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Open Source Software

John Simkin

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I have been using Mozilla Firebird for several months. The main reason is that Internet Explorer cannot cope with the security settings of the International Education Forum. It seems far superior to Explorer. It has several powerful features that includes a popup blocker and tabbed browsing that lets you open several web pages within the same window. The most important thing is that it is immune to the worst of the bugs, viruses and spyware that afflict users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Since the new version (Firefox) was launched a couple of weeks ago, 8 million people have downloaded it. It expects to have 10% of the browser market within a year.


Firefox is an example of open source software. This is posing a real threat to the Microsoft monopoly. The people from Mozilla are also behind Thunderbird, a free email program that is a good replacement for Outlook Express. This contains an intelligent spam filter. According to a review in the Guardian: “After training Thunderbird for a few days by marking which messages are spam, your inbox becomes almost clear of junk email, while the incidence of false positives – flagging up legitimate email as spam – is very low.


Another example of open source software is OpenOffice, the free office suite which was recently proclaimed as “the best all-round office suite” and “the king of the business tools” by PC Pro magazine. One has to ask why the British government continues to spend billions on Microsoft products. The latest example is the multimillion pound deal announced last week with the NHS. Several cities, including Paris and Munich have announced they are switching to open source software.


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The Guardian had an editorial praising Firebird and Open Office as well as Linux. I use all three and the idea of handing money over to Microsoft when better products are available free seems a very odd one.

Yet the government, through the oodles of free advertising for Microsoft products in the KS3 strategy are encouraging schools to do just that.

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Another example of open source software is Moodle, a software package designed to help educators create online courses: http://moodle.org

Why use WebCT or Blackboard? Moodle is free.

I avoid Outlook (a.k.a Look Out!) - too prone to virus attacks. I use Eudora for email - the free, downloadable version.

On the other hand, when one aims to reach a mass audience one has to take into consideration what the majority of people are using out there - for compatiblity reasons alone. As Arneil and Holmes (the "Hot Potatoes" boys) pointed out in their excellent paper at EUROCALL 2004, making Web pages compatible with a range of browsers is not an easy task, especially if (as we linguists do) one creates media-rich resources.

I keep a careful watch on the hits at our business website to see which browsers and operating systems our visitors are using (our hit counter records this data). A massive 86% are still using IE5 or IE6.

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  • 3 months later...

Linux is an alternative operating system to Windows. Having experimented with it on various occasions since 1996 I would say that it is not 'better' or 'worse' than Windows, just different really...

Anyone wishing to try it out could do worse than downloading an burning Knoppix which is what's known as a 'LiveCD distribution' of Linux. Instead of loading up Windows from your hard drive when you turn on your computer, Knoppix loads from the CD/DVD drive. Thus, you don't have to install anything and there's nothing which will harm your system. You can play about with it as much as you want! :D

If people are interested in Open Source software but don't want to try Linux, good examples are put on the The Open CD, which can be downloaded and burned for free.

:rolleyes: Doug

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I have to use Windows at work because West Sussex do not want to stick their necks out and use Linux despite the hundreds of thousands it would save them. At home whenever Windows is giving me a problem I switch to Linux. I have never switched the other way!

The Government strategy is to concentrate on Windows and Microsoft software to the exclusion of all others. The argument: pupils will never have to use anything but Microsoft. It is intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The schools turn out computer users crippled by an inability to use anything but Microsoft and Bill Gates and his corporation can see no end to their profits.

So I continue to promote open source software - planting seeds, maybe they'll grow.

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I am also told to "use windows" - BUT - I use the open source program for Linux "rdesktop" to connect to a windows terminal server. So, If I am forced to use a MS application - I can do so without ever installing MS.

As an aside, the open source version of office mentioned in this thread (openoffice) opens and saves all Microsoft format files. Excel, Word, Powerpoint, etc...

It works better than Microsofts own software. IT help desk professionals use OpenOffice to "save" corrupted excel files. OpenOffice is the only program that can open corrupted Microsoft files, fix them, and save them back as excel!

Also - open office can "save as" every past version of MS - and MS can't even do that either.

Why my children are FORCED to learn one particular commercial computer product (MS) and schools pay millions for Windows when BETTER SOFTWARE is available for free?

It's got to be the administration - and not the actual Educators that made that decision!

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"On the other hand, when one aims to reach a mass audience one has to take into consideration what the majority of people are using out there - for compatiblity reasons alone." ...

"I keep a careful watch on the hits at our business website to see which browsers and operating systems our visitors are using (our hit counter records this data). A massive 86% are still using IE5 or IE6."

Great points.

Firefox alone has 20% - all open source browsers together are at 25% right now:

Browser Statiustics

LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP) open source development contains no secrets - and therefore no one can force you to rewrite a perfectly good program because the "old version" isn't supported any more. This site is a php site. An open source language. Cool huh?

The only reason it is difficult to make web pages "cross browser" compatible, is because Microsoft IE and IIS are NON STANDARD! While you may believe that the "other browsers" are Non-standard - in fact - Microsoft is the one NOT conforming to w3c standards such as css level 2. For example - Mozilla will do a css input:hover - but Microsoft will not! Why? Because Microsoft wants to sell me .net and c# script - and does not want me using html and javascript.

Look at these open source products. Compare MS to the empire IBM used to have. Remember how quickly IBM fell. Technology takes no prisoners!

My advice: sell MSFT quick.

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Microsoft are the McDonalds of the software world. They use million dollar lawyers to defend their rights....and that includes their right to trample over everybody else's.

Gates is not interested in a dialogue with the Linux community. To quote Linus Torvalds, "there is nothing he can teach us about the technology.: nothing we can teach him about making money."

