. I pointer out training (semantically, it is training), but there are other costs and factors to consider. I'm not suggesting for one minute that OSS is a bad choice, just that it is not necessarily the most cost effective in short to medium term.

Those are money packed in a box and send to USA.

Open source would have caused Greece to spend a part of that money inside the country, employing local specialists.

They will need to hire (or continue to hire) local specialists to install and maintain the software though. I would not be surprised if the wage cost is higher than the cost of the software.

But those money remain in the country and make its economy feel better. Increase consumer spendings and yada yada. Money that you ship off (even after tax) make it worse.

Sorry I misworded my comment, I meant that local specialists will be needed for commercial software too, to install and maintain it.

If the commercial software needs as much specialists to support, what's the point anyway? The whole idea of commercial software is outsourcing work instead of doing everything in-house.

Well, it depends on the software. If we're talking about Windows and Office, they're very high quality, standard pieces of software that are an excellent choice for the educational market. As well as having a larger number of people already experienced in using them, both as users and specialists.

For example, it's worth paying for Windows Server just for how much easier it is to run large deployments of PCs and users from it using Active Directory, group policies and suchlike. Rather than hacking something up in Linux or whatever.

Your argument assumes that the commercial and open-source offerings are equal in quality and features, when in fact the major commercial software is far superior.

My argument isn't an abstract commercial vs open-source one: it all hinges on the quality of the software: if Microsoft suddenly open-sourced their entire operating system and productivity suites, they would still be the top choice in my book.

You can employ mixed approach. For example, buy Windows while using OpenOffice.org.

But I argue that for large-scale development it is feasible to develop a Linux distribution that will fit schools better than Windows ever does. With everything school workplace needs, installable in one click.

yes but the us subsidiary would probably pay more tax to the govenment.

Still a fraction of the amount sent abroad. Free software allows all the money to stay in Greece.

"seeking suppliers of 26,400 laptops, 1760 servers and 1760 wifi access routers".

Laptops? Seriously? Is the premium for buying laptops instead of desktops for school computers really justified, especially under the dire economic situation?

Yes, they are given to students, not set up in a static computer lab. It's called 1-to-1 computing, and it can be more effective for learning than only giving very limited access to a computer lab. I hope they budgeted for training and professional development though, otherwise it will not be as effective: http://www.eschoolnews.com/2010/02/16/11-programs-only-as-go...

A major advantage of them using Microsoft Windows and Office instead of the open source alternatives, is the high quality Greek internationalisation of the software. The same can not be said of the open source offerings.

"The same can not be said of the open source offerings" [citation needed]

Here is one example of inferior Greek internationalisation:


"We need your help to complete the translation of Apache OpenOffice 3.4 into Greek!

"This note is in English because we have no one to translate it into your language. The links on the page will help you download and install OpenOffice.org 3.3.0, an older version of our product. It is missing many bug fixes, performance enhancements and even new features that are in Apache OpenOffice 3.4.

"We would be happy to make Apache OpenOffice 3.4 available in Greek, but we need help completing the translation of the user interface."

Whereas the latest version of Microsoft Office has a full and comprehensive Greek translation as standard, upon release, done by professionals.

Paying Greek translators to do the job (if there is a job to do) would probably be cheaper than the licencing costs alone.

If true, that would change very quickly. The Open Source software movement would get behind any country that decided they were going to use it exclusively.

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