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Open Source Software Businesses Education IT

Blackboard Buys Moodlerooms and Netspot 95

Posted by timothy
from the cutting-the-ropes-instead-of-boring-the-hull dept.
crumley writes "Blackboard, the proprietary giant in the learning management software market, has purchased two companies, Moodlerooms and Netspot, that sell support for their open source competitor Moodle. Blackboard said that they plan to allow Moodlerooms and Netspot to continue operating with their current leadership. It will be interesting to see if this move leads to an exodus from Moodlerooms and Netspot, since many of their clients were intentionally trying to avoid doing business with Blackboard."
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Blackboard Buys Moodlerooms and Netspot

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  • by captbob2002 (411323) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @10:52AM (#39484525)
    Blackboard's modus operandi is to purchase and kill. I expect they will do the same here. Try to kill-off support for Moodle since they can't kill Moodle directly..
    • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:00AM (#39484593) Journal

      Which is rather unfortunate, since I can say without exaggeration that Blackboard is probably the worst piece of modern software I've ever had to use. Moodle's certainly not perfect, but I've found it absolutely fine in general day-to-day use; Blackboard is slow, buggy, and has a web interface which manages to disable such revolutionary new browser features as 'the back button', and 'middle click'.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        Which is rather unfortunate, since I can say without exaggeration that Blackboard is probably the worst piece of modern software I've ever had to use.

        I have no experience with it, but I know teachers who love it.

        Not that teachers are reliable judges of software, but still...

        • Both true (Score:5, Insightful)

          by pavon (30274) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:05PM (#39485345)

          Blackboard is one of those products where the idea is great but the execution is horrible. Compared to having to maintain a website themselves, it is a huge step forward for teachers and students. It enables them to do things that most education IT departments didn't support before, like discussion forums and per-student access permission (for grades, feedback etc). Compared to just about any other popular webapp however, it is complete shit. It is like all those horrible intranet applications sold to business that are completely dependent on plugins just serve static content, require 7 clicks to do something that should require 2, have poor browser support, break when you do normal things like click the back button, and seems to get worse with each new release.

          • by toadlife (301863)

            One of the things I remember about Blackboard is the regular re-introduction of old bugs. Blackboard would fix a bug and the bug would come back a couple of releases later, at which point we would have to prove to Blackboard support that the bug had come back; because of course they had it in their head that they had fixed it. And of course, Blackboard would take several months to fix any bug that had any kind of workaround, even though many times the workarounds were completely unreasonable, like they IE7

          • by ngg (193578)

            break when you do normal things like click the back button, and seems to get worse with each new release.

            Yes, but after (how many years?) the latest release finally fixes the race condition that would delete an entire class's worth of grades if two teaching assistants (who teach, say, different lab sections for a single lecture section) dared to upload grades at the same time! The same release forces you to triple-click on a cell to enter a grade, but hey, we've almost advanced to 1960's-era databases!

            But in all seriousness, I don't know a single professor in the department who would use Blackboard if it wer

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Most of the teachers and professors never create content in blackboard. They use course cratridges ( archive of course content provided by text book publisher) and pawn the associated text books to students as required material.This is why blackboard is popular since teaching staff can use it without any pain and and courses are taught using canned publisher provided content.

        • The only teachers who enjoy Blackboard are those who have never used any of the vastly superior alternative learning management systems.

          This is analogous to the masses who "love" Internet Explorer.

            - It's functional, if awkward.
            - It gets you from A to B, slowly.
            - It's buggy, but not to the extent that you'll lose hair over it.

          Disclaimer: college sysadmin for D2L.

        • If they love it, they are idiots

          • by MightyYar (622222)

            Idiots by the standards of this site, sure - but probably perfectly adequate for teaching most primary school subjects.

      • by toadlife (301863) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:30AM (#39484889) Journal

        Using Blackboard is bad enough, but to get the full effect, you should try administering it.

        • by Canazza (1428553)

          Or developing for it.

          It's the opposite of intuitive, I had to have someone take me through how to upload a simple SCORM course the first time. It's burried under about six menus, half of which tend to be un-alt-tagged generic icons. Needless to say that a year later when we had to do it again I had completely forgotten how to do it.

          It's *really* clunky, and every one I've seen uses frames like they're going out of fashion. Rather than, you know, DOA.

        • Right now there is shit storm brewing because I added a bunch of wait-listed students to a course. The only thing is, I deleted them after adding them. Guess what, wait-listed students are logging in. FUCK!! Blackboard admin, oh the fun.

