29 April 2003
The article to which Prof Martin Hall refers in his letter (Monday Paper April 7, 2003) is one of a series of articles informing UCT staff members about the various users and uses of WebCT, allowing staff to describe the on-line innovations in their courses.

The articles are aimed at informing, not at sparking a debate on proprietary software, but Prof Hall's letter raises a host of issues that face an institution and its staff when making choices of software. Even after having chosen a software product, every responsible institution monitors the market and other institutions, treading the line between being stable (but not stale) and adventurous (but not reckless). Often the validity of the choice is judged on hindsight only.

While some proprietary software may have problems, the debate goes beyond "proprietary vs open-source", with proprietary being bad. (After all, almost every package on your desktop is a proprietary package.) Technically, an equivalent for any one of these packages could be homegrown, but the implications and costs of development and sustainability are enormous. "Full Cost of Ownership" includes, for example, the Cost of Employment and heavy reliance on a group of programmers and developers, and we have no experience at marketing complex software to recoup costs - UCT.bomb.

Some of the alternatives mentioned by Prof Hall are indeed interesting.

From what I see of MIT's OKI (http://web.mit.edu/oki/press/FreeCMS.html), it is important, but is also aimed at sharing of information amongst users of commercial products, and producing standards and APIs to facilitate this, and MEG's OLE is NOT aimed at replacing WebCT.

Finally, I believe that the wide variety of activities by staff and students with a broad range of IT expertise is testimony to WebCT's flexibility, power, and relative ease of use.

Ken Masters
Director: IT (Education), Faculty of Health Sciences

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