The Use of Open Source and Free Software in Education: November 6-26, 2006

Barriers to Open Source

Barriers to Open Source

by Christie Mason -
Number of replies: 11
What are the barriers to using Open Source?

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Barriers to Open Source - Time

by Christie Mason -
There may not be upfront fees but there's a huge cost in time.  Time to install (many times it takes time just to find the install instructions and specs), time to find documentation, time to search through discussion forums, or time post and wait for a reply, time to update and update and update.

If you customize then there's also time to test each update to make sure it doesn't break your customizations.  This is necessary with commercial software also but the mixed blessing of OSS is that updates occur more frequently and w/o documentation of what core functions are being updated.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Barriers to Open Source - Modularity

by Andy Roberts -
Large open source projects tend to end up with a slimmed down core application to which a huge number of plugins, skins or modules can be attached. That makes sense for the multitude of developers but it can make upgrade paths extremely complicated, such that you can get left behind having to stick with an old unmaintained version of the kernal in order to keep all the bits and pieces which would no longer work if you upgrade.
In reply to Andy Roberts

Re: Barriers to Open Source - Modularity

by Christie Mason -
Very, very true.  Plus, they do like to upgrade/patch often.  And, there rarely are any notification channels to let you know when a upgrade/patch has been published unless you check in often.  I've often wondered why most don't just offer an RSS feed.  If you're a casual user of an application you really won't invest the time to stay update and one unsecured module can make your whole system unsecure.

Something that's often claimed for open source, and Firefox vs IE is a great example, is that it's more secure than commercial software because there are more eyes focused on finding/fixing holes.  I think that may be true for OSS with large communities, but not so true for smaller communities.  Less eyes = less secure.

Christie Mason

In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Barriers to Open Source

by Sylvia Currie -
An interesting list of barriers to open source is evolving in this thread. It all seems to boil down to a couple key points:
  • Some open source projects are more mature than others. For example, documentation can be an issue. As Derek demonstrated Mozilla Thunderbird would be considered a mature project. Some of the characteristics of less mature projects are mentioned by Christie, where configuration is tedious and documentation thin.
  • Using open source can require an investment of time (as Christie and Andy mention, upgrades can become quite involved).
Open source projects are all about involving people in development -- through community participation and giving back to the project by contributing code, suggestions and feedback, documentation, promotion, project management...whatever you can. If there are gaps in a project, then it takes people to fill those gaps. So a valid response for any complaint from a user is: What can you do to help solve the problem?

Does this mean that the only way to eliminate barriers to open source is to shift our way of thinking about our role as a consumer?

In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Barriers to Open Source - GNU License

by Christie Mason -
I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that if you use an application that is distributed under a GNU license in your application and want to distribute that derived application, then your application must also be distributed under a GNU license with source code, copyleft.

However, if your application only "hooks into" another application then you can create a copyrighted, proprietary, fee based application. The difference between "hooks into" vs "derived" has a lot of undefined uncertainty.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Barriers to Open Source - Complexity

by Christie Mason -
I have never had to manually change so many configuration files as I have with recently installing several open source applications.  Thank goodness for Google because the installation instructions that came with the applications, if any, were less than complete.

I suspect that those who find open source easy are either installing onto clean, non MS, machines.  Or, they're using open source applications hosted remotely by an ASP (Application Service Provider).

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Barriers to Open Source - Complexity

by Derek Chirnside -
"I have never had to manually change so many configuration files as I have with recently installing several open source applications.
(Little aside to Sylvia.  What am I doing wrong with marginalia.  Seems to not work now)

I've changed to Thunderbird.
Here is the page I got sorting out Thunderbird this week.  Everything under the sun in one place . . .

 
Attachment Thunderbird.jpg
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Marginalia

by Sylvia Currie -
Derek, I just spotted your little aside about marginalia not working for you.

For those joining us in SCoPE for the first time, we have Marginalia Web annotation installed. It allows you to make private or public annotations as you read forum posts. Appropriate to the topic of the seminar, it is open source software and there are 2 supported versions: 1) stand alone and 2) Moodle 1.6

It's not working for me at the moment either, and I wonder if it's related to a recent upgrade to Firefox 2.0. I can access past annotations, but I can't add new ones. Derek, what browser are you using?

I'll look into it further!

In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Marginalia

by Geoffrey Glass -
I've been working on a new version of Marginalia, and it's working fine on Firefox 2.0.  However, I see that here the button for creating new annotations is missing.  I see that I can still create annotations by selecting text and then typing Enter, so the problem seems limited to the missing button.  Does this correspond with your experience?

This is a display issue, which could relate to Firefox 2.0 (in which case it's likely my fault), or it could be an interaction with the look of the web site (has that changed recently?).  I'll look into it.
In reply to Geoffrey Glass

Re: Marginalia

by Sylvia Currie -
Thanks for coming to the rescue, Geoffrey!

My experience matches yours. I think earlier I was sliding my mouse over to the annotation space instead of hitting Enter. But it's working fine to type Enter.

I checked in other areas of SCoPE and noticed that here in the Scheduled Seminars area the top annotation pull-down menu was pushed way over to the right. I had to scroll sideways to see it. (My admin view is a little different, but the placement of that pull-down menu isn't consistent across SCoPE) Anyway, that issue and the disappearance of the button to create new annotations could be related to a change in theme and some customization work on the site. I'll see what I can find out.

Thanks again!

In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Marginalia

by Sylvia Currie -
Geof Glass and Trevor Bradley sorted out the Marganilia - SCoPE issue. It required a little CSS fix.

So now when you open a forum discussion and activate the annotations function (top right) you will see a yellow bar separating the message and annotation space. If you select some text in a message, then mouse over to the right, click on that yellow bar, or hit your enter key to create an annotation for the selected text. Here's a demo.