Software you choose to use in your school has license terms the school must follow.
If the software is proprietary (closed, tightly controlled), it typically has something called an EULA (End User License Agreement). That license usually includes a phrase which allows you, the school which purchased the software, to install the software on one computer per license purchased. That is important. You have rights of use which limits the number of licensed installs. It is not okay to license 50 installs and then install the proprietary software on 51 computers. That means, if you have paid $50 a copy for a total of $2500.00, you need to spend another $50 to use it just once more.
Most proprietary software does NOT allow teachers to install a working copy of school-purchased software on their home computer. That means teachers must buy their own copies, unless the school decides to buy copies for teachers’ homes. Teachers appreciate the chance to avoid buying personal copies of all the software they need to use in their classrooms. The price can add up quickly.
The software schools purchase are generally selected so that the students will benefit. Generally, EULAs prevent the school from letting students take home a CD to install the program at home.
Site licenses partially solve the problem, but even then, home copies for teachers and students are not typical.
Open Source Benefit
By contrast, software which is commonly called “open source software” has a liberal license which explicitly states that there is NO RESTRICTION on the end user. There is no limit to the number of copies which can be made of the software. There is no need to keep teachers or students from having a copy of the program to take home and install. Even if you paid $10 for the original CD to be sent to you, you do not need to spend any more. The total investment stops with the initial CD. If you are willing to do the creation of a CD by yourself, the cost drops even more. You are allowed, even encouraged to download software to your own computer and to put the installer file on a blank CD yourself. The cost per CD then drops to under fifty cents. You can make just a single copy and share the CD among many others, no additional cost. If the disk gets scratched by overuse, you can make another copy of the CD from the file on your computer.
Open source software is ideal for schools because getting enough copies of the software for everybody has minimal costs. At worst, the school is permitted to make copies of the installer CDs and let teachers take them home to use and return. The school doesn’t need to make copies for everyone to keep (though that is permitted by the open source licenses). Teachers and students can even get the software directly from the Internet. Most open source software is conveniently available for download.
An additional benefit is that many open source programs have been developed with versions for each major operating system. That means students can use a Macintosh computer at school, a Windows computer at the library, and a GNU/Linux computer at home, running the same software on all three systems. Of course, for that last sentence to be true, all the support players need to understand the power of open source. If you want to benefit from the benefits, you need to spread the word. Let parents and students know what you want to accomplish, getting everybody access to the same powerful tools. Talk to the local library staff to get them on board. Get your school principal to see the benefits. Take the story to the school committee. Let the local newspaper in on the deal.
Software is at the center of our “information society.” Our students are getting prepared to participate in the information society. Preparing them for the Industrial Age isn’t good enough. The power of software is best realized when it supports open data formats, and open source software is the main way to accomplish that.