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Friday, 29 March 2013

Open Source Software in Higher Education in Developing Countries

In developing countries, generally the slow speed of internet connections, and slower computers, make the use of Microsoft software utterly dysfunctional. Mac systems are functional but too pricey. Most computers therefore are usually Windows based, and riddled with viruses, due to the difficulties in regularly updating anti-virus software or install the software patches for the operating system. Many computers used hacked versions, which are more sensitive to virus attacks, in order to avoid paying the hefty license fee.

Fortunately, there is an alternative which is free, and more importantly virus free. Most of us are already using it, although we are not always aware of it.

Practically all of our servers, for example, run a version of Linux, an open-source alternative. Many of us use Mozilla Firefox and open-source browser. For our smart phones we use Android an open source operating system. Half of the companies in the UK are using it.

Open-source software is software developed by programmers who make their programming code available publicly and free of charge. This allows communities of programmers to upgrade it regularly, and develop specific applications. Why would programmers give away their code? If you are an individual contributing to open source project improves your employability and visibility. If you are a company or organization, greater software choice means a healthier market, which leads to more competitive pricing in all markets associated with your business, including in labour and suppliers markets. It can also tap into a reservoir of skills which allow you to increase market penetration more quickly. Google, for example, famously developed the open source android system for its smart phones, and now it has almost as many apps as the Ipad.

A recent survey in the Guardian shows how far Universities in the UK have progressed in using open source software. The UK government has published a toolkit for adopting open-source. OSS an organization monitoring the use of open-source software published a list of alternative higher education application. But there is much more than mentioned on this list. Personally I published a short list of software I install on my PC's. The best thing is, that it takes so much less time than installing Microsoft software.

For your own PC, I suggest you make it dual bootable, so you keep your old windows software available. Then you can install Edubuntu, which is an easy to install operating system developed from Linux with some applications for education already included. Try Libreoffice as an alternative for Microsoft office. You will see it is much easier to learn, and I love the one click "Save as PDF" option. For literature databases, use Mendeley. Install R Commander instead of SPSS, and discover specific applications that are not available commercially. For back ups use Dropbox, and for communications use Skype. Everything is available in open-source, it is free, easy to install, virus-free, and you can continue to access all your old files.

Given the constraints in developing countries, there really is no other alternative but to go open-source.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that open source is the way to go. However, it will take one PNG university going full speed in this direction to create the critical mass that will cause both other PNG institutions and the students themselves to follow. I assume that Libreoffice files are compatible with Word files? That too is essential.


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