Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

Dear ESRI, It's Not Me, It's You

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UPDATE: We’ve had some more feedback about this from ESRI UK- see my other post for details (though don’t get too excited because nothing really changes)

So, our move to open source gets a boost today, from an unexpected quarter. In what can only be described as a noble act of self-sacrifice, ESRI have told us that as an educational charity we are no longer allowed to have an educational discount for using their software and, not only that, our license codes will cease to work at the end of this month. So, we have 3 weeks, with the Easter holidays in the middle, to extricate ourselves and our ongoing projects from ArcGIS and into something else or find the many thousands of pounds to buy the full licenses for all of our staff.

I should explain something about the nature of “commercial” archaeological units in the UK, to those that don’t know much about them. We are usually not affiliated with universities, so we are not educational establishments as such, although we are an educational charity. We exist to fulfil a legal remit to study the archaeology of an area before it is developed. We also undertake educational projects on behalf of English Heritage, the government’s body in charge of cultural heritage. The whole reason we exist is to further the archaeological and historical understanding about the country we live in.

Previously, my biggest gripe has been that we can’t get academic discounts for data, unlike our colleagues in universities or local government. Despite the fact that our job is a legal requirement, we have to pay through the nose for the mapping that we need to do it. Getting hold of geological data, or anything that might allow us to look deeper into the area we’re studying is often out of the question. But at least we had the software to work with.

I can’t figure out what ESRI hope to achieve by this. It clearly affects many other educational charities apart from ourselves, across many different industries. Do they think that we all have secret pots of cash hidden under our desks and that we’re just going to throw up our hands and go “fair cop guv, we’ll pay the full cost now, here’s 7,000 pounds per user”? Do they seriously think that 3 weeks is enough time to get the money or rebuild all of our work in other packages?

Well ESRI, in case it’s not clear, we’re not going to buy your full versions. It’s unlikely that we will ever use your software again, and you’ve made it much easier for us to openly campaign for open source solutions throughout our own industry and other related sectors, and anywhere else where people are concerned about getting screwed over by software vendors.

So, we have to part company. It was nice knowing you for a while, but you’ve changed and I just don’t think we’re compatible any more. Now, where’s QGIS…

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