          • by toadlife (301863)

            Manual additions and enrollments caused a bit a grief and confusion for us too. We solved the issue by banning the manual creation and enrollment of students. The only way a student could be added or enrolled in a class was through the snapshot process. We only ran it twice a day, so students would have to wait up to 12 hours to get into their class, but it eliminated a common source of confusion.

            I talk in the past-tense because we've moved onto another LMS.

        • by jmerlin (1010641) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:11PM (#39488341)
          I would be laughing at this comment if I had not been in that war myself. Unfortunately, I am now forever unclean.

          And it's not just Blackboard Learn. It's every piece of software they've ever written (I have a great deal of experience extending and supporting BBTS at every level, there were massive gaps in middleware that they didn't provide that I had to write myself). I'm quite convinced they design the software to be intentionally bad to secure service contracts (that are enormously expensive, indeed). Even something as simple as monitoring their services was a nightmare. The tools they provided almost always hung when opened. I had to reverse engineer the protocol they were using and write an app that would detect when a service was having problems and auto-restart it. One service would just kill itself if it got too many errors (as I was told by one of their engineers, it maintains a count of failed actions, if that count gets too high, the process either hangs or exits), and these errors were internal, not really "errors," and happened at a very rapid rate. I just can't comprehend that level of bad. Don't even get me started on the DB structure, the backup methods, nor the interfaces between the individual components and their 3rd-party bindings (which weren't well maintained). Holy shit, man. Holy shit.

          There were some bright people working there, unfortunately they have to support a monumental failure. I feel their pain.
          • by toadlife (301863)

            For awhile they shipped a buggy version of tomcat that could not close the threads it opened. This resulted in tomcat seizing after a week or so of being up.

            I spent two weeks troubleshooting this and was literally advised to "RTFM" by Blackboard support when I contacted them for help.

            The kicker? Blackboard was never even aware of the bug until after they accidentally fixed it by shipping an updated tomcat binary with a new release.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Sounds like Microsoft. Remember "DOS ain't done 'til Lotus won't run"? Or Stack Electronics? This is the same M.O.

    • by tepples (727027)
      On the other hand, Oracle continues to support MySQL, a copylefted RDBMS that it bought along with the rest of Sun.
    • by MisterSquid (231834) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:35AM (#39484939)

      This is 2012. I understand academia moves slowly but I certainly expect more of a services provider for education than horrendous table-based layout from 1997 [netspot.com.au].

      While not the underlying technology, the landing page is the first thing potential (and, in many cases, existing) clients see and such antiquated structure would warn me away from such a provider. If companies like Netspot are the competition Blackboard can squash only through purchasing, Blackboard must be a really shitty company.

    • My guess, the Blackboard application will be the one getting killed in the future. Many states are in the process of trying to get students on a single-login-for-life and I can't see everyone standardizing on a proprietary closed-source system housed within the gates of a single company. Moodle is a better choice since it is open-source. Let the community build it, test it, and Blackboard can make their own mods and specialize in support and content. It is not like most schools can even begin to implement t

      • by Kalriath (849904)

        Haha, you're funny. Everyone knows that governments and academia are guaranteed to standardise on a proprietary closed-source system within the gates of a single company.

        You may not like it (hell, no-one likes it), but it's the reality.

        • by crumley (12964) *
          Odd comment. Care to post any examples? In my observation, academia and governments are usually fractured.
          • by Kalriath (849904)

            I work for a government department. Guess how many open source products we use? If you guessed "zero" - well, you'd actually be wrong. We're using open source for content management. But everything else? Proprietary. And the university we're partnered with? Also proprietary all over the place.

    • by ylikone (589264)
      I don't see how this can kill Moodle, as they are not buying Moodle, just 2 of its partners. There are over 50 partners world-wide that provide funding for Moodle development. They will never get the largest Moodle partner, www.remote-learner.net, who are dedicated to open source.
    • It's important to remember that Blackboard bought 2 of 52 Moodle Partners. Others, like the company I work for, are completely independent of this deal. The Partner program gives good insulation to customers - if they don't like the Partner they are contracting with, they can switch to another one, or bring their Moodle site in house.

