part three of the ever-exciting adventure

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What are we educating for?

The other night I went to my first real unashamedly political event, a session organised by the “progressive conservative” bright blue (so new they’re yet to appear on Google) at the British Library, discussing the role of education in 21st century Britain.

The event deliberately went back to first principles on education, focussing on why we bother to send people to school/college/university in the first place, then going on to look at how we need to change our current approach. Hence the title, above.

The speakers really made the event for me, especially as Toby Young’s presence on Newsnight last week had motivated me to put down my own thoughts on the matter.

It must be said that Anthony Seddon generally out-shone Young in terms of stage presence, but the former came across much more so as someone who really wants to make a difference, rather than one who simply offers a critique of current policy.

The two were united in their criticism however, with Young pointing to various studies which have shown how measures such as social mobility (which, if nothing else, education should surely aim to improve?) have painted a worsening picture over the previous 50 years, and Seddon lambasting targets and exams in encouraging a sort of herd-like behaviour, where all effort is focussed on the short-term goal of achieving the best score, rather than in maximising purer academic performance.

As the arguments were developed further, the point was made that the education system focuses too heavily on teaching children to recall facts, rather than to develop the sort of critical thinking and logical reasoning required in today’s fast-moving world. PSE in particular was noted as form of indoctrination, where pupils are taught item-by-item what is right and wrong, rather than being given the chance to decide this for themselves.

There were disagreements between audience members and the panel and at times between the two speakers themselves over how best to formulate an overall educational policy and how to measure it’s outcomes, but there was almost universal agreement that the current system which has served us so well for the previous century is now looking increasingly out-dated, and that despite the personal interest of two PMs and many more high-profile education ministers, the massive investment made over the last few years have not delivered the improvements hoped-for.

The argument was therefore presented that another approach is needed. Seddon was particularly critical of policy for deliberately excluding parents from the education process, arguing that schools and parents must be in line with each other and that a failure to bring the two sides together causes alienation reduces the sense of belonging. Young’s school, if successful, could change this.

As Seddon surmised at the end, we are all common stakeholders in the process of education. We have all been educated, and many people have or may in the future have children who will go through the same process. Current circumstances provide a once-in-a-generation chance to get things right this time, and so now is the time to act.

New alfrescowww-xml library

Thanks to Ben who has been beta-testing the code, I’ve fixed a few bugs within the code that were preventing the getXMLDocuments() method to fail under certain conditions.

The new JAR file is available here and the source JAR here.

Microsoft threats

Off the back of the latest Labs 3.0 Beta coverage I came across Microsoft’s Q3 SEC filing, via an article on Redmondmag.com.

The entire text is downloadable in (surprise, surprise) Word format – though not in Office 2007 format. No interesting metadata unfortunately, either.

Within the text, particularly interesting in an open source context is Part 1A of the “Other Information” section which lists the risk factors for the company. It’s worth reading the entire section if you’re interested in the threats to Microsoft, but the first three are the most relevant.

Item 1 on open source and SaaS:

Challenges to our business model may reduce our revenues and operating margins. Our business model has been based upon customers paying a fee to license software that we developed and distributed. Under this license-based software model, software developers bear the costs of converting original ideas into software products through investments in research and development, offsetting these costs with the revenue received from the distribution of their products. In recent years, certain “open source” software business models have evolved into a growing challenge to our license-based software model. Open source commonly refers to software whose source code is subject to a license allowing it to be modified, combined with other software and redistributed, subject to restrictions set forth in the license. A number of commercial firms compete with us using an open source business model by modifying and then distributing open source software to end users at nominal cost and earning revenue on complementary services and products. These firms do not have to bear the full costs of research and development for the software. Some of these firms may build upon Microsoft ideas that we provide to them free or at low royalties in connection with our interoperability initiatives.  A prominent example of open source software is the Linux operating system. Proponents of open source software continue efforts to convince governments worldwide to mandate the use of open source software in their purchase and deployment of software products.  Although we believe our products provide customers with significant advantages in security, productivity, and total cost of ownership, the open source software model continues to pose a significant challenge to our business model. To the extent open source software gains increasing market acceptance, sales of our products may decline, we may have to reduce the prices we charge for our products, and revenue and operating margins may decline.

