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Open Source Software (OSS) Print
May 2009

Dr Albert van Aardt of Northern Polytechnic clarified that OSS is not necessarily Open Standard, free of charge or Linux related.  OSS is not freeware or shareware.  Many people would feel unrest on hearing these “what’s not” definitions and to question how accessible OSS for schools is.  Albert brought out GPL as one example of licences that govern the use of OSS.  There are many similar licences but GPL is the most widely adopted.  GPL (General Public Licence) allows us to use OSS free of charge inclusive of accessing and modifying the source and binary codes for one’s own purposes.  If we decide to offer the modified software version to the public for use, we must offer the modified codes as well.  Many commercial companies have done that, and they charge customers for their service for installing, training and ongoing support.  School pays for the intangibles such as expertise and labour but not for tangibles as a shrink wrapped product.  This licensing scheme is certainly more favourable than commercial ones such as from Microsoft or Oracle.  Interestingly, some OSS has been created to work in Windows environment.  Schools can use Open Office, for example, in lieu of Microsoft Office as a Windows application.  Albert proceeded to group OSS into good, bad and ugly. Open Office is good, along with Firefox (Internet browser), Apache (web browser), PostgreSQL (database), and GIMP (drawing tool) etc.  Various Linux distributions are bad because they make the OOS scenery unnecessarily complicated.  MySQL is bad because it does not work with numerical precision and is only good for supporting visuals.  Ugly refers to effects more than products such as the ugly Triglyceride in our blood attempting to neutralise the good works of High Density Lipoprotein (HDL).  The lack of backward compatibility and existence of circular dependencies of some OSS are ugly!  Please go to the web forum for continuing discussions-