Why pay for software when it’s available for free?
What do you think about professors using software in the classroom that isn’t freely available for students to use on their personal computers? Should college campuses promote the use of software they can’t provide for its students at no cost? Many college students feel frustration when assigned projects requiring the use of this software and have no way to access it with their personal computers free of charge.
What, exactly, is ‘open source’ software? Open source software typically refers to ‘free and open source software’, which is software that users are able to change, improve, and distribute freely. It’s free software. Open source software naturally rivals its closed source counterparts. For example, GIMP, an image manipulation program, performs the same basic functionalities as Adobe’s Photoshop, and OpenOffice competes with its closed source equivalent, Microsoft Office, both selling for over a hundred dollars. Additionally, some use open source R instead of its closed source counterpart Stata, which sells for a couple of hundred dollars, to statistically analyze data.
If open source software is available for free, what would motivate someone to pay top dollar for the closed source equivalent, especially if this person is a college student on a tight budget?
Nosayr Yassin ‘14, an Economics and Computer Science student at Harvard University, says he tends to use closed source software because “there may be some bugs that are not yet figured out by the development community, so we’re stuck waiting for someone to fix it.“
Some students claim closed software has better technical support, as the vendor’s customer service representative is merely a phone call away. With open source software, users often find difficulty finding someone to contact for help.
Closed source software companies pay its software engineers for product development. Since money is involved, there tends to be a faster rate of progress. Moreover, since there is a centralized engineering team working toward the development of software updates, users are quickly notified of and granted access to the most recent version of software. As many developers work on open source software at once, users often find themselves confused as to which version is most recent, and unaware of updates in general.
Some students argue that prominent companies in the technology industry tend to use closed source software, so by teaching college students how to effectively use this software, professors are better preparing students for their future in the technology industry.
Although there are benefits to using closed source software, students find themselves frustrated with their lack of access to it. Students find themselves wanting to use the closed source software they learn about in class.
Veronica Martinez, a senior at Wellesley College states “it doesn’t seem to make much sense that the skills and programs we are taught to use are not ones that we are able to readily access outside of the classroom. Additionally, a lot of organizations and companies are moving towards open source software use. The specialized knowledge that we are receiving is not as useful as it may one have been.” Veronica believes that it is time for a change at Wellesley, and would like to see its academic departments push for more widespread open source software use.
Several Wellesley students agree that colleges should promote the use of open source software, as it allows free access for students, who already spend a significant amount of money on college tuition, and may not have additional funding to purchase closed source software.
Furthermore, users of open source software are encouraged to contribute to the product’s development by editing the code. Partaking in the development and maintenance process of software has great educational value, and allows for a more customizable experience with the product. Additionally, since there are countless independent developers constantly testing and updating the software, some people feel that there is increased product reliability.
Should colleges continue to use closed source software to better prepare students for jobs in the technology industry, and to provide students with the gold standard technology, or should they push for the use of open source software to make the technology more accessible to students outside of the classroom? Only time will tell if colleges across the country will join the open source movement.