Where do you want to go today? Wherever Bill tells you to go? I don't think so.

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Most computer users – and this certainly includes most teachers – do not have the slightest interest in their computer’s operating system or the browsers they are using. The term “open source” only means something to nerds like Derek and myself.

My business sells software for modern languages to schools. When language teachers submit an order to us we often have to check which operating system they are using to ensure that the software that they require is compatible. 99% don’t know and refer us to their technical support staff.

I just looked at my business website’s hit counter, which tells us which operating systems teachers who access our site are using and which browsers they are using. Here are some figures I extracted from our recent cumulative stats – which, in percentage terms, are roughly the same as the figures for the ICT4LT site, for which I am also responsible: http://www.ict4lt.org The ICT4LT is aimed at teachers and trainee teachers and receives around 600 hits per day:

Operating systems:

Win 98 – 16843

WinXP – 10674

Win2000 – 9289

Linux – 178

All others – 6500 in total, none exceeding 2000


Internet Explorer 6 – 22072

Internet Explorer 5 – 15911

Netscape 4 – 1394

Opera – 967

All others – 3200 in total, none exceeding 600

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It makes sense to have no interest in the operating system so long as it operates. It is when you find there are a lot of loopholes and bugs which cause the operating system to fail to operate, when there are secutiry holes you could drive a coach and (trojan!) horses through that it becomes an issue.

Most teachers probably are concerned with what their school could do with a few extra thousand pounds - and that is what open source could be saving them.

Microsoft's evil empire will come crashing down one day, that seems to be the fate of evil empires :ph34r:

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Derek writes:

Most teachers probably are concerned with what their school could do with a few extra thousand pounds - and that is what open source could be saving them.

For the last three years schools in England have been given 1000 pounds plus 10 pounds per pupil to spend on educational software under the Curriculum Online initiative (e-Learning Credits - eLCs). There was a big underspend in the first two years, and the same thing appears to be happening again in this third year. I guess they have all the software they need.

Yes, Windows crashes a lot. Older versions crash less. I like old things - which is why I still use Windows 98 and still drive a 23-year-old Mercedes that cost me a few hundred quid and runs beautifully, with 188,000 miles on the clock. I paid 40 pounds for the last computer that I bought: 350 MHz, 6Gb hard disk, 128Mb RAM, complete with Win98 and Office 97, including a 17-inch monitor. It came from a local business that was upgrading its systems and works perfectly. Schools, take note!

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The biggest problem I have with Microsoft is its conservatism. The paradigm which dominates the products that get into schools is paper, so teachers are still encouraged to see on-line materials as being bits of paper, rather than materials which use a completely different medium altogether.

One exercise I give to colleagues who're new to on-line work is to ask them what if they can work out why the letter 'a' you print out on a laser printer is different from the 'a' that you print out on a typewriter. The idea that you're working virtually (where the computer 'a' is really a string of 1s and 0s) is, for me, an essential first step if you're going to understand what you're doing and where you're going.

There's a potent argument which says that you should introduce teachers to ICT in tiny doses, so that they don't choke. E.g. 'Word' is what's out there, so we'll construct a system whereby teachers can upload their Word documents on to a server … and that's your on-line course. In Swedish that's called 'bok på burk' (literally a book in a tin can).

My counter-argument is that on-line courses involve a lot of hard thinking about your general approach and attitude towards pupils, subject matter and the whole learning process. If you don't do it, you might just as well stick with paper. If you do, though, then the final step of working with proper computer programmes and systems is actually dead easy.

This argument applies just as well to Open Office as to the Office package from Microsoft (though I know that Linux is a lot more than an alternative Windows). However, the advantage of breaking out of the Microsoft box is that you can start thinking outside the box too.

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I am a new member in this forum. Surprisingly - I didn´t know before: there´s much more in the net than you can keep in your mind.

So, regarding OS software, I could convince my board to shift from our proprietary LMS to the OS LMS called ILIAS, which is something similiar to ATutor which you probabably might know better. So our students (teachers) are working on that platform in our eLearning courses (next one will be in Istanbul), but unfortunatelly its range is too wide and the learner aren´t able to start right from the beginning.

So I think we will go back to the rather limited system of our own, which seems to apply better to teachers with few experiences.

The Quality of Open Source Software in general in my opinion is in another (or additional) area of education: its pure existence can open the mind for a discussion about society and software production.

So long story short: we don´t use OS any longer in our teacher trainings as a TOOL but as a TOPIC.

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I just looked at my business website’s hit counter,

Feb 2005 : firefox 20%

Keep in mind that almost all firefox users load the "user agent switcher" extension so that web sites will "think" we are using IE, and therefore won't boot us out - telling us we are using an unsupported browser.

browser usage stats

So the actual number of firefox users is much higher - and I blame the WILD success of firefox on the "ad-blocker", "popup blocker" and developer tools. Ad blocker is AMAZING. you block an ad server and ALL your sites load ten times quicker because the ads don't need to load.

Also firefox is w3c compliant - xforms and css level 2. Anyway - the fact that schools TODAY could replace ms office, windows, ie on every desktop with free versions that work better - cannot be ignored.

I use this analogy to describe why people still buy Microsoft:

I can buy 6 - 12oz beers at the grocery store for $3.50 US

But I go to the bar and spend $2.00 US per beer, because that's where everyone else is.

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Has anyone experience of using Microsoft Agents or Cam Studio?

Having just read something about these in last week's TES on-line mag I thought I'd take a look.....Cam Studio appears to be discontinued (no free downloads seem available), and I am rather at sea in knowing how to use the 'Agents'! :plane

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