Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 10: Open-Source Software on the Desktop

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 10: Open-Source Software on the Desktop

Article excerpt

Libraries have been paying for software, upgrades, and support since the first PCs arrived in our reading rooms. And libraries have made do with tight budgets since the first book was lent.

The growth of quality open-source desktop applications offers an especially valuable opportunity for libraries to improve service while spending less on software and support. This chapter will look at some of the most popular and easy-to-use open-source software applications and discuss how they can be used in a library context, either by patrons or by library staff.

Please note that this is not a discussion of merely "free as in beer" software. Many Web browsers are now available at no cost, and shareware tools for a variety of applications are easy to obtain. The focus here will be only on those tools that are free to use, examine, copy, and modify. While you may not want to take advantage of the examination and modification options of open-source software, their availability is part of what makes these tools useful for libraries and librarians. There are many open-source applications that do a wide range of things. The ones assembled here are generally easy to use or the best in their particular class for doing a certain task. Please see the resource list at the end of the chapter for more OSS options and in-depth evaluations.

Also note that I personally installed every one of these products on both a Mac running the latest version of OSX and a PC running Windows 2000 Server at the beginning of 2007. The OSS environment changes rapidly and sometimes unexpectedly; while I expect installation and customization for most of these tools to only get easier, it is possible that my experiences with using the software may vary somewhat from your own experiences. All screenshots are mine, not promotional shots. The applications are listed roughly in order of usefulness, with the ones at the end really being more like blurbs. I've tried to keep the jargon to a minimum while at the same time realizing I'm writing for information professionals with some degree of computer experience. Any words you don't understand are sure to be readily Googleable, but I hope there aren't many of them.

Firefox Web Browser: You May Already Be Using Open Source

Firefox is one of the most popular and widely known OSS tools. It has roughly 14 percent of the browser market share as of January 2007, second only to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. (1) Firefox offers a lightweight browser that operates the same across different operating systems. Firefox can be customized in many different ways, from using "themes" to adjust its look and feel to expanding its functionality with a wide range of plugins and extensions (see figure 8). If you have PCs in your library, you can install Firefox and use a theme to mimic both the look and the functionality of Internet Explorer, which may ease the "new browser shock" for patrons and staff who are used to using IE.

[FIGURE 8 OMITTED]

Firefox has a few obvious major advantageous features and some less obvious ones. It comes with a search box built into the toolbar with major search engines already listed. Users can also install or write plugins for search engines of their choice. Instead of navigating to Yahoo or Google or a library home page and then using the search box, users can type their query directly into an always-available search box and have the results appear in a Web page. Many libraries have created their own custom search plugins for searching their library catalogs or some of their library databases (see figure 9). The Mycroft Project is an online collection of these search plugins, and there is a searchable directory available at the site. It has over 10,000 available plugins, including searches of dictionaries, popular Web sites such as eBay and the Internet Movie Database, and social software sites such as del.icio.us and Flickr. (2)

[FIGURE 9 OMITTED]

The big thing that separates Firefox from other browsers is an extension called Greasemonkey. …

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