Bonum Certa Men Certa

Computer Science Should Be Taught Using Free/Libre Software for Long-Term Benefits

Bubbles



Summary: My 20 years with Free (as in freedom, libre, livre) software summarised in light of the productivity gains and backward compatibility (I've lost no data and all my code still works properly)

THE difference between training and teaching is well understood, albeit not always taken seriously by schools and universities, especially when there are 'freebies' if not bribes involved.



"I myself studied Computer Science 20 years ago (that's when my course started), specialising in Software Engineering."We would not be the first to touch this subject or highlight the moral aspects at hand; in fact, it often feels like little or nothing is left to be said (why Free software should be used exclusively or by default in learning environments). There's also the aspect of privacy (e.g. schools outsourcing documents to Microsoft and/or E-mails to Google).

We wish to instead focus on Computer Science, which doesn't typically involve teaching things like word processing (higher and lower education make that inescapable). In Computer Science we're talking about things like programming languages, IDEs, