Good tools are important. Expensive ones are not.

“Readin’, writin’ and Arithmetic” is a phrase people often use when discussing education. When you read the phrase, do you think “tools”? I think it might be a good idea to think that way.

Traditional writing is a pen and paper skill, but has also become a computerized, digital skill. Students read from electronic devices at least as much as they do from materials printed on paper. Arithmetic reaches a point at which a pocket calculator replaces tedious paper processes like multi-digit multiplication and long division.

Digital tools are available to help children develop the basics and beyond, too. With the computerized options now available, children can, in a practical way, become familiar with tools for audio, and video creativity. It is common to hear “digital literacy” as part of the curriculum discussion.

Now, you might be thinking, “I’m a modern teacher. I know all this.” But the real issue is that I’m not talking about the computer or tablet itself. I’m talking about the software. It isn’t the computer that is the tool. The software is the tool.

Writing on a computer, the writing part, is accomplished by a piece of software, not by the computer hardware. Commonly, we use a word processing program to write. Commonly, schools use a very expensive word processor to get the writing job done.

Now, do you recommend a $400 Mont Blanc pen to your students when you suggest a pen? Does a $400 pen make their skill improve when compared to a 29 cent Papermate?

I’m recommending that you make digital-age writing more approachable. Recommend a wordprocessing program like LibreOffice to them. Put it on your computers at school. Let them know how to get it on their computer at home. LibreOffice is open source software. By itself, LibreOffice, by itself, won’t make better writers of your students. However, LibreOffice will be a better choice for the majority, just the way that a Bic or Papermate  a more practical choice of pen. The tool is relatively more accessible to everyone. (You could even help your students install the software if their home computer can visit school. You’d lend a Bic pen to a student, wouldn’t you? Adding, or teaching how to add software is common generosity.)

I’m recommending that adults learn these tools, too. Children emulate adults. Then they try to exceed the adults. Hooray.

I’m recommending that you look beyond the core/basics, too. Look for accessible, open source tools that children can use create the next great works of writing, math, science and art. Embrace the tools. Rejoice that they are available and accessible. Launch your children, your students into a creative tool-rich future.

Maybe even get them started making their own tools. Learning to code is like learning any other second language. The sooner you start and the more practice you put in, the better your skill will become.

Those of you with rich students may find some are using expensive pens or expensive word processors. Let that be a personal or family choice. Give everyone in your classes an equal opportunity. Show that good writing is the combination of careful thought and effective tools, not just expensive ones.

By the way, the graphic of tools at the top is a product of Inkscape, another great software freedom tool.


Tablets are popular. Just look at the iPad. Though I don’t need one, I’m always looking at the specs and the ads.

What will Microsoft do to compete?

What does this mean for tablet versions of LibreOffice, and the upcoming Calligra suite?

Do they, priced as open source stuff typically is, have a real opportunity to catch peoples’ interest? And, could that tablet experience lead back to the desktop?

LibreOffice is about a year old.
OpenOffice is now an Apache Incubator project instead of being ruled by Sun or Oracle.

No immediate meeting of the minds appears probable between The Document Foundation and Apache.

Update: Glyn Moody has made a very important observation. LibreOffice and OpenOffice (along with KOffice and Calligra, among others) center on the Open Document Format, expanding choice around a common file standard.

Quick Poll: (Please provide as many responses as appropriate. If you wish, specify the office suite in the “other” blank.)

Please use a comment to the post for other statements of concern or lack of concern.

Update: Worldwide response gave the Document Foundation its needed funding in 8 days! (I’m sure we can all thank the readers of this blog. [grin]) All further donations will provide the foundation support for its actual operations.

What did you pay for the last piece of software you bought?
Was it worth it?

How about if you didn’t have to buy the software, but could get it without cost?
Would that mean it wasn’t of value?

LibreOffice, the fork of OpenOffice is being developed under a model used by other major Free/Libre software groups, a foundation. LibreOffice and the Document Foundation will not be controlled by a single corporation.

The Document Foundation needs to incorporate in order to put LibreOffice on a sound footing.
Since you cannot buy LibreOffice, what about donating something to support the foundation?

Here’s your chance.

Oh, and spread the word. Let’s get this task done.

Okay, I may be rushing to the “bleeding edge” where I don’t usually go, but I did it.

I upgraded from OpenOffice to LibreOffice 3.3 which just came out today. I’m not usually so impetuous, but I have been following the discussion on the Web about the concerns people “in the know” have said about this year’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle. That meant OpenOffice was theirs, too. I’ve grown uncomfortable with the negative potentials for OpenOffice with so many of its lead developers becoming disconnected from it.

It opened my main spreadsheet which I use daily. I’ll need to test more, of course.

My most recent OpenOffice (3.2) version came from the Kubuntu repositories and was labeled as an Oracle product (It had been a Sun labeled product before.)

I followed these directions:

Windows installers are also available for those who need them:

I’m a fan of Free Software. I’ll keep you updated on how things go.