Another development is the software-as-a-service business model, under which companies provide applications, data, and related services over the Internet. Providers use primarily advertising or subscription-based revenue models. Recent advances in computing and communications technologies have made this model viable and enabled the rapid growth of some of our competitors. We are devoting significant resources toward developing our own competing software plus services strategies. It is uncertain whether these strategies will be successful.

Item 2, on competition from smaller outfits and community-based groups:

We face intense competition. We continue to experience intense competition across all markets for our products and services. Our competitors range in size from Fortune 100 companies to small, specialized single-product businesses and open source community-based projects. Although we believe the breadth of our businesses and product portfolio is a competitive advantage, our competitors that are focused on narrower product lines may be more effective in devoting technical, marketing, and financial resources to compete with us. In addition, barriers to entry in our businesses generally are low and products, once developed, can be distributed broadly and quickly at relatively low cost. Open source software vendors are devoting considerable efforts to developing software that mimics the features and functionality of our products, in some cases on the basis of technical specifications for Microsoft technologies that we make available. In response to competition, we are developing versions of our products with basic functionality that are sold at lower prices than the standard versions. These competitive pressures may result in decreased sales volumes, price reductions, and/or increased operating costs, such as for marketing and sales incentives, resulting in lower revenue, gross margins and operating income.

And Item 3, on their dependence on tightly protecting their IP through patents and other mechanisms:

We may not be able to adequately protect our intellectual property rights. Protecting our global intellectual property rights and combating unlicensed copying and use of software and other intellectual property is difficult. While piracy adversely affects U.S. revenue, the impact on revenue from outside the U.S. is more significant, particularly in countries where laws are less protective of intellectual property rights. Similarly, the absence of harmonized patent laws makes it more difficult to ensure consistent respect for patent rights. Throughout the world, we actively educate consumers about the benefits of licensing genuine products and obtaining indemnification benefits for intellectual property risks, and we educate lawmakers about the advantages of a business climate where intellectual property rights are protected. However, continued educational and enforcement efforts may fail to enhance revenue. Reductions in the legal protection for software intellectual property rights or additional compliance burdens could both adversely affect revenue.

WordPress Upgrade

All blogs on blogs.alfresco.com have now been upgraded to the lastest shiny WordPress 2.0.11. Version 2.2.2 has also been installed and is available to anyone with an existing blog – but since this is a major upgrade I’ve left this one as an opt-in thing for now.

If you fancy trying out 2.2 and you already have a blog then drop me a mail.

A Lesson in Customer Service

Lesson number one: don’t lie to your customers.

So I phoned up Orange last night, having decided I’d give them one more chance to prove their worth before switching my allegance to a provider that didn’t charge me nearly £70 for a slightly-above average month’s worth of usage. Apparently they could add a few more inclusive minutes onto one of those silly animal packages off their web site, but still nothing close to the offer from 3 that I ended up signing up for today.

I explained that if it helped I was happy not to have a new mobile phone from them, if it helped bring down the monthly cost a little. After all, I’d be saving them at least £200 by not demanding the latest N70 from them for free, having only had my current phone for just over a year and quite liking it, thank you very much.

No go, apparently. Something about me being within my contract still and having to sign up for another one if I want to change my price plan before June. New contact equals new phone. Right.

So despite not really wanting a new phone, I now have a new Sony Ericsson K610i sitting next to me on the surface, ready for when my 3 contract begins next month (apparently you can delay the start of it by 30 days, rather like a student wanting to go to Africa before starting Uni, but in this case for me who wants to live out the remaining 7 weeks of my Orange contract before switching). Unfortunately my old Nokia 6230 just isn’t good enough for the blisteringly fast 3G connections required these days…

The new phone isn’t the latest model there is around, but it’s still a phone. I can make calls, receive calls and do a couple of pointless other things with it should I have the urge. It’s not “reconditioned”, as Orange assured me it would be when I spoke to them about disconnecting yesterday, a clear exegerration of the truth that actually made me more determined to leave, not less.

I was reading yesterday in the Observer that apparently people replace their mobile phones every eighteen months. Hardly surprising really, given how difficult it is not to do so. There was a time when wooing me with new shiny things would have persuaded me to put up with the bum price plan I was on, but not any more. Now I get to spend the extra £30 a month on other exciting things, like car insurance. Mmm.

Loving: Sitting on the river, drinking wine. Drinking lots of water now.