Campus fees just keep rising, like our ever-mysterious “educational operations fee,” which really is just tuition under another name. Parking fees, health insurance fees (if you opt for UMass Boston's Aetna plan). This gets all the more frustrating with the knowledge that we can make smart choices which would drop costs without sacrificing the quality of education.
I propose we first equip our UMass Boston computers with Linux: a free, enterprise-level, secure operating system perfectly suited for a large educational institution like ours, and replace costly, slow software like Microsoft Word with free, comprehensive office suites like OpenOffice.
First — Linux? What?
Heard of Google Android? Anyone with an HTC or Samsung phone which has Android can call friends and use apps thanks to Linux. And Linux is not wimpy: the world's most powerful computers — IBM's “Sequoia”, Cray's “Titan” — run Linux. IBM, in its paper “IBM is Committed to Linux and Open Source” says that “Linux is not only a world-class operating system,” but “a forward-looking long-term strategic platform.”
Linux-based computers are being used by many of the big shots — the U.S. Army is, according to Brigadier General Nickolas G. Justice, “'the' single largest install base for Red Hat Linux.” “I'm their largest customer,” he said in a 2007 keynote speech.
In 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration reported it saved $15 million “by migrating to Red Hat Enterprises Linux” and benefited greatly with “30 percent more operational efficiency than the previous system.”
The state of Indiana, in 2006, “added Linux workstations for 22,000 students.” The San Diego Unified School District, eighth-largest in the nation, began rolling out 100,000 Linux (SUSE) laptops to its students in 2008.
You might be wondering: what does this mean for UMass Boston? Well, Linux — whose mascot is a cute penguin — is perfectly suited to upgrade UMass Boston's aging fleet of Windows computers because it does not need much computing power to run. Also, it's free.
Unlike Mac OS X and Windows 7 and 8, Linux can evolve and adapt to changing times, remain secure against attacks, and stay compatible with the latest software technology without turning your computer into a slow, obsolete mess. With every new version of Windows, every new version of Mac OS, computers are made to work harder, which makes them slower. It's the same with products like Microsoft Office — they ask more and more of computers, making them slower — no one is happy.
Using Linux on university computers drops licensing costs to almost zero, unless some new programs are purchased.
The university has to pay Microsoft, or Apple, a fee for every computer it wants to use and every piece of software on that computer. This is on top of the initial cost of the computer itself. Simply, it's called a license — companies say “one computer, one license” and the university also has to pay these companies yearly fees just to keep using their software.
For example, yearly re-licensing of just one computer with Windows and Microsoft Office could require a minimum upkeep of $133 — a Mac with Office, at least $132 each — a basic Windows server, $348 each, and if UMass Boston is running any database servers, well over $1000 each. Universities are required by law to keep track of all their licenses and update them, which is a huge hassle.
France's national police force completed a roll-out of Linux replacements in 2009, saving them millions every year because they no longer had to re-license 15,000 Windows desktops.
Without proper licenses to use programs and systems, universities can get hit with huge fees. Temple University was fined $100,000 by the Business Software Alliance in 2000 for unlicensed use of software. Fines like these can reach up to $500,000. Imagine that coming from student pockets.
In short, by switching to Linux, UMass Boston won't have to buy new computers, or licenses, period. The computers will remain secure, modern, will be virtually immune to the host of viruses and attack programs geared toward Microsoft Windows because it's a totally different environment — think fish out of water — and so Linux will extend the lives of computers by many years.
We've all used Microsoft Office. It can be slow, especially when using on-campus computers. I find it unnecessarily complex. It's simply not worth the price. I strongly suggest the university deploy the Open Office suite, a full set of open-source software for writing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Why?
Open-source software means that thousands of eyes have checked a program to make sure it works everywhere. Open-source software does not include licensing fees, a major reason why many corporations and institutions are making the move away from Microsoft Office.
UK news outlet “The Guardian” has been using Open Office since 2008; in the University of Cologne, Germany, 300 student computers have had the suite deployed; since 2007 the Ministry of Education in Portugal has been distributing it to its 9,000 schools. Vietnam's Department of Education began the switch in 2008 for 20,000 of its computers.
UMass Boston seems committed to technology as a benefit to its students and has even been rolling out iPads for classroom use. But if our university is truly committed to using technology as part of learning in the classroom, it should embrace Linux on its computers and classroom devices. UMass Boston's engineering, science, mathematics and computer science divisions will definitely benefit from the wealth of open-source tools naturally available in these fields.
We have at least five computer labs, not including the three Mac Labs, and doing the math shows the university can save significant amounts in the future by switching now to Linux. But that's only part of the benefit.
Technology should not get in the way of productivity, but it often does and people should not have to pay for that. UMass Boston can and should take advantage of the cost-saving, productivity-boosting open-source movement as though it were a natural resource — it is as freely available as air.