      Some of the other LMS companies have an open source option, however none have a Partner program, so you have to choose between DIY or the commercial company that also owns the

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      It's a bit odd then that they say on the front page of their web site that they now support both commercial and open source learning platforms, and have joined forces with Moodleroom. But I suppose only time will tell.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @10:53AM (#39484531)

    Every time our college escapes Blackboard and their horrendous technical support and technical staff they buy the company we moved to. Likewise, every time they buy the company we moved to, the technical support takes a noticeable nosedive. Our support people notice it, our staff notices it, it's just that obvious when it happens. We have to almost fight with them to get things done sometimes and the only thing they can manage to do with reasonable turnaround time is notify you of outages (caused, the majority of the time, at least for us, by their mistakes).

    • It's been almost a year since I last worked at a university. I had almost forgotten about all the "Blackboard outage notice" emails that used to fill my inbox. Thanks for the memories, AC.

      • by Seta (934439)
        Sorry to dig up bad memories. If I recall some of the latest issues we've had with them... they like to add servers to our server pools without notification or copying customizations. They also occasionally try to mis-represent the amount of used disk space, sometimes by tens of gigabytes, to try to get us to renegotiate our contract. Bug reports generally go unanswered for days and sometimes can span for weeks at a time only to be closed with "it's not a bug, it's a feature that can sometimes be used malic
    • <rant>

      My institution is in the same boat. We were a WebCT school and then moved to ANGEL shortly after Blackbeard conquered, pillaged, and plundered WebCT. We'd been running ANGEL for a couple of years when, out of the blue, we found that ANGEL had been assimilated by Blackborg.

      Blackboard has a tendency to buy anything that appears to be making a positive change in the LMS market. Rather than purchasing these competitors and incorporating the innovations and enhancements into new products, they

      • by Seta (934439)

        I find it incredibly eerie that your institutions entire history almost mirrors mine. Every LMS you used, we used, and I've complained to my boss about almost everything you have. I could almost confidently say that I might actually know or work with you if I didn't know from your website that you're from the state next door to me.

        What makes it almost scary was that just today I was speaking to my boss about Instructure being pretty much the last choice to stay away from Blackboard, but with their popularit

        • <rant>

          Unfortunately, it appears as if our tale is the industry standard. I was at the ITC conference in Long Beach a few weeks ago and had the same discussion with several people. It seems as if we all do our best to escape the clutches of Blackbeard and just about the time we think we're free from their grasp, they suck us in again.

          The good news about Instructure is that they seem to be digging in their heels and preparing for the long fight. Here's a most excellent blog post from Josh Coates [instructure.com]

  • by Bananatree3 (872975) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @10:57AM (#39484563)
    Moodle, even if it's in it's current state of code should make for a very usable open-source platform for a long time to come.
  • It's not so much that clients are specifically avoiding Blackboard; schools and such are vastly under-funded, and given the choice between competent free software with smaller support costs and a proprietary LMS, why pay the premium? My university has been steadily moving courses from Blackboard to Moodle for that reason specifically.

    So long as the services and prices of these companies remain the same, I don't think clients are going to care who the owner is.

    • Wish our was. We seem to have the mind set of "The more they charge us, the better it is!" Hence we have Blackboard and it is hosted. I expect once they have our content locked up good and tight we'll see substantial annual increases in their fees.
  • The university I work for has developed our own home-grown learning management system. The beta is going...so-so and we're supposed to drop-kick Blackboard in 2 months and go wholesale with our own LMS. As a tech I'm somewhat concerned.
    • To be honest, I have had better experiences with home-grown systems than with prepackaged software. My alma mater got rid of their home grown system in favor of Banner (by Sunguard) and it was a complete disaster, after having flirted with Blackboard (which was less of a disaster but still terribly annoying). My current school uses Sakai, and it is just awful compared to the CGI scripts that professors sometimes write.
      • Banner isn't an LMS by itself - they have a module for their SIS called course studio and yes it sucks.

        Of course - everything Sunguard makes kinda sucks.

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:01AM (#39484601)
    I have experienced three of these systems -- Blackboard, Sakai, and Banner -- and I have to say, I am not particularly impressed. Each one came with a phenomenal set of headaches, both for students and for professors/TAs.

    Ugly as they were, simple CGI scripts rolled by professors worked just as well and did not induce any further headaches (and usually had fewer issues). At my alma mater, they had a less aesthetically pleasing system for entering and viewing grades, but it worked -- you never had to go more than two levels of links deep to find what you wanted. Yet schools seem to constantly get rid of these home-grown solutions in favor of Blackboard 'n pals...why?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, Blackboard is a nightmare. Using it, and managing it.

