This topic lived in my ‘to do’ pile for quite awhile. I think the topic needs telling, but I could not put into words what I thought or felt. I love open source and the free as in freedom movement, but after being pretty close to it for five years now, I do feel overwhelmed with all the projects. We have mainstream supported projects, projects that fork from other projects, creating similar projects. Some projects are created to rival other projects. I just sometimes do not know how we can really support the movement with all this out there.
I definitely see the need for organizations such as Stallman’s Free Software Foundation, no matter how we may joke about it. They and others help to work with developers to improve existing projects and add to those when similar projects cannot move forward for any number of reasons. Often, though, these projects face political or just personal problems when trying to stay ‘pure’ or ‘functional.’ Sometimes there is no middle ground there.
So what do we in education do? We try to use these projects to avoid the strife and inflexibility that comes with proprietary software, but I do see some ‘Windows’ admins’ side when they say that proprietary is often more stable than OSS. You figure, as much as we do not want to admit it, Adobe, Microsoft, and some other companies are not going anywhere soon. Can we say the same about some of our other projects? Since I really began to use OSS applications, I have seen many of them go by the wayside due to lack of funding, moving in different directions, and other reasons. For schools looking for stability in technology, this poses a huge problem. When presented with a free application that may go away in a year or one, while costly, that comes with a 4 year support contract, schools will more than likely go with that support.
So where am I going? I really do not know. It appears to me like I would like more of a sure thing when beginning OSS applications, but I do not think that will ever happen, unless you only use mainstream applications. I doubt Open Office will go anywhere soon, although time will tell with the Oracle take over of Sun. But what about Gimp? Audacity? Do we really know? We definitely need to support them more, and in turn, hopefully learn more about their plans for the future. We need to get involved with these projects, even from a PR side. I think that support and interest will reaffirm the need of their projects to programmers, and they will continue to develop these projects. We need to continue to grow this movement!