Sunday, January 9, 2011

What is needed to implement the open source policy at UPM

This is a work in progress.

I think (this is based only on my conversation with numerous faculty and administrative staff) the main reason open source software and the UP Manila's policy of adopting open document formats (Chancellor's Memorandum No. RLA 2010-067, Subject: Protecting the University from Copyright Infringement) does not push is the lack of awareness and adequate appreciation about the issues (open source software, copyright, legal, etc.) and the software (eg, Linux, Ubuntu, or LibreOffice, etc.).

I cannot imagine that someone will say that the reason is financial - almost all open source applications are free. So long as you have internet connection - and UP Manila has one - you can get free software.

Neither is it technical. Before, open source software websites were restricted, like SourceForge.Net, but not now. You can download the office suite from that website, you can download Ubuntu and other Linux distributions from their respective websites. And their manner of installation is straightforward. Thanks to the FOSS community.

Neither is there lack of adequate software for our common use. Documents, presentations or spreadsheets, or even database? You have Desktop publication and layouting? We have Scribus. Chat? We have Pidgin or Empathy. Browser? We have Firefox, Opera, Chrome and others (available in Windows and Linux). Photo or image manipulation? We have GIMP (comparable to Adobe Photoshop). Video editing? We have OpenMovie Editor or OpenShot Video Editor (just to name a few). These named applications are just a few of what are available out there.

True, there are customized software which we purchase which will not work in Linux. The software company decided that they would create the software for the operating system currently used by most people - and this same philosophy is the reason viruses in Microsoft applications and Windows environments continue to proliferate. But that is why the FOSS community exists. Tell them what you need.

The Computer Science program of the College of Arts and Sciences has been designing (planning, writing, implementing, etc.) applications and systems for many UP Manila units for years now - this was reported in the 2009 UP Manila Information System Strategic Planning Workshop. The CRS (Okay, it's not perfect. But not one system is perfect, because the software is limited by the users' way of using the software, not to mention its intended use.) for example, is one product of BS CompSci students, and it is now used by the University. They also made various applications for the PGH. All a UP Manila constituent needs to do is ask.

(Yes, the FOSS outputs are driven by the need of its community - profit is a far second, third or even fourth priority.)

How about format interoperability? Well, since open source programmers recognize that they are a small portion as compared to the whole information system users community - who is basically, the whole world - their software almost always has an option to produce the output in common file formats. For example, can save a file using the Open Document format or using Microsoft Word's file format (.doc). Another example is that VLC media player (yes, VLC is an open source software) can play almost any type of media format - be it .mp4, .mpg or .mov, among others.

The whole information community (worldwide) also recognizes the need to use open and international standards (hence, the Open Document format requirement in the Chancellor's memo). This means we will see more applications (open source or otherwise) complying with interoperability requirements for their users.

Any other reason for an organization's difficulty with implementing its FOSS policy? I cannot think of any. I have heard a lot of complaints, though, on the lack of training or knowledge about FOSS.

(I have my response to this, but I will hold it for now, in the interest of encouraging people to get into the idea of learning to use open source software.)

Just to be clear: There are some parts of the FOSS community who consider themselves elite by having unique and advanced knowledge of FOSS, and so distinguishes themselves (technocrats) by forcing new users go through the difficult path of self-learning (and frustration). This, however, is not the philosophy of open source. The idea behind open source is sharing - making things such as information and knowledge available - not hoarding them.

So I go to this very short conclusion: As the University wishes to implement an open source software policy (That is, it prioritizes open source software over proprietary ones, whenever possible; and it adopts open document formats and standards.), it should focus on doing two things: Operationalize and Enable.
  1. Operationalize its various legalese policies - lagyan ng ngipin (o pangil?)
  2. Make these operational procedures, policies and controls known - Communicate actively.
  3. Equip and enable the people so that the policies will make sense to implement - through training and collaboration. FOSS@UPM is a good starting point, but people have to know both the how and the why, not just the what.
  4. Monitor and implement control mechanisms (reiteration of Number 1).
I know. These are not so wisdom-requiring ideas. I have actually just heard them mentioned by wiser people (You know who you are.). But implementing these ideas require not just a few people who know what needs to be done. They need help in implementing them.

1 comment:

  1. "True, there are customized software which we purchase which will not work in Linux" - then again i heard we can just use WINE to bypass most of these limitations.

    Just a quick question, is Mr. Ariel Betan, my old logic professor still running the MIS? sorry for digressing, perhaps the biggest hurdle to open source implementation is the end user' lack of willingness to learn.