A Striking Education in Open Source Software

A Striking Education in Open Source Software

Admittedly, I'm a big fan of our local library system - I grew up making semi-regular walks down Archer Avenue to the Brighton Park branch from my grandmother's house. I also visit my local branch when I need to do some "remote" working....and check out some books.

So I was very heartened - and proud - to find out that our new Library Commissioner Brian Bannon is moving our library system forward....and one of the first steps is integrating LibreOffice into library computers.  With our libraries taking a strong role in assisting kids during the CTU strike, this is a great educational opportunity that many might miss at first glance.

LibreOffice is a piece of software that is known as "open source" - it has the same functionality as Microsoft Office, with a few key differences. First, it's free to download, free to use, and fully functional...and behind it, there's a collaborative effort by programmers and coders to make this software work well.

It may not have the gloss of its more commercially-oriented brethren, but one of the key benefits of open source software for communities is not just the minimal cost...but that within each software suite is a variety of benefits and features that can enable people to become more digitally literate.

Looking at it from a global perspective - many people have adopted variations of Linux, an open source operating system, in order to revive and/or extend older computers. Free Geek Chicago is one advocate; I'm fortunate enough that my portable laptop is a Panasonic Toughbook powered by Ubuntu, one of the more popular variations of Linux (and which is extremely easy to use).

Many organizations are looking for a resource-friendly browser alternative to several of the major browsers -  although users tend to opt for Chrome, a very good open source alternative is Mozilla Firefox, which (like many open source equivalents) allows a user to customize their browser via adding software extensions and appearance themes.

Although LibreOffice is similar to Microsoft Word, the one piece that it lacks is a
proper external e-mail client. (Users of services like Gmail and Ymail often use those services' web-based interfaces, many of us prefer to not have one browser tab open). Mozilla also provides an e-mail client called Thunderbird, which - like Firefox - is customizable with extensions and themes. Combined with the Lightning Calendar extension, Thunderbird becomes a pretty full-blooded time management system.

One way in which community groups may wish to promote themselves is via podcasting, and thankfully, Audacity serves as a great open-source alternative for sound recording and editing. There is a sharp learning curve for this software, but like most open source software, tips and insight can be found simply by an online search, leading to online forums and articles specifically oriented to educating users of software.

Looking for decent video/MP3/media playing software? You might want
to consider VLC Media Player - like its more commercial brethren, it can
handle a multitude of audio and video content. It can even play CDs and
DVDs (it's also region-free as well). The main benefit is that VLC is usable
"straight out of the box", and does not require the downloading of specific
pieces of software (or "codecs") to play specific videos.

Finally, even basic tasks from unzipping compressed files to graphic manipulation, from Notepad equivalents to journalling, can be handled with open source software. (In fact, there is an entire site which provides open source equivalents to commercial software.)

So when Chicago's public library system integrates LibreOffice into branch computers, they aren't just saving money or helping others - they're assisting in providing resources that enable families to become more productive and digitally literate....and provides a key step in building our communities one cause at a time.

Have any comments or thoughts? Please feel free to leave them below, and as always, you're more than welcome to contact me via Linked In or my web site contact page....and I encourage you to RSVP and join me at the Chicago Geek Breakfast on September 20th.

As always, thanks for reading and have a great weekend.

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