Monday, June 22, 2009

Save A Job With Linux

Save A Job With Linux

Last week one of my town's major employers, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, announced 130 staff layoffs. Our school district is coping with a budget crunch by, among other things, closing my kid's school. And my city is looking at staff cuts as well.

Now, this being Monday, I'm going to say Linux can fix that too, right? Well, I won't go that far. But in the tough economy, local governments are starting to turn to open-source solutions to save money.

"Why should our school systems be paying for proprietary software when teachers are being laid off?" asks network administrator Chad Wollenberg. He recently workes with a poor school district in rural Virginia that couldn't afford to "upgrade" from Microsoft Office 2003 (soon to be phased out) to the 2007 version.

(Does changing MS Office versions ever REALLY feel like an upgrade? Or does it just seem to break a lot of stuff that worked fine while adding a bunch of functions you don't need? For the little bit of personal stuff I absolutely have to do in Windows, I still use Office 2000, which coincidentally is the last version you don't have to register online.)

"(Wollenberg)'s not talking about major changes, like switching from Windows to Linux on desktops," writes Steven Vaughan-Nichols, who noted that even at Microsoft's discounted rate of $50 per license for schools, the "upgrade" would have cost more than $200,000.

"By convincing them to switch to OpenOffice and Google Docs, Wollenberg saved them that money, said Vaughan-Nichols. "Or, to look at it another way, that was about four mid-level jobs saved."

OpenOffice is cross-platform compatible and supports Microsoft Office formats. I regularly edit my checkbook, which is a simple spreadsheet, in both Excel and OpenOffice, switching between my Linux box and my wife's Windows machine, with no ill effects.

On a larger scale, the city of Vancouver, BC is a leader in open source government. Last year the school district saved enough money to build a new computer lab in every school, simply by not renewing its Microsoft Office licenses. And the city council recently passed a resolution calling for the use of open source programs.

Vancouver's pro-open source government philosophy ripples into the private economy as well. "From a recruitment point of view in the software industry in particular, a city which embraced openness and the internet would be that much more attractive to the kinds of technical, creative, and public-spirited individuals that I seek," writes developer David Ascher.

The scale gets even bigger. A February study by MeriTalk argues that the federal government could save $3.7 billion for using open-source software; $13.3 billion for using virtualization technologies; and $6.6 billion from cloud computing such as GoogleDocs. The Obama Administration is reported to be interested in increasing government use of open source.

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