Teaching with Free Software

Richard Stallman, pioneer of the CopyLeft and GNU General Public Licences for free software was in Oxford last Friday, and gave his usual thought provoking discourse on freedom in software.

It isn’t for me to precis his ideas here; you can read his own words. However it did make me think about our responsibilities in the IT Learning Programme here at Oxford. We teach on both Windows and Mac platforms and only occasionally on Linux (or GNU/Linux as RMS would prefer), and most of the applications we teach are proprietary. We are trying to introduce teaching on free software such as GIMP and Scribus, but our resources are limited. More importantly we have two main audiences: staff and academics/students.

Oxford being as it is, Departments and Colleges are free to use what software they choose. The fact is that staff predominantly use MS Office and although post- and undergraduates are more ‘open’ in their choices there is still a demand we can’t completely satisfy for courses on proprietary software. So, much as we might take to our hearts free software, we too are subject to ‘market forces’.

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