Another episode in the “Free vs. Freedom” series.

I just got an email from the educational website Edutopia describing a Microsoft program designed to entrench itself further in the school systems and the homes of students.

  • A complimentary and complete version of the of the latest Office program, ready to install
  • The ability to download Office on up to five compatible devices at no additional cost
  • An easy way to use Office on Android and Apple products

It makes me cringe when I read this kind of glowing announcement. Here is yet another lock-in opportunity instead of another opportunity to embrace freedom.

Schools seem to be urged by people from all around them to pay money for a product which does not give them choice, giving them, instead a sort of leash to wear, getting staff and students used to a proprietary office suite for which they will pay financially in the future. Their work will be easier to read in the then-current version of MS Office. They will be able to exchange their work with peers who have also paid for the tools which use a “popular” un-public, not-open format. And they will be restricted to operating systems which will run MS Office.

Should we blame the editors of Edutopia? They are simply “reporting” the information.

Well, Edutopia did not mention in the same announcement that schools, principals, teachers, school board members, town officials AND students can install the programs like Open Office or Libre Office, giving them far wider access to the same set of “office” tools along with freedom. I do not recall getting a similar email announcement about open source tools.

The open format files can be exchanged across ALL computers running any popular operating system because the file format is NOT proprietary. All the users can even choose their preferred office suite. All the open source office apps (not just Open Office and Libre Office) try very hard to accurately save files in the broadly usable Open Document Format (ODF) instead of the fancy, sometimes undocumented, binary formats employed by Microsoft.

The “announcement” seemed to me to be more of an endorsement.

I am disappointed.

I came across an announcement about an audio editor called “Ocenaudio” available for free which is cross-platform. It sounded good. I looked at the web site and found out that they don’t mention a license. Most open-source/Free Software programs are proud of their use of the GPL or any of the other open licenses.

Ocenaudio does not have an open license according to this forum post.

Just because it is “free” as in gratis, no required payment does not qualify it as Free Software (also often called “open source”). With “Free” as in libre, the issue isn’t cost at all, but your liberty/freedom use without limits, to study it, to adapt the work to your needs and to redistribute your version as long as you don’t try to limit others from those same four freedoms.

For somebody just looking for cheap, I guess there’s no difference. But for those who care to build a strong, community supported software commons, Libre matters way more than Gratis.

When people ask about audio editors, I’ll keep recommending Audacity instead of ocenaudio, too.

LibreOffice is one of the major pieces in many, if not all, Linux distributions. LibreOffice has an installer for Windows and Macintosh. LibreOffice is Free and free. It is very popular throughout Europe. In spite of all that, it is not well known in the United States.

Do you use LibreOffice yourself? Would you like to be involved in promoting LibreOffice in any way? There’s a group forming to do just that. It is now meeting regularly online. If you would like to participate, let me know. I’ll contact you with the details.

One thing the group has set up is a “hackfest” IN BOSTON! planned for the weekend of July 26-27. At the hackfest, participants will share ideas, work on practical tasks, learn how to effectively do bug reporting, hear directly from developers. Save the dates.https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/Events/2014/US_Summer_Hackfest

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“End of Life” seems a bit extreme. “End of Support” is the more accurate phrase. Microsoft has declared April 6 of 2014 as the date.

Is your district still using XP?

Is money the upgrade issue?

Have you considered a GNU/Linux alternative?

For that, is the difficulty of finding support staff an issue?

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When Eyeglasses Aren’t Enough

Jonathan Nadeau is blind. He is a computer user in spite of that. Many blind people around the world are unable to benefit from computers. Jonathan wants to do something about it.

I’ll just quote the email I got

.
“Hello,

Providing free access to the vision impaired people of the world, Accessible Computing foundations is raising funds to improve the Orca software; the worlds first free screen reader and operating system for the vision impaired. Through Accessible Computing Foundation’s Indiegogo campaign, you will provide computer access once and for all to the vision impaired citizens of the world.

The accessible Computing Foundation is a non profit developing Free assistive technology for people with all types of disabilities. there
are companies that develop assistive technology but the software is priced extremely high so only a small percentage of people that need this software to access a computer can have access to this software. This means that the rest of the people can’t have access to a computer
just because they can’t afford the software. The ACF wants to put an end to this and feels that everyone should be able to access a computer no matter what the physical hurddle might be to use a computer. This indiegogo campaign is the start of bringing access to all people with
types of disabilities. Lets bridge the gap between accessibility and technology!

http://accessiblecomputingfoundation.org/ (link updated)

http://www.igg.me/at/orca

Thank you to all who have made any kind of contribution, so matter how small, to the success of GNU/Linux.

This article says it very well.
http://fossforce.com/2013/12/linux-la-casa-nostra/

It is OUR Cause.

“H” is for happiness!

The “Hour of Code” is an initiative to get all sorts of kids and adults to devote an hour during the 2013 Computer Science Education Week (CSEd), promoted by the Computer Science Teachers’ Association (CSTA), especially to draw attention to getting the activity to happen in the daily routine of school work. Lots of different groups have signed up to participate. There are hundreds of challenge activities which have been designed for every age group and for all sorts of contexts, in school and outside of the school setting.

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This example is based on the Khan Academy activity at https://www.khanacademy.org/hour-of-code/hour-of-code-tutorial/p/challenge-h-for-hopper.

This was my first use of the Kahn Academy site. The Kahn Academy activity was well done, with lots of popup support from an animated character named Hopper which is similar to the infamous “Clipper” help system of Windows. Hopper worked, especially in this context. The site does NOT require login or an account to use the coding tool. There is nothing to download. You are free to play.

Are you planning to participate?

Screencapture of my Kahn challenge. Yes, I know that the expected result is just the basic large “H” outlines, but what’s the point of stopping when the urge to extend washes over? If you choose to complete the activity for the badge, you will want to set up an account and go through the steps without doing extensions. You are not limited to the planned activity, but the system is set up to get a particular result in order for you to earn official recognition.

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