Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Exploring "Open Source"

By Mark Giglione

What Open Source Tools Have To Offer

"Open source" software includes applications that are are offered freely to the public and make the computer code (source code) available as well. This means that anyone can download and use the software without cost, but individuals with the know-how can also use the code to customize the software or contribute to the project.

Typically, communities of users and developers arise to support open source projects. The size and composition of these communities can vary greatly.  Some projects are small while others, like Sakai, have large communities that include participation by major academic and commercial institutions.  The quality of open source offerings can also vary but many of these projects offer products that equal or exceed the capabilities and features of commercial counterparts.  For pedagogical use, open source may in some cases offer alternatives to commercial software but in other cases, a commercial product may be the better choice.

Questions to ask when evaluating "Open Source" for pedagogical and academic use:

1. Does the open source product offer features (or a useful feature subset) comparable to a commercial product?

2. Is the open source product sufficiently easy enough to use to be practical in a pedagogical setting?

3. Does the open source product offer features that are not available in a commercial product?

4. Does the student require expertise using a specific commercial product (that is not provided by an alternative product) in order to be viable in a professional job market?

5. Are the skills gained using the open source product transferable to other similar products both open source and commercial?

6. Can the open source product provide an alternative or supplemental tool for academic research?

A few examples of "Open Source" software that may have pedagogical value:

Art and Music

Description: Audio recording and editing program
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audacity_(audio_editor)

Blender 3D
Description: Powerful 3D modeling and animation package.  Also includes video editing and video compositing capabilities and can be also used to create interactive 3d applications such as games
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blender_3D

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)
Description: Image retouching and editing tool.  Comparable to Adobe Photoshop
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GIMP

Description: Vector graphics program comparable to Adobe Illustrator
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inkscape

Description: Music notation, composition and scoring software.  Comparable to Finale and Sibelius
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musescore

OpenShot (Linux only)
Description: Non-linear digital video editing
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Openshot

Description: Desktop publishing program comparable to Adobe InDesign
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scribus

Math and Science

Description: A statistical programming language (originally based on the commercial 'S' language) comparable to SAS and SPSS.  The Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN) is an extensive repository of over 5300 contributed statistical routines and utilities.
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_(programming_language)

Description: Mathematical software suite comparable to Mathematica and Maple
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sage_(mathematics_software)


Description: Open Source office application suite.  (Forked from the older OpenOffice suite and maintained by the original primary OpenOffice developers.)
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LibreOffice