In between the time this book was written and you read it, many powerful new Open Source tools for education will have been created. In fact there are thousands of other programs available ranging from highly specialized applications to general purpose tools destined for a wide audience. Your challenge is, first, finding interesting programs, and, second, establishing the reliability and value of these programs in a classroom setting.
I have no doubt that clearinghouse Web sites will spring into existence to help you with this task. One site providing valuable overviews of Open Source software for education is maintained by Open Source Victoria in Australia (osv.org.au/index.cgi?tid=155). You can be sure others will emerge as well as Open Source educational software becomes more popular.
As for links to Open Source software, there are many that focus on education.
How (short of recommendations from friends) do you find great Open Source programs? Wading through the rapidly growing world of Open Source software can be formidable. For that reason, the sites listed below can be quite helpful. The Concord Consortium (concord.org) maintains a collection of educational software they have created. One of their titles (Molecular Workbench) has been featured in this book, but they have many other equally great programs for you to download and use for free.
Sourceforge (sourceforge.net) is a home-base for many Open Source projects, and is worth checking out from time to time to see what new or updated software has been added. Like many of the Open Source directories, Sourceforge entries lean toward Linux-only implementations, but there are enough exceptions to make this a good site for anyone to visit. The UNESCO Free Software portal (unesco.org/webworld/portal_freesoft) provides links to a nice collection of educational titles, and is easy to browse. Schoolforge (opensourceschools.org) performs a similar function. That said, one of my favorite sites for finding educational software titles is the SEUL collection (http://richtech.ca/seul).
One more clearinghouse for OSS is tcpdpodcast.org, a site I maintain. The Open Source page contains lots of links to resources and is updated regularly. You might want to put this page in your bookmarks and check it often!
As you browse the Web, you’ll likely find other sites with great links for educational software. This is a rapidly growing field, and you should be prepared to check for new programs weekly.
The main question you need to ask yourself is how willing you are to break the bonds of shrink-wrapped programs. Let’s be blunt. There are some commercial titles that are amazingly powerful, and that (as of yet) have no Open Source equivalent. In this case, there is no question that you should continue to purchase those titles that are only available in commercial form.
Can you run these titles on Linux? In many cases you can, using a program like Crossover Linux (codeweavers.com/products). This program allows you to install and run numerous Windows applications directly from Linux. This can be a lifesaver for those applications that have no non-Windows counterparts (yet). So now the question is, why not use Crossover for everything? As this book has shown, there are amazingly good Open Source equivalents for whatever commercial titles you are currently using in many categories. For example, the shift from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org is painless, and saves a bundle, especially when you multiply your cost by the number of computers in your schools.
As Open Source software grows in popularity, you can expect backlash from commercial vendors whose products lack unique useful functionality. They will claim that Open Source software has bugs (as if theirs doesn’t). They may even go so far as to suggest that if Open Source software were truly good, no one would make it available for free.
My hope is that you will try SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop and at least a few of the titles explored in this book and decide for yourself. Yes, I have some commercial titles I still use, but only because I’ve yet to find Open Source equivalents for them. In fact, I usually go for long stretches of time using nothing but free Open Source software. My feeling is that if it’s good enough to let me create this book with it, it will likely meet most of your student’s needs.
And let’s not forget the computers in our students’ homes. There is much to be said for using software that is the same at school and home. As computer prices drop, the very real digital divide can start to shrink, but only if software prices drop as well. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a trend. If anything, professional grade software is increasing in price.
This is a reason that Brazil (and other countries) are embracing Open Source software and the Linux operating system. The Computers for All initiative by the Brazilian federal government (www.computadorparatodos.gov.br) is but one example of how other nations have started to address the challenge of bringing powerful telematic tools to everyone.
In the United States, Indiana has taken a pioneering role in bringing Linux to student desktops. On any given day, more than 100,000 Indiana students are using Linux-based computers in the classroom. This project may have started as the only cost-effective way to bring computers to the hands of huge numbers of students, but the quality and reliability of Linux and the applications students are using is so high, that this platform would make sense even if it cost more to implement.
Linux and Free Open Source software is a truly global movement. It reaches into schools in many nations, and reaches children at every economic level. It avoids the increasing costs of many commercial titles, and keeps people from breaking copyright laws every time they give a program to a student to use at home. Linux and FOSS brings quality to computing in ways that can restore joy to technology use at all levels. The cost of experimenting with new programs is only your time. This opens the door to creativity across the curriculum and across grade levels.
We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines of this truly global revolution. It has the potential to affect every child, and every teacher, everywhere.