Local opportunities to benefit from technology alternatives

For more of my commentary on life in Richmond, Indiana check out RichmondMatters.com.

Lest we not forget the times when using expensive proprietary hardware and software without exploring more open alternatives comes back around to bite us in the rear, I thought I'd highlight two issues currently being mentioned in the local press.

1) The Pal-Item reports on a meeting happening today about technology in schools:

The Richmond Community Schools Board of School Trustees has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday to learn more about the school corporation's technology needs...Technology coordinator Rob Tidrow has reported to the board that the school corporation is operating with outdated technology, and in some cases, technology that is obsolete...School officials have asked the board to consider paying for the upgrades with dollars available in a rainy day fund or the school corporation's savings account.

I support our schools having current technology so that students can be engaged with and knowledgeable about how to get the most out of these tools. In the past that may have inevitably meant running the latest version of Microsoft Windows on the latest desktops from Dell (although there are plenty who would have said there were alternatives then too).

But in an age where many technology tools and services are online, and aren't tied to a particular operating system or hardware vendor, it shouldn't be a foregone conclusion that a school has to spend large amounts of money on proprietary software licenses and cutting edge hardware, when low-cost or free software and older but perfectly usable hardware can do the same job. In a time where school budgets are being cut, it's worth looking at other options before reinvesting in more hardware and software that may also become obsolete as quickly as what they are replacing.

I pointed Mark to this issue, and in response he wrote up one particular technical approach that RCS could take. There are others, too.

2) Jason Truitt writes in his blog at the Pal-Item:

Expensive new technology requirements for 911 offices have brought six area counties together in a search for solutions. Fayette, Franklin, Randolph, Rush, Union and Wayne counties all use the same [911 emergency] system now, but it will be obsolete next year and no longer supported by Microsoft.

There may not be any off-the-shelf open source offerings that will meet this need, but for crying out loud, don't just sign up for the next Microsoft contract only to find yourselves back in the same position a few years from now. While they're teaming up, I hope they explore what other communities are doing to get more value out of their emergency systems, whether it's creating systems themselves that use more open standards, finding new uses for old equipment, or even challenging the expensive requirements that might not be serving community interests as much as they are guaranteeing income for influential vendors.

These two particular cases may be decided as they always tend to be. I hope that in general, local decision-makers will realize that there are other ways to go that save money and make better use of existing resources.

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Chris Hardie

Chris Hardie is an Internet tech geek, problem solver, community-builder and amicable cynic.

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