Monday, 3 December 2012

Educational software and investment

I saw this rant on the Raspberry Pi forum about how "free" is not always a good thing because it stifles commercial investment. The ranter's specific example was himself, where he had a brilliant idea for a software project that would be very beneficial to the education community, and he had the skills and money to pull it off, but he refused to do so because it was not going to produce a return on his investment.

You know what that's called? A good business decision. If you have a business idea but it is not going to make a profit, and that is your only concern, you should pull out before you invest too deeply. That's what you're supposed to do. Nobody goes around complaining that they have a brilliant idea for a store that only sells left-handed screwdrivers, but nobody would buy them so there's no point.

But here, business is not the entrepreneur's only motivation. He wants to help educators, too, and that is kind of in conflict with his business goal. Schools and educators do not have cash to burn on software. That's why Microsoft sells to schools, universities and students at discounted rates. It's not because they're being nice to schools or anything like that. They're selling their software for less because otherwise schools have to look to something free like Linux. Schools are poor. They're a poor business opportunity. But Microsoft needs Windows to be everywhere, so they sell it to schools at a discount. "School business opportunity" is basically a contradiction in terms.

With schools, you either invest as a kind of donation, to help people out and build up your nation's education system, or you get out and sell your software elsewhere. His point was that the Linux culture of free and open-source software is what is killing his business opportunity. Free software didn't take away your brilliant school business opportunity. The under-funded education system did.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Selling educational software to parents might be a different idea.
PPS - But getting kids to actually use it would be much more tricky.

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