I have been trying out dotLRN so I can suggest its use for distance learning programs from institutes here in India.(I am currently studying for an MBA through a distance program)
Now, whats the target audience for the grants ?
It would certainly address any learning institute with high degree of computer usage. So, that would narrow down its use to Engineering Colleges and distance programs - here in India.
It would be great to have
1. a good always connected online infrastructure. It would cost too much for an Indian institute to setup something like that. For example: a dedicated hosting intel server costing about $140 / month == A full semester's fees for an engineering student's tution.
2. But the key would be the required skills. There are far more M$ ASP / Java programmers here than TCL. So the faculty/staff development would be great.
Now, how can I take advantage of your grants to do the above in India ? I don't belong to any edu instution.
Anyway, great work, I will spread the word around !
dotLRN should have appeal in the developing nations because commercial products are simply too expensive. But free software is not enough. We have to take into account other barriers to adoption. Most institutions in the developing nations cannot afford the hardware, infrastructure, and support costs associated with implementing a platform like dotLRN.
What I envision is that the grant would fund all the costs associated with installing and running dotLRN for one or two years. This would include hardware, some base infrastructure (e.g. internet line charges), compensation to some staff to learn the system and support faculty, compensation for faculty to learn how to use dotLRN, compensation to the project director, etc.
I am thinking of approaching a couple of Foundations initially and also some vendors (e.g. Sun, IBM, Dell) for things like hardware.
Let me see, I will talk to some institutes. The CEO of the company I work for is on the board of Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies, which could be a good candidate.
This talk of grants etc sounds fantastic!
But, as ever the word of gloom and doom ;o) I'd like to suggest that this kind of granting also came with a caveat. Something like a requirement to contribute to the core in return..
We're talking about getting a test effort going for dotLRN at the moment,and that will not be benefiting from any 'grants' so I'm not entirely convinced of the merit of offering it to anyone else. Don't mis-undertand, I can see the idealogical merit of the idea, but I'm not personally a charity and I although I want to see it adopted, perhaps a more focussed way is to concentrate on its quality/*documentation*/delivery first.
I thought dotLRN was intended as a serious OS player in this field, not as a charity effort to help poorer companies/goverments? This sounds like the case. What is to be gained from adoption in these areas? If they can't afford to purchase a box, are they likely to have sufficient resources to help in its continued development? Is not bringing the cost of owenership down more important than subsidising a high-cost deployment?
So, my question is, should the hard work/effort of a voluntary community, be then passed to others *with* subsidy with no consequent reciprocal benefit in kind?
And, surely, if a decent port to Postgres was in place this would remove much of the infrastructure cost issue anyway? For eveyone. And therefore be a more cost effective way of overcoming that problem?
anyone can use dotLRN, not only participants of the voluntary community. And they don't have to contribute in any way.
dotLRN is a software that is driven by a community of people who want to use it for various reasons. If one of the reasons (and I strongly second Al on that one) is widespread use by people who cannot afford to pay for a sophisticated commercial package, then noone should stop them or question their ways.
It is Al's and other volunteers time that will be used for the grants. There is a governance board for dotLRN in place that could give backing for officially endorsed dotLRN grants.
If you don't feel comfortable with the possibility that people use the toolkit and get support for applying it without their need to submit something back to the core, then I begin to wonder why you feel comfortable with OpenSource development in general as I see a contradiction there.
And last but not least, if grants come, someone needs to install the software for these institutions, train the people and adopt dotLRN to their needs. Not to speak of additional functions they might need (that could make it back into the core). As I doubt many universities would be capable of doing this completely on their own, we have opportunities for the parties involved in the community to make some money.
So, yes, we should pass the hard work/effort of the community to others with subsidy. But maybe I'm only in favour of it because it is our company policy anyway.
As a sidenote on postgres. Unless Oracle is willing to part with licenses as part of the grant, postgres will be the way to go anyway. Furthermore it will be easier to get grants for an Open Source solution front to back.
One more. Offering dotLRN is only part of the bargain. To bridge the digital divide, we also need to make sure, these universities / schools have Internet access and computers to access it. Therefore it would make sense to also ask for old i486 computers that are not beeing used anymore within companies and ship them to the grantees instead of throwing them away.
And if you want to take it even further, you could partner with a volunteer organization to train volunteers for one month in bootcamps (with the training paid out of grants or provided for free, remember ArsDigita ?!?) and then send them to the university for a three to five months internship (e.g. paid by the grants or the university itself) to train and adopt the solution.
I think I am aware of everything your saying, and, I think you've mis-understood what I'm getting at.
I have no objection to people using open source without contributing.. thats part of the point after all.
I was really questioning whether grants to used in this way were the most *effective* way of increasing adoption.
You could argue that if somewhere was too poor to afford even a modest spec PC to run an instance on, then they are hardly likely to have an overwhelming need for such a sophisticated system. I'd suggest if they were in that much financial difficulty then perhaps there are other more pressing things they'd like to receive grants for?
But whatever the details of the issue, my positon was to suggest that if someones got cash to spend, is this the most effective way to increase adoption? And it was a question rather than an answer :o)
And also, I did relate this to the testing effort. We're being asked to look into getting some good testing going for dotLRN. I think this is a good next step, but I just don't go along with the 'pay people to use the software' approach. Surely if anything moves against open source principles its by a product evolving due to financial incentive, not on merit or peer review.
I appreciate all your comments and ideas about the other areas as well, but I doubt very much as to whether what your suggesting would stand up to any serious financial scrutiny. Therefore surely the 'main' gain would be the wider adoption/enhancement of the toolkit, not the potential commercial gain. And hence my point about shouldn't a grant come with conditions? I think you'd find this to be the case in most other circumstances. i.e. if you had a grant to improve a clubs sports faciltities, you would expect them to agree to make some kind of agreement about how those facilities could be used.
I still think it sounded like 'pay people to make them use it'. Which is marketeering, pure and simple, and therefore if I'm being asked to contribute, I just like to understand what it is I'm contributing to :o)
Your points are well taken. The grants would be more effective if they also strengthened and grew the OACS community. One of the conditions for the grant could be contributions back to OACS and dotLRN through assigned developers.
We are not talking about uplifting people in penury. One of these days when someone writes the history of the Internet, people will cite the importance of NSF (National Science Foundation) grants in allowing middle-tier colleges and universities to get connected to the NSF-net backbone. I know. I was at a small college with very modest means. We received a very small sum but it made a big difference. The talent and will was there, we just needed a small boost.
key words: talent, will, lack of funds
I can not imagine the addition of talent and will to the community not being a good thing ®
1. Most decision makers in govt. and edu institutions are typically brain-washed to believe that open source solutions cannot be maintained etc.
Now, if we could set an example and implement a working solution and develop a community of users in one of these institutions, then the rest will follow.
2. Students in most schools have been exposed to the Microsoft development environment and hence their typical response to open source is... 'its too cryptic'. Sadly, they fail to realize that free/open source software really helps them learn by example. Now, if I could just show them the beauty of free software model, we would have a whole new generation of programmers working on free software. Catch them young is the idea.