What is this

What is this, and why are these people handing out free software?


Open-source software (OSS) is computer software that is freely distributed and whose source (programming) code is also distributed with the software or available for download. The license for open-source software allows users to study, change/edit and redistribute the software and code. This is in stark contrast to proprietary (commercial) software in which programs or applications are available for purchase (or, in the case of freeware, download); proprietary software does not allow users to study and modify the source code. Open-source software facilitates the improvement and customization of software by the users. One might want to do this to add functionality that is required for the software, or to fix vulnerabilities of the software. "Bug patches" are released back to the community that creates the software, and integrated into new versions of the software immediately, instead of waiting for a software company's release cycle.


Open-source software offers a number of benefits to educators. It is, first of all, free. There are many useful freeware programs for both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. The spirit of open-source software, based on the sharing of resources to benefit the community, fits in well with goals of education such as cooperation, working for the common good, and working with others. Finally, open source software can be modified by anyone who has sufficient programming knowledge; this makes a tremendous learning opportunity for students in computer technology areas to study how real applications are built, and allows schools to have software customized to their needs by staff or by school or division technical support staff or by hiring a (usually reasonably priced) programmer.


Is open-source software a zero cost option if implemented by a school or school division? No - there is a cost in the technical expertise needed to set up or revise the software, but this can be done by most technical support staff within a school or school division. It is also worth remembering that there is a cost to commercial software such as licensing of software and new versions, not to mention the cost of virus and malware removal (which also impose a risk to security and privacy). While open-source software may not be the solution to all your school's software needs, it is certainly worthy of consideration.