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Open-source spending in schools to surge

But proprietary software will survive, says report

Educational institutions will increase spending on open-source software and services over the next few years, but that doesn't mean proprietary software will be left in the dark, according to a new report covering 14 countries.

Market research company Datamonitor predicts that primary and secondary schools and universities will spend $489.9m on open-source software by 2012, up from $286.2m now.

The figure is based on interviews with vendors and school officials in the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, India, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Sweden and Italy, said Justin Davidson, associate analyst at Datamonitor who covers education technology.

The spending estimate covers operating systems and learning management systems, such as software used to make webcasts of lectures available online, plus maintenance and support.

The figure represents a small portion of the $9bn overall educational IT spending by those countries, but shows growing interest.

"I don't think we expected it [the figure] to be so much," Davidson said. Beyond 2012, however, Datamonitor expects open-source spending to flatten.

Educators said they're attracted to open-source software since they feel they have more control over how applications are developed, Davidson said.

"Some institutions feel they will get a better return on their investment from open-source software," he said.

Institutions were also aware that although the software licences are free, maintenance and support can often make open-source offerings just as expensive as proprietary programs, Davidson said.

A small minority of schools have opted for open source for 'philosophical' reasons, such as a desire not to give their money to a commercial software company. However, most decisions to use open-source were strategic, he said.

Other drivers for choosing open source are increasing government interest. Certain regions in India, as well as the French government, have encouraged schools to use open-source software, especially operating systems, Davidson said.

Interest in open-source software also seemed to be prompted by dissatisfaction expressed by some schools with Blackboard, a major provider of enterprise educational software and services, Davidson said.

In 2005, Blackboard bought WebCT, another educational software company, for $180m. Blackboard's share of the market grew to more than 70 percent, Davidson said. Concerns remain within schools over the dominance of one company in the market, he said.

But Blackboard's software has an appeal for institutions with smaller budgets that can't fund developers to build their own open-source applications, Davidson said.

It shows proprietary and open-source software will complement each other, depending on the needs of the schools, Davidson said.

"It's not the death of proprietary software," he said.

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