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Free software users at school

by John Sullivan Contributions Published on 07/09/2005 11h34
These testimonials focus on experiences related to using free software at educational institutions.

My testimonial is easy to write. I love the GIMP. I teach a beginning webpage class at a college. The class I teach brings in a broad spectrum of students (everything from Computer Science to Nursing). While I could preach the "pay $ and learn Adobe Photoshop" instead I freely distribute GIMP. And because copyright has such teeth now I have to warn students away from using artwork from other websites for their own.

With GIMP in the mix many students find it is simply easier to , create art for their website, rather than read lengthy agreements that basically say pay us money or do not use. And with the ability to creating quick animations and buttons my Nursing students can get what they want, and with Script-Fu Computer Science students can create as complicated tools as they like. The new GIMP menus make the whole software far more approachable.

I am trying to start a movement toward free software at home and work, which runs on MS-Windows, so that at some point the home and the college could switch to GNU/Linux OS. I am not the software decision maker but I am a vocal advocate for free software.

Karl Castleton

Proud member and advocate for a "Free Software and a Free Society" (I even wear the t-shirt I purchased to class)


A couple of years ago the Computer Science Club at Bishop's University ran into a problem. Our student run computer lab was running unlicensed copies of a propriety operating system. The computers also had many unlicensed programs installed. It was a big mess. At that time we had to make an ethical decision. We had to decide whether we wanted to continue breaking the law or not. We decided against running software for which we didn't have licenses as it could lead to the lab being closed.

Once that was settled we were left with another decision. We could either do fund raising and purchase propriety software legally or use a Free software system like GNU/Linux which is usually available at no cost. After calculating the expense of purchasing propriety software licenses for 6 workstations we came to the realization that we just didn't have $2,000+ to spend on software when a no cost solution was available.

Switching all of the systems over to GNU/Linux was one of the best things that we've ever done. Besides having a legal lab, we also got a lot of advanced features that the proprietary software we were using lacked. We can update all of the machines from one location. We can easily share a printer and configure the software to limit its usage so that no one particular user can use up all of our toner. Centralized logins and home directories mean that you can sit down at any of our 6 workstations and have access to all of your files and program settings. Free software does everything that we need.

While there were a lot of tangible benefits, switching to Free Software also has some non-tangible benefits. If someone new comes into the lab and likes what they see, we have the freedom to be good neighbors and share copies of the software. Being friendly and sharing helps society. We are also free to browse and modify the source code for the programs that we run. Being able to read large, complete, well written computer code gives us a chance to learn from others. It also gives us another level of customization that proprietary software just can't offer.

Organization: Bishop's University Computer Science Club
Author: Thomas Cort (President)


Free software is absolutely critical to the way I perform daily computer tasks. In particular, I have grown accustomed to the high level of configurability and the degree of interoperability found in free software. With free software, I find that I get the benefits one might see when using solutions from a single large software vendor (consistency in installation and configuration, interoperability, etc.) without any of the drawbacks (vendor "lock-in" chief among them). Of course, free software isn't developed by a single vendor; these benefits arise from the openness of free software, and I find this openness very refreshing.

In my academic research in computer science, I use free software almost exclusively. I find that it is necessary in my compiler, middleware, and operating systems research to be able to study and tinker with the internals of existing systems and yet be free to openly publish my conclusions. This is often not possible or permitted with proprietary offerings. I often release products of my research as free software, to allow others the same capacity to study my work.

In my experience, free software does precisely what technology is supposed to do: it enables me to perform tasks. Non-free software doesn't always rise to this definition of "technology." Proprietary data formats can and do lock away data. Proprietary software can give nasty surprises when it decides incorrectly that you're manipulating data improperly (as, for example, when it suspects you of copyright infringement, even when your actions are legitimate and legal). Such software turns technology on its head: it disables you rather than enabling you. I have not the patience to fight with technology; I need it to be on my side.

Morgan Deters
mdeters@morgandeters.com


I've been using free software since the early '90s. In the mid '90s, my professor got me single *user* license for a proprietary compiler. I won't even discuss the hassle of getting the license manager set up, but the thing that really turned me off was that I could not even run two or more compilations at the same time from the same user account. My professor had paid for a single user license and gotten a single *process* license! I just downloaded the GCC sources, compiled those and used that compiler instead.

Not much later I heard about GNU/Linux and completely switched all my computers over. debian/rules ;-)

Olaf Meeuwissen
Linux Senior Engineer
FSF Associate Member #1962


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