I’m not going to say that my graduate student budget forced me into the world of open source software, but it certainly didn’t hurt. There was a time when “open source” was synonymous with “free of charge”, but with the proliferation of mobile technologies and free apps, the lines between for-profit and not-for-profit software are now blurred. Therefore the distinction must be made that open source software contains a license, which allows the user to modify the code and to freely distribute the software to anyone, for any purpose. As a result, this software is often community developed, and widely distributed.
So why should you invest your precious time in learning how to use these free alternatives? Let me consult a recognizable mantra. Some of the triumphs of open source software come right out of ALA’s mission statement: “Equitable Access to Information, Intellectual Freedom, Education and Lifelong Learning”. There can be obstacles to early adoption, primarily the learning curve, but grad school is the ideal time to conquer these technological challenges. Here are some open source software examples I have adopted in my pursuit of information literacy.
Linux / Ubuntu
I do my work on a desktop, but two years ago, I bought a little netbook to tote to library school classes. Problem was, it came with Windows 7 and was severely underpowered to handle all the Microsoft busyness. I decided to install a Linux OS on the machine, since after all, I would only be using the computer for simple tasks, not much beyond word processing, internet applications, and a little music listening. The install of Ubuntu I chose was very light (less than 1 GB), which would be kind to my modest machine. To go all-in, I swapped the hard drive for a 16GB solid state drive, giving me even faster performance and incredible battery life (great for those 3 hour classes!). I was immediately impressed with Ubuntu’s design and ease of use. The interface reminded me of a Mac, but with a little more buttoned-up elegance. I was surprised to find that Linux wasn’t some foreign OS where you need to code all of your commands. It has that sort of malleability too if you desire, but on the surface, Ubuntu is a legitimate user-friendly alternative to Windows or OSX.
We’ve all experienced frustrations with Microsoft Office, and this open source alternative is not without it’s hiccups. However, this suite is capable of handling spreadsheets, presentations, and word processing comfortably. Widespread adoption and implementation of Open Office could be a game-changer for your organization.
When I made the switch to OSX from Windows XP almost 7 years ago, I was confronted with a good deal of new software choices. One of the PC programs that I dreaded losing was Sony Sound Forge, an audio editor. I was such a heavy user of Sound Forge, that I initially made my iMac a dual-boot machine, allowing me to run Windows, to ease the Mac transition. However, I managed to find a very capable audio editor in Audacity. The interface is very familiar and intuitive. Functionality is top-notch. I still go back to the Sony program for some very detailed post-production, such as compression and normalization, but with the help of a thriving user community, I have learned how to do 95% of what I need with Audacity. With so many innovative, user-designed plug-ins, it’s only a matter of time until Audacity’s capabilities eliminate my Sony crutch.
Here is a case where it takes very little intentional effort to be an open source adopter, and that is a good thing. I’ve found and used a few really excellent website templates. I’ve been able to edit the code, to customize the theme to fit my needs. And every question or stumbling block I had along the way had already been thoroughly addressed in the user forums. Perfect!
There are a couple of major open source developments ripe for early adoption in the information management world. Igloo software was community developed and is now a cloud-based alternative to Microsoft Sharepoint. Archives Space has recently launched and is aimed at providing “the archival community with a cutting-edge, extensible, and sustainable platform for describing analog and born-digital archival materials”. There is tremendous potential in the open source development and distribution model. Challenge yourself now to explore the joys of being a cheapskate!
What are some of your favorite open source programs? Let us know in the comments.