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Why as an educator you should care about Open Source Software

I’ve been invited to be part of a Becta project into Open Source Software (OSS). “What is OSS?” I hear you ask. A Google define: open source software search does a reasonable job, but for the layperson something a bit closer to home is needed.In a strange way, using OSS is a bit like buying Fairtrade products. Most people don’t see the direct results of their choice: they’re a water droplet in a beneficial deluge.

I’m sure you’re aware that creating software programs and web applications involves ‘programming’; programmers enter code in one of many programming languages. When this ‘source code’ is ready to be released, it is ‘compiled’ ready for Joe Public to be able to install it on their computers. Joe Public, however, can never read what was in the source code. Usually, that’s hidden and protected by copyright.

OSS, however, makes the source code readily available. This means that anyone with the requisite knowledge can make changes to the software. Note that even though OSS is usually free, nothing about the philosophy behind it says that the software can’t be sold for profit, just that the source code should be made available (under something called the GPL).

Strong communities often develop around popular OSS. You may have heard of an operating system called Linux. There are different ‘distributions’ (or versions) of this – perhaps the most popular being Ubuntu. The PCs in my classroom run Edubuntu, a derivative. You’d be amazed at what a community can put together and make available free of charge!

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where a program or web application you’ve relied upon has stopped being developed, but I certainly have. It’s frustrating and there’s nothing you can do about it. With OSS, however, good projects never die due to the community being able to access the code. Someone else can come along and continue developed the software.

Many people reading this post will be educators. Not only does ‘free’ usually sound good to schools, but the philosophy enshrined in OSS should appeal to. Students can contribute to these communities and projects, and real-world learning experiences can be had. Show them the alternative to capitalism. :-p

There’s a wealth of OSS for pretty much every need. Check out the following repositories:

If you want to know more about OSS and the Open Source movement in general, the Free Software Foundation is a great place to start! :-D

Do YOU use Open Source Software?

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26 Comments

  1. I do! And I am a member of FSF, which I discovered through @petrock on twitter.

    I find that open source is in tune with values that I and most educators I know share – collaboration, trust, creativity. It just makes sense.
    Good post. I just noticed that little reblog link – I plan on using it!

    • Thanks for the link! Looking forward to getting involved. I’ve run Ubuntu on
      a number of systems, but I’m still happy to say that as of today I’m
      exclusively running OSX at home (which is, course, based on Unix…)

  2. Thanks for the link! Looking forward to getting involved. I've run Ubuntu ona number of systems, but I'm still happy to say that as of today I'mexclusively running OSX at home (which is, course, based on Unix…)

  3. I do! And I am a member of FSF, which I discovered through @petrock on twitter. I find that open source is in tune with values that I and most educators I know share – collaboration, trust, creativity. It just makes sense.Good post. I just noticed that little reblog link – I plan on using it!

  4. Our school district tech department has decided that we will no longer spend $ on software licenses anymore. We have installed OpenOffice, GIMP, Firefox, and Paint.net on all student use computers. When our Windows licenses expire we will likely install Linux on these machines. I believe that between OSS and cloud computing there really is no need to waste $ on software. All that savings can be applied to directly benefit students.

  5. Yeah baby!! I was a one-time committed Microsoft man (even have a plaque from Seattle as a Charter member Microsoft Certified Solution Developer). Now, there’s not a bit of closed source software on my PC. Now, my laptop boots in a fifth of the time, the software works, the documents and files are transferable and my productivity is better than ever. I even carry Latex on a stick to produce high-quality presentations for project bids, for example. My Regional Authority are a long way from this but GOOD LUCK in bringing the benefits of Open Source to education.

    I am using: Ubuntu Linux operating system – Firefox browser – Thunderbird mail – Filezilla for FTP – GnuCash for finance – Gedit / Miketex for formal (Latex) documents – OpenOffice for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations – Audacity for making audio – WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and MediaWiki for websites – Crimson Editor – Azureus for torrents – Amarok for music – VLC player for audio and video.

    All of it far superior to anything developed under the proprietary software development model (which I worked under for 25 years). It’s better quality, better supported, and morally superior.

    Oh, and it’s free of licence fees.

  6. Our school district tech department has decided that we will no longer spend $ on software licenses anymore. We have installed OpenOffice, GIMP, Firefox, and Paint.net on all student use computers. When our Windows licenses expire we will likely install Linux on these machines. I believe that between OSS and cloud computing there really is no need to waste $ on software. All that savings can be applied to directly benefit students.

