The profile of open source software has now reached a point where it is no longer exclusively in the domain of IT experts and service providers. The recent success of Firefox, the open source web browser from the Mozilla Foundation, has brought open source software to the attention of many people who had formerly been unaware that there was an alternative to proprietary software. In particular, the widespread success of Firefox indicates that the non-specialist end-user is now exercising choice over the software on his or her desktop, and that choice is frequently open source software.
You may be investigating open source software because you want to try out and use new software for free. You may have heard something about the spirit of the open source development methodology and find that it appeals to your ideals. Indeed, you may already be an experienced user of a particular open source application. Whatever your circumstances, we hope that the resources that we have gathered here for you will be of help and interest.
As an academic end-user, you may be curious about how open source software is created, the kinds of communities it forms, and even whether there is any way you could participate in those communities. On the other hand, you may be wondering why you ought to be interested at all in the freedom to adapt the source code of a computer program when you have no desire or inclination to do so. Fair point. End-users really need to stay focused on what works for them. But in case your interest gets stimulated these resources will provide some background to the open source software world and the way that it works.
- Free and open source software in mobile devices
- App stores and openness
- Benefits of open source code
- A guide to participating in an open source software community
- Can you contribute code to an open source project?
- Microsoft: an end to open hostilities?
Quick and easy trial of open source software
Of course the fun thing about open source software is that once you locate some you can start using it right away. And if you like it, you can keep using it. There are no strings attached. The open source licence under which the software is released (or made public) ensures that this is the case. That being so, the real question for question for academic end-users is, “Where do I find open source software?”
The OpenDisc is an excellent source of open source software that can be installed on your Windows PC. It brings together best of breed email client, web browser, office suite and more, all on one simple to use cd for easy installation (or uninstall). You can dowload the ISO image for this DVD so that you can burn a copy for yourself (or for others).
The OpenDisc [http://theopendisc.com/] If you are a Mac user, you might find the FreeSMUG Suite CD equally useful.
FreeSMUG Suite CD [http://www.freesmug.org/fscd/]
Sometimes you find a set of open source software that you want to take with you and use on any PC anywhere. PortableApps.com provides just such a solution. It allows you to run certain open source software packages, such as the Mozilla Thunderbird email client, from your USB memory stick. This can be a life-saver if you need to travel around the country without a laptop computer accompanying you.
- PortableApps.com [http://portableapps.com/]
If you have never used Linux, you may want to explore it and some common open source applications without going to the effort of installing the software. Some systems administrators will already be familiar with the concept of a LiveCD. These allow you to boot an Intel PC into a Linux environment without the need to install anything whatsoever. It will not touch the contents of the PC’s hard drive in any way (unless you specifically want it to). In fact, the entire operating system runs directly off the CD. Well known examples of LiveCDs include Ubuntu and Knoppix.
Ubuntu has quickly become a very popular distribution and periodically OSS Watch distributes copies of Ubuntu. You can contact us at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org to request a CD through the post, which we will gladly send, if we have any in stock. Alternatively the Ubuntu website also provides details about how to download or purchase CDs.
- Ubuntu [http://www.ubuntu.com/]
The most well-known LiveCD prior to Ubuntu, and, for many systems administrators, still the preferred resource is Knoppix.
- Knoppix.net [http://www.knopper.net/knoppix/index-en.html] Knoppix has all the tools needed to investigate and fix PCs whose operating systems no longer function.
For information on how to remaster an Ubuntu LiveCD see the OSS Watch wiki page http://wiki.oss-watch.ac.uk/UbuntuEdgy/Remaster
Examples of open source software
It is difficult to know in advance all of the open source software which might be of use to an academic end-user, discipline by displine. We would value your input to hlep us compile such a list. Just write to us at mailto:email@example.com with your tips. In the meantime, the following resources each point to software you might be using, or find useful. In addition, the Top Tips for Selecting Open Source Software resource offers guidance on criteria to use when choosing open source software.
- Freshmeat.net [http://freshmeat.net/], announcements about new software releases
- SourceForge.net [http://sourceforge.net/], a repository of thousands of open source projects
- UK Mirror Service [http://www.mirrorservice.org/]
Stay in the loop
To keep up to date with what is happening in the open source world as it relates to the academic sector you may wish to
- join our announcement list
- attend an OSS Watch event
- read a conference report
- track our RSS news feeds
- or follow our team blog
OSS Watch also provides institution specific consultation workshops for universities and colleges seeking assistance in thinking through their engagement with free and open source software.