I know that many people promote the benefits of open source software, and there are many.. but there is also a greater question of the benefits surrounding adapting an “open source” philosophy.
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) began as the results of a computer company not opening its software up to an academic institution so that academics could analyse and learn from the source code. To me, this seems like a perfectly acceptable reason to reject software in an academic institution, and I admire them for doing so. However, academia has got increasingly lazy.
I recently created and ran a web-based experiment using a SSL apache webserver, and php-mysql for a cognitive psychology project at MMU Cheshire. It was extremely well-received by the academic staff, a couple of which urged that I write a report so that my web-based project could be published. I have yet to write the report, due to a lack of time, (I’m busy publishing blogs and writing dissertations,) and to do with the representation to the target audience.
It was my first real programming project. I have been playing with Linux for the past couple of years, and contributing the community in other ways, but this was my first software project. 32 hours later, and with the help of a trial edition flash movie maker (due to ease of use, rather than lack of technology on the part of OSS) I had created the site. I was really pleased with how the experiment went, and I managed to complete the experiment successfully.
My cousin got in touch with me yesterday as he wanted help with his web-site to publish his first-year industrial design portfolio. I set him up with a quite drupal site, and it looked professional and fulfilled the criteria within 10 minutes. However, he then told me the course had been on ‘dreamweaver’ and that he had to do it using that. I asked him if he had a coy, and he’s conveniently ‘downloaded a copy off limewire.’ Why are Universities promoting piracy, when the same project can be more conveniently done using FLOSS.
It’s not really teaching anymore though is it. I mean, I am currently studying Business and Psychology at MMU Cheshire, and as part of our course we were ‘trained’ to use SPSS, a proprietary statistical software package, to analyze our data. I used to be good at Maths at school, but being limited to learning how to use the software to do it, instead of learning the mathematical formulae has put a ceiling on what I am capable of doing. Unless I’m prepared to join the majority and fork out a handsome sum on SPSS, the ‘statistical psychology’ module is a complete waste of time.
I really hope we correct this massive error before it goes to far. There are far too many universities in England as it is. Many of them are ‘training’ rather than ‘teaching.’ Open Source software is not in this case an answer, but it can offer a route out in many cases. I’d love to hear other peoples opinions on this, so please either blog about it or leave me a comment on the blog.