  7. I’m not a programmer and understand almost nothing about code. But I just came across this interesting variation on the philosophy of OpenSource: Free Energy and the Open Source Energy Movement: “There are persons working in the U.S. Patent office, who have come forward with information regarding how free energy devices are often “stolen” or suppressed by the government…. This has been reported on by long-time Patent Office employee Thomas Valone, PhD, to have happened to over 4,000 patent filings. Once a patent request is filed in the United States, it is automatically and immediately studied carefully by scientists and engineers working within the Pentagon. .. Enter the Open Source Energy Movement. Herein lies the answer to the above roadblocks to bringing new energy devices into the mainstream; at least until the patent laws change. The answer is simple: Don’t attempt to patent your device: “Open Source” it with full disclosure and documentation.”
    PS Thanks to you and commentes for pushing Linux and variants. One day, I’ll take the plunge.

    • Interesting, Marc! Devious, aren’t they? I’d recommend ‘taking the plunge’
      as you put it. Perhaps not with the whole operating system (i.e. Linux) at
      first, but certainly with some OSS applications. :-)

  8. Yeah baby!! I was a one-time committed Microsoft man (even have a plaque from Seattle as a Charter member Microsoft Certified Solution Developer). Now, there's not a bit of closed source software on my PC. Now, my laptop boots in a fifth of the time, the software works, the documents and files are transferable and my productivity is better than ever. I even carry Latex on a stick to produce high-quality presentations for project bids, for example. My Regional Authority are a long way from this but GOOD LUCK in bringing the benefits of Open Source to education.I am using: Ubuntu Linux operating system – Firefox browser – Thunderbird mail – Filezilla for FTP – GnuCash for finance – Gedit / Miketex for formal (Latex) documents – OpenOffice for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations – Audacity for making audio – WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and MediaWiki for websites – Crimson Editor – Azureus for torrents – Amarok for music – VLC player for audio and video.All of it far superior to anything developed under the proprietary software development model (which I worked under for 25 years). It's better quality, better supported, and morally superior.Oh, and it's free of licence fees.

  9. I'm not a programmer and understand almost nothing about code. But I just came across this interesting variation on the philosophy of OpenSource: <a href=” http://www.opednews.com/articles/Free-Energy-an… Energy and the Open Source Energy Movement: “There are persons working in the U.S. Patent office, who have come forward with information regarding how free energy devices are often “stolen” or suppressed by the government…. This has been reported on by long-time Patent Office employee Thomas Valone, PhD, to have happened to over 4,000 patent filings. Once a patent request is filed in the United States, it is automatically and immediately studied carefully by scientists and engineers working within the Pentagon. .. Enter the Open Source Energy Movement. Herein lies the answer to the above roadblocks to bringing new energy devices into the mainstream; at least until the patent laws change. The answer is simple: Don’t attempt to patent your device: “Open Source” it with full disclosure and documentation.”PS Thanks to you and commentes for pushing Linux and variants. One day, I'll take the plunge.

  10. Interesting, Marc! Devious, aren't they? I'd recommend 'taking the plunge'as you put it. Perhaps not with the whole operating system (i.e. Linux) atfirst, but certainly with some OSS applications. :-)

  11. This is an important and interesting article and one of the first times I’ve seen what I think is the REAL argument being put forward.

    One can debate the total cost of ownership estimations for FLOSS vs proprietary software but I think that misses the point.

    The point is an ideological one. Open Source Software treats software as knowledge – similar to scientific knowledge or other forms of knowledge, that enhance the human condition by being shared. One of the primary goals of education.

    Proprietary Software sees software as product. Something that is sold for the profit of the producer. This is fundamentally at odds with the philosophy of education.

    Debates about whether or not to use Microsoft in a school, I think, are analogous to debating whether the school library should only stock books from a single publisher.

  12. This is an important and interesting article and one of the first times I've seen what I think is the REAL argument being put forward.One can debate the total cost of ownership estimations for FLOSS vs proprietary software but I think that misses the point.The point is an ideological one. Open Source Software treats software as knowledge – similar to scientific knowledge or other forms of knowledge, that enhance the human condition by being shared. One of the primary goals of education.Proprietary Software sees software as product. Something that is sold for the profit of the producer. This is fundamentally at odds with the philosophy of education. Debates about whether or not to use Microsoft in a school, I think, are analogous to debating whether the school library should only stock books from a single publisher.