In a call to arms, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik said open source developers should counter a growing threat from commercial software makers by getting involved in local school districts and getting free open source code installed on the districts machines.
Szulik did not mention Microsoft by name, but he said "a monopoly" is forcing the School District of Philadelphia to conduct an audit of its software licenses because "a teacher copied" one of its products. The school district "is one of the poorest in the U.S." and the teachers there "should be educating children, not counting licenses," said Szulik.
"This industry is looking at education as a market opportunity, not a responsibility," he charged. Open source advocates should counter that effort by arguing for the installation of free open source software in public schools, freeing up resources for providing a better education in technology.
Szulik made the remarks during his Thursday keynote address at LinuxWorld in San Francisco. His remarks werent specifically aimed at Microsoft but emphasized the growing digital divide between technically literate students and children coming from poor sections of Philadelphia, East St. Louis or the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.
Questioners after his talk asked how Linux and other open source software could make headway in school districts when it remains difficult to use and has failed to become popular on Windows users desktops.
Szulik said the Riverside School District near Portland, Ore., has installed a version of Linux with a simplified user interface in an apparent server and dumb terminal setting. Such school districts should be freely copying and distributing software for the benefit of their charges, not adhering to restrictions in commercial licenses, he said.
He added that the chancellor of the University of North Carolina had ordered the Engineering School to discontinue its commercial licenses and install open source code. She then used the savings to retain talented faculty members who were being recruited elsewhere, he said.
During a recent visit to a historically predominantly black college, he said he walked past classroom after classroom with no computers in them. How will students graduating from computerless schools compete in the modern world, he asked.
"Money has taken over how our children are being educated," and Red Hats management is thinking of establishing a non-profit organization to put more open source software and the skills to use it in the hands of local educators.
Another questioner asserted that "only IBM has the resources, motivation and desktop marketing experience" to propel Linux and open source code into public schools. But Szulik warned the open source code community against looking toward a single corporate sponsor of its goals. The initiative shouldnt be tainted by the ownership of any one organization, he said.