Technology Review: Open Source Software as a Viable Alternative for Community Colleges

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Technology review: open source software as a viable alternative for community colleges

Open source software (OSS) has been gradually gaining attention outside the high tech cabal. Much of the open source movement's success is due to Linux and other open source operating systems. In their infancy, these operating systems were too complex for the average user to install, run and support. As OSS matures, the level of technical skill required to use and support it decreases. Universities have been fertile environments for open source projects. There is a high concentration of technical skill in both the student and staff populations, and a supportive atmosphere of curiosity and exploration.

The key difference between open source and closed source software is the source code. If we buy Microsoft Office, we get a disk containing the binary programs. If we purchase RedHat Linux, we get several disks containing binary programs, as well as disks containing the source code for that software. We are then free to modify that code any way we wish, customizing it to our own particular needs.

Due to the licensing requirements of some open source packages, most of the OSS is free of charge. Companies like RedHat allow consumers to download much of their software, and make money (or try to) on documentation and technical support-good news for cash-strapped community colleges.

Traditional software companies like Adobe and Microsoft keep the revenue stream flowing by frequently releasing new versions of their products while removing support for older products. Consumers, be they non-profit or otherwise, can find themselves locked into periodically writing large checks to multiple software companies, frequently purchasing features with little practical use.

Instead, a college can invest some of the resources spent upgrading and supporting Microsoft Office into using and developing an open source solution, such as Sun Microsystem's OpenOffice. …


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