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Re: Software Freedom in education (was Re: very specific project proposa

From: Erica Frank
Subject: Re: Software Freedom in education (was Re: very specific project proposal Re: What does Elon Musk say about free software?)
Date: Fri, 13 May 2022 11:05:41 -0700

   The biggest impediment to getting free software used on campuses (and
   in the business world) is the lack of beginner-level support for
   switching from Windows or Mac to a free OS. The problem with multiple
   Linux (and similar) setups, each adapted for different specific needs,
   is that the average Windows user has no idea how to pick one, and
   installation is often followed by problems like "this laptop can no
   longer connect to the internet until you download a set of drivers for
   it.... which you'll need to do on another machine, and then transfer
   Tech support for newbie problems is often downright hostile. "If you
   don't know how to use a command line, just go back to Windows."
   Alternately, the solutions offered are couched in technical language
   that require several followup questions like "how would I find out if I
   have that permission?" and "I don't know what those settings are, where
   do I find them?"
   And if they ask on Stack Exchange or Stack Overflow, newbie questions
   are often faced with reactions like "question closed" followed by a
   link to another question that they do not understand as similar to
   theirs. The reactions to complaints about this are usually "We're not
   hostile; we just don't want to waste time. Learn to ask better
   That might be fine for beginning coders. It is not fine for high school
   students who are just trying to have a functional computer that does
   web browsing, document editing, and maybe a bit of gaming. The end
   result is not going to be "this person studies the software and comes
   back with better questions"; it's going to be "I guess I'll switch back
   to Windows."  As long as switching to a free OS comes with a 3+ week
   self-directed training period of "google for answers to 'why isn't this
   basic thing working like I expect it to?'" very few people are going to
   switch - or at least, very few of them will switch and stay.
   (Insisting "hey you should use duckduckgo or startpage instead of
   google" will not result in more people converting to free software.)
   And that applies to other free software as well.
   The benefits of switching from MS Office to LibreOffice have to be
   couched as something other than "you won't be supporting an evil
   megacorp and you won't be handing them all your user data." Because for
   most people, those are non-issues, and certainly not worth the hassle
   of relearning office software and dealing with the lack of features
   they've come to expect.
   (If anyone knows a free-software equivalent of Acrobat Pro or InDesign,
   I'd love to hear about it. And every few years, I install LibreOffice
   and see if it'll cover how I use Word; it does not.) (It would cover
   how I use Excel and PPT, but I don't see the value in using those
   without switching the whole suite. Especially since my job insists on
   the MS Suite.)
   If you want schools & businesses to use free software, set up a website
   that recommends one OS and has a quick-install bundle of common
   student/business software. ( has a terrific setup for
   this, but afiak it's Windows-only.) Set up a forum or (sigh) Discord
   for questions, and be supportive to clueless people who are trying out
   what they think is a new fad. Find volunteers who are happy to answer
   endless beginner questions about how the command line works and explain
   basic vocabulary, over and over. (There can be a FAQ page. Very few
   beginners will read it, and some of the answers are likely to be too
   technical or too long or both. And if the point is converting people to
   free software, "go away and come back when you understand better" is
   not going to work.) Offer bundle deals with tech support for small
   businesses that want to convert their whole office to free software. Or
   to schools that want to equip all their students with Linux laptops.
   Offer to teach online classes to high school students, to explain how
   computers work--because we've reached a point where millions of people
   have no idea how "saving a file" works.
   The free software movement is not friendly or welcoming to non-coders.
   As long as that's true, it's not going to get strong inroads into
   education or the business world. Complaining about how we got here
   won't fix any of the problems, and only adds to the belief that the
   free software movement is for elitist techies, not for everyday users.

   On Fri, May 13, 2022 at 10:06 AM Lars Noodén <[2]>

     I fully support building curricula on Free Software exclusively, or
     close to that as possible with an eye towards achieving 100% in the
     future.  RMS wrote an essay around 20 years ago, "Why Schools Should
     Exclusively Use Free Software" [1], which could still serve as a
     signpost for the FSF.  However, the environment has changed and
     over software has become a fight on many campuses.  Solutions must
     with that reality.  It's no longer just a technical question, if
     it ever was.
     On 5/12/22 20:45, Thomas Lord wrote:
      > Similarly, say, a college student not in
      > computer science or anything close to that?  or a
      > professor who may be tempted to require students
      > to use unfree software -- where can they quickly and
      > easily check for a better option?
     That may be a fairly common misunderstanding about the amount of
     faculty members are allowed in regards to selection of software, at
     least in recent years.  Yes, it /should/ be quick and easy to choose
     better option, but in many cases the resellers ensconced in the
     call *all* the shots in regards to tools, methods, and (sometimes)
     courses, especially at the smaller or lower-rated institutions.  So
     getting any Free Software into the classroom often means a drawn out
     fight.  I gather the problem is especially prominent at institutions
     where part-time adjunct faculty are used in a more or less
     manner, more on that below.  Furthermore, vendors can exploit that
     there may even be some staff here and there who will accept
     sales packets and present them as course material while slapping a
     syllabus of sorts around them.
     Many of the teams that actually helped people get their job done
     away after the 1990s ended, leaving resellers/embedded sales teams
     their place.  The part-time, temporary, adjunct faculty are just
     while the resellers tend to be full-time permanent employees, which
     means there are a lot of politics and longer strategies involved in
     fight that happens when treading on their vendor's toes.  The long
     strategies work against temporary faculty members more so than
     faculty members, as it is easy to run the clock out on either group
     much easier on the temps.  Because all that fighting and politics
     time and energy away from activities more likely to boost a career,
     may be more common in practice to fold quickly, acquiesce and work
     pretend to work with the garbage.
     Any solution to getting more Free Software onto campuses and into
     classrooms and labs has to address the instability and some of the
     dynamics of the new work environment.  As was said already about 20
     years ago, "you can leave politics alone, but politics won't leave
     [1] [3]
     libreplanet-discuss mailing list



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