Imperial College software freedom revolt

imperial-college-logo-1.pngStudents and academic staff at London’s Imperial College are rebelling against their school’s perceived failure to adopt open, free software choices. The College, ranked as one of the world’s top engineering and technology institutions, is the only top 20 university which uses a proprietary server for its main website.

Supporters of the Software Freedom for Imperial College movement question why, when all other universities in the top 20 use open source servers, their school uses expensive Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) technology. Other concerns for the group include the distribution of academic materials by teaching staff in Microsoft Office or other proprietary formats, the College’s web services failing to meet web standards and full support for various computing platforms. And the worry is financial as well as technical:

There are two important reasons why supporting proprietary protocols and file formats is financially unwise. First, it results in vendor lock-in. This means that the vendor can increase its prices while providing mediocre products without risking the customer’s defection to a competitor. Second, proprietary software costs money. In most cases, free alternatives exist that offer the user excellent quality, cross-platform compatibility and flexibility.

The group also offers some advice to students or staff who feel coerced into purchasing proprietary software which could well be useful to students of any academic institution. It does make sense, at the very least, that a well-respected science and technology college should do its best to make sure its main website doesn’t suffer from 313 validation errors.

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