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Friday, November 20, 2009

Open Source vs. Proprietary Software

I don't know many people who prefer to pay for things when they can get the same or better absolutely free. Microsoft has done an amazing job at making sure their software is distributed on almost every single computer that is made on the planet (even macs these days). When I tell people that I am using Ubuntu exclusively in my class they usually have no idea what I am talking about. When I use Moodle instead of Sharepoint I get an interesting reaction. When I use Firefox or some free website to facilitate discussion in my class, I am greeted with curiosity. Most do not even know how to think outside of the proprietary world. So why do I use mostly open source? Nine times out of ten, open source works better or simply good enough when compared to proprietary software. I cannot justify paying for something that only works slightly better or looks better.

When evaluating open source software I apply a two part test.

Part 1 = Functionality.

The functionality of the proprietary software must be better. Much better to justify some of the prices. A tie (or even a close call) in functionality goes to open source because it's free.

Part 2 = Cost. The functionality of the software must justify the cost. One example of this can be found in the Adobe products. While GIMP is good, Photoshop is great. I would pay for the Adobe Creative Suite over the open source options available.

Here is a must read if you have not already, The Top 50 Proprietary Programs that Drive You Crazy — and Their Open Source Alternatives.

More and more schools are starting to throw off their proprietary "chains" to embrace the open source world. Open Office, Mozilla, and others are making it easier for us to do so. I encourage any school considering a one-2-one environment to take a serious look at free, open source software. It will drive down the initial costs of implementation immensely. The students will adjust. Now for the teachers, I will leave that for another post.

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