Sunday, December 19, 2010

OpenSource and OpenOffice

Oh OpenSource, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways:

  1. You're free.
  2. You're free.
  3. You're free.
A couple years ago, after graduating undergrad, I liked to download lots and lots of files.  As anyone who's done this knows, this can lead to viruses and oops, computers crashing.  Yes, this happened to me.  And after one time, I was sad to find that I had used all my MS Office installations allowed with the student/teacher purchase package from undergrad.  I didn't know what to do:  I had no money and using can one even consider it after using MS Word.  

I turned to my brother, a bigger computer geek than I, and he suggested OpenOffice.  He explained to me that it was practically the same thing as MS Office, except free.  FREE?!?!  How can that be possible?  It was my first venture into OpenSource programs.  I installed it and used it for quite a while.  Actually, I used it until I found out that I could install MS Office for free as a Pace student.  I ultimately went back to MS Office for ease of use (and it seemed to open faster on my Windows XP computer).  But I keep OpenOffice installed, just in case.  

Probably my favorite feature of OpenOffice is that it can be integrated with anyone else.  It is so easy to open MS Office files, and also save your OpenOffice as MS Office files.  For instance...  My co-officer from the BFA Guild emails everyone our calendar of events for the upcoming 2011 year.  She asks that everyone look it over and make suggestions or editting.  Of course she sends it as an MS Word file.  But, poor substitute teacher that I am, I do not have MS Office on my computer.  No problem!  I can still download the file and open it in OpenOffice's Writer.  I make my edits, save the file in a MS Word-compatible format, and resend to everyone to share.  The will all be able to open it on their computers, often without knowing that I didn't even use Word.  The same goes for spreadsheets, presentations and databases.  

Being that functionality is equivalent to that of MS Word, this product would work just the same in schools as the MS programs.  The only concern I would have is that students would become so familiar with the format of OpenOffice, they may encounter difficulty when later in life they are required to work using MS Office, especially since the 2010 version of Office has been integrated into many systems and appears so differently from previous versions.  But, it is just one more thing that students would need to be taught.  And judging by how intelligent today's students in the computer technology field are, I don't think it would be hard for them to pick up.  

As previously pointed out, by making use of the free software available, schools/districts would free up so much budget money to invest elsewhere.  Recently I did some observations in a very wealthy community on Long Island.  I'd never even heard of some of the tools this elementary school had for students to use- I didn't know they made iPod's with microphones!  Because this school has an abundance of money to invest in their students, they have everything- these iPods and Flip cameras.  Though I was excited to see the tech teacher utilizing Google Earth and Glogster!

The only functionality that OpenOffice does not have versus MS Office is Publisher- a way to make brochures, pamphlets, and the like.  Does anyone really use this anymore?  I honestly don't think my previous student/teacher version of Office included this program.  Realistically students can perform the same functions in Word/Writer - creating columns, setting picture layouts to be movable rather than in line with text, etc.  My biggest complaint about Publisher was I never knew where on a brouchure I was.  I really didn't like that program and found it to be used rarely during my school career.  If a school really felt that this product was necessary, it could be purchased as a stand-alone (rather than in a suite of programs) or an alternative, such as Adobe's InDesign.  The schools would still be spending less money that can be applied elsewhere.

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