Tim Berners-Lee: “There is a very important difference in attitude between a foundation technology and — well — let’s call it a ceiling technology. A foundation technology is designed to enable innovation, to be the base which will support other even more powerful things to come. A ceiling technology is not. It is designed to provide a value, and for its provider to cash in and cash out.”
Over the last year, I’ve noticed a big shift in attention and focus on the ideology of open source software (and, if trends hold as they have in other apsects of education) and the parallels in education content. Many educators are proclaiming the value of openness…but are increasingly using closed tools. What’s getting all the attention these days? Content tools with great functionality and ease of use…but which are closed in format. Openness and free are being confused (or, perhaps for many educators, is not something that is important).
We’ve seen this before – in the mid-80′s, Microsoft offered an operating systems with ease of use (relative to other operating systems). Ease of use trumped openness. Now, we have educators adopting excellent tools – provided by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Zoho, and others – often at the expense of opensource wikis, blogs, and other tools (though WordPress has high adoption, but as blogging becomes more mainstream, more and more educators are opting for Blogger or other hosted services…and this discussion is largely outside of the “foundational” tools like web servers, databases, and other open source tools pivotal to the functioning of the web). Is this trend good or bad? I’ll reserve opinion on that – there are certain upsides (namely reliable, hosted, trusted service provided by Google), but initial starting points have long-term consequences. We have a bit of history we can rely on to evaluate implications…much innovation was unleashed, but at a cost of certain elements of society. Free, effective, easy to use tools are the biggest challenge to open source – an indication of open source’s failure to mainstream their tools, and human nature’s habit of sacrificing comfort for freedom.