    • Then admin/mgmt can say "Look how much money we saved by laying off those pesky techies! Blackboard will do everything for us!"

      So what will we be looking at for annual increases in the hosting/support fees? But they don't worry about that, only employee headcount.

      • Actually, no. It's not the headcount, it's the headaches when whoever programmed the home-grown solution leaves for a higher paying job. Remember, we're in education; they pay as little as they can get away with. My take-home is about 32k a year, and there hasn't been a raise (or cost-of-living-allowance increase) in 7 years. We lose more people to industry jobs that pay twice as much.
        • by 5KVGhost (208137)

          Sometimes it is the headcount, and sometimes that's with good reason. It costs a lot more than a salary to keep a person on payroll, and the overhead for each employee is only getting higher. And it is genuinely risky for the institution and the students to rely on any proprietary system, home-grown or COTS, if there's really only one person who knows how it all works.

          • by tbannist (230135)

            Don't forget an import aspect for stupid managers, reducing head count and outsourcing can improve ROI or ROE numbers. When you divide revenues by investment (or employees), outsourcing is good by definition.

            • by Kalriath (849904)

              You know, I've never understood that. My disillusioned manager once explained it as having something to do with shifting expenses from the OPEX budget to the CAPEX budget, but even that doesn't make sense to me. Surely it's the same money, and more of it, being used?

              • by jedwidz (1399015)

                Always reminds me of 'The Meaning of Life':

                Hospital Administrator: Ah, I see you have the machine that goes ping. This is my favorite. You see we lease it back from the company we sold it to and that way it comes under the monthly current budget and not the capital account.
                [Everyone in the room applauds]
                Hospital Administrator: Thank you, thank you.

                http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085959/quotes?qt0256725 [imdb.com]

                I guess that'd be moving CAPEX to OPEX, but with the same confounding result of costing more money.

                • by Kalriath (849904)

                  Your example of a movie about a hospital adds extra amusement - the organisation I work for is indeed a hospital.

    • by fallen1 (230220)

      I'd be willing to bet my last dollar that Blackboard getting adopted by schools can be summed up in one word - kickbacks.

      Greed is good. Unless you actually want to educate your students, then it funnels money needed for local projects to big companies who are complete shit.

      • by himself (66589)

        >
        > I'd be willing to bet my last dollar that Blackboard getting adopted by schools
        > can be summed up in one word - kickbacks.
        >

        Well, there is one other reason: a school can pick a better product but then BB buys the competition. Ask everyone who selected Angel over Blackboard. :7(

    • by Acheron (2182) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:30AM (#39484893)

      "Yet schools seem to constantly get rid of these home-grown solutions in favor of Blackboard 'n pals...why?"

      Because of CYA support contracts. Executive university ITS staff hate the thought of having the buck stop with their department. By paying outrageous fees to these big players, they always have an out when things don't work - they can yell at someone at Blackboard.

      The linked article only mentions Moodle, but Blackboard also announced yesterday that they have hired Charles Severence, one of the founding architects of the Sakai project, in the role of "Chief Sakai Strategist", and also announced that they will provide hosted Moodle and Sakai installations. This is a major foray into the Open Source LMS world, and it's still to be seen whether it is an opportunity to keep relationships with non-Bb schools, or a razed-earth invasion of the OS support arena.

      As a side note, technically Banner isn't an LMS, it is a Student Information System (SIS): it goes rather deeper into the registration process than an LMS, and also acts as the HR system at most institutions that use it.

      • I had several Professors who used the Course Page features, such as Forums, File Management, the ability to allow students the ability to upload files, and email in the Banner portals rather than use BlackBoard. That speaks volumes to me.

      • by mounthood (993037)

        CYA is part of it, but in academia the teachers and administrators have all the power, and they want the new shiny that'll put them on the cutting edge of 'education'. A home grown system doesn't have any cachet and is usually reviled for any errors. IT also has to go with it because otherwise "you're interfering with teaching!". It's ironic, but academics are the only ones allowed to have an opinion on teaching while ignoring ITs opinion on software.

    • by 5KVGhost (208137)

      Why? There are all the usual reasons why homegrown applications are replaced, plus the issues specific to course management, student tracking, academic assessment, FERPA compliance, etc.

