I teach at a school and act as head of the technology department. One of the aims of our department is to make FOSS (Free/Open Source Software) the de facto choice (when possible) of tools to handle any educational needs. The vision of a FOSS school is well on its way, but we've hit a snag.
After 1 full year of testing and planning, I was approached by new administration concerning our possible move to FOSS. I was told that we would "probably not
" be moving to become a FOSS-based school.
Caught by surprise, I asked - "Why?
The key "reason" given to me was this: There are incompatibility issues. Students are not going to use FOSS because they all have Microsoft Office at home which is incompatible.
Here are the 2 most important facts that must be known:1) Microsoft is the cause of incompatibility.2) Incompatibility can be mitigated.
Technical folk following current events are now aware of OpenDocument and its potential coup in Massachusetts
. OpenDocument is an office format designed for public use. That is, OpenDocument can be implemented by anyone. Let me mantra-ize this, for this is the crux. Repeat after me: OpenDocument can be implemented by anyone. OpenDocument can be implemented by anyone. OpenDocument can be implemented by anyone.
Yes, the definition of "anyone" includes Microsoft and excludes no one. At this time, Microsoft is choosing not to implement an open standard to protect their monopoly.
Now, part two of the mantra. Repeat after me: Microsoft Office formats are a trade secret available to others only by permission. Microsoft Office formats are a trade secret available to others only by permission. Microsoft Office formats are a trade secret available to others only by permission.
I hope reflection upon these facts will make it obvious what we should do. If one wants to solve the "incompatibility" issue, one will support OpenDocument, not the status quo.
Mitigation of incompatibility in educational settings can occur through education and sound policy. Set a policy requiring all digitized student work created by an office application to be in an open format such as OpenDocument. As well, educate students and teachers about open formats. For home use by students and teachers, make available installation files of applications supporting OpenDocument that run on proprietary operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and Mac. In short, free your data.