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The Power and Promise of Free and Open Source Software


Editor's Notes

  1. These are some of my school's experiences in using Free and Open Source Software I was introduced to FOSS by my school's Systems Administrator, Yared Deneke. Initially, I was skeptical: isn't this fringe stuff, used by oddballs? Isn't this kludgy, unpolished software, inferior to polished commercial stuff?
  2. The POWER of Free & Open Source Software FOSS is used by many big companies, notably Google. Many governments use FOSS, including US, Germany, India, etc. NASA switched all the laptops on the International Space Station from Windows to Linux: "We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable - one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could."
  3. The PROMISE – free! Most FOSS costs nothing. (There are exceptions.) We switched from a proprietary mail & collaboration system to the open source Zimbra system, which saved us thousands of dollars every year. (These savings are multiplied by many other systems and applications we use – all of which can be downloaded and used for free.)
  4. The PROMISE – Freedom “Free” in FOSS means “free as in freedom, not free as in no cost” - this is one of the mantras. The lack of cost is philosophically the most trivial reasons for using FOSS. Users are free to use and share this software as they wish. We use free applications like the GIMP instead of Photoshop, LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office, Inkscape instead of Illustrator, etc. Our students can copy the software and use it on their home computers. They can give it to their parents, their friends and neighbors. Sharing is a good value to instill in our students!
  5. The Promise – Tinkering FOSS encourages users to tinker and adapt software. We've added plugins & themes to our Moodle system. Our students have used Ubuntu, which encourages them to experiment, adapt, hack their systems.
  6. The Promise – Community There are active communities around all FOSS projects, and users are encouraged to work together. We've used and contributed to the communities around our Moodle (elearning) and Mahara (eportfolios) systems. Students have become active, asking questions and offering help.
  7. We've had some problems. Note that problems do not only exist for FOSS solutions. Commercial systems have their problems, too!
  8. The Problem: Turnover We have large turnover in our school, and have had many new teachers come in every year. They are not used to using our solutions. We've had a complete turnover of administration. Therefore, we've done some reversals in our use of FOSS
  9. The Problem: People want things easy & fast Teachers complained about Ubuntu Linux. It's not always simple to do things. Sometimes software requires work to get it installed. We're therefore reversing this use on user machines, but still using it on our servers. (And some of us still use it, including me.)
  10. The Problem: People want to use what everyone else does. People want to follow the herd. So we're starting to use Microsoft Office again, despite the extra cost.
  11. Trailblazers FOSS isn't always the smoothest road, but it is an adventure. Schools that use FOSS are trailblazers. There's a moral and ethical value to using FOSS that is thrilling. And it opens up students' eyes to alternatives & new horizons.
  12. Taking the Plunge It has been worth it to take a leap of faith and use Free and Open Source Software. It's been liberating and thrilling. Despite some reversals, our students and have had their eyes opened to new possibilities, and many have expanded their skills and knowledge of using software.
  13. More details about some of the applications and systems we use are on my website.