    • by fermion (181285)
      I have not used these in any large distribution, but I do use them in small distribution. Like any prefab product, there is a need to conform your expectations to the product, which means that both student and instructor has to adjust to the product. This is pretty much the same in any situation. One could make the argument that use a prefab DBMS is silly when one can simply write a customized version in C that does not have to the same compromises. Of course most people do not see the compromises they
    • A lot of online courseware comes in ims format - which you simply import into a course shell and it has lessons, content, quizzes etc all setup - at most you just need to setup permissions on the quizzes and setup the grade book.

      I think there is a lot less instructional design time required for tools like D2L and Blackboard than a roll your own solution. And from my experience in a university roll your own solutions typically only have one developer who is a student or something and when he/she moves on - y

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Moodlerooms and Netspot

    I thought that was a law firm on Tatooine.

  • Looks like its time for someone to fork these projects!
    • by tbannist (230135)

      The projects are fine, Blackboard bought two Moodle hosting and support companies and hired a developer from Sakal.

  • When blackboard bought WEB CT, we were all aboard on moving to the blackboard collaboration, till the cost doubled during the planning phase. We went to Moodle rooms for a more cost effective approach.....guess they adopted the Microsoft model, buy everyone that is a competitor and phase them out.
  • If Blackboard took some of the money they spend buying up open-source competitors and used it to make a product that didn't suck, they wouldn't be gasping for air.

    The college I teach at switched from Blackboard to Moodle a few years ago, and it's been glorious. Better for students, better for professors, better for administrators, better for the budget. We administer it ourselves, and switching from "supported" to "do-it-yourself" software actually *reduced* the time our techs spend with administrative ta

  • I'm sitting in my office having lunch and I got really excited because the company I work for (Blackboard) made Slashdot! And then I started reading the comments.... I have read a few extremely negative comments directed towards the company that I think do a wonderful job at pointing out some severe flaws, which I will be forwarding to several people. Thanks for those.
    • by cwgmpls (853876)
      You work at Blackboard and are only *now* becoming aware of the terrible reputation you guys have developed in schools over the last ten years. Just how out of touch are you?
    • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @04:41PM (#39489509) Journal
      As a professor, I HATE blackboard. I use it to enter grades and post basic texts, and that's it. For every other use, it is absolutely awful. Example: I have a directory of files I want my students to have. I should be able to upload the directory itself, like every other ftp app has been able to do since the 1980s. But Blackboard? Nooooo. I have to create a directory, name it and check its attributes, and then set it into the Blackboard system, and then load each file to it individually. Or, I have to go and zip the files together, which assumes my students have unzipping software and that I have the time to zip the stuff up (As if I don't already have enough to keep me busy with bullshit). When I enter grades, out of 200+ students, at least one or two grades somehow get "undone". Its ugly, its clunky and completely retarded. I'm sure you are a nice guy, but I want your company to go out of business. Now.
    • by Kalriath (849904)

      You guys should really get out more, and remove the Outlook rule you clearly have to delete every email from your customers. And check your voicemail and clear the letterbox sometime, because I can't imagine there's any contact method that hasn't been used to tell you that Blackboard sucks donkey balls.

  • by berryjw (1071694) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:09PM (#39488313)
    So, Blackboard acquired some firms supporting open source LMS. At most, they've inconvenienced the folks who have been using the services of the firms they purchased with needing to find new support. At least, they've acquired some new potential profit centers. And, if they do a poor job of managing them, or deliberately kill them, they will have succeeded in creating an opening for new firms supporting LMS. They can't impact the code or the knowledge base, and those people currently working for those firms always have the option of working elsewhere, like new start-ups. Come on people, a huge percentage of us got into this business, at least in part, because we didn't like how someone else was doing it, and knew we could do better ourselves. This is just another one of those opportunities ;-)
    • by odoketa (1040340)

      Sort of true, but not really.

      If I recall correctly, in addition to commercial support, MoodleRooms also contributed back to the code base. I don't know the percentage of improvements that came from them, or from NetSpot, but I'd bet they were solid components if someone was willing to pay to have them written. And there's all the improvements related to running Moodle as an enterprise app, as opposed to on an old 486 in the back closet, which is often how many installations start out.

      If Blackboard's plan is

      • by berryjw (1071694)
        Interesting argument, but I still disagree. Being purchased by Blackboard does not prevent those previously contributing to the code base from continuing to do so. Additionally, talent moves into/ leaves open source projects regardless, and Moodle is certainly large enough to draw new talent in on its own. Again, it's an opportunity. In an absolute worst case scenario, Blackboard further enhances their bleak reputation, while Moodle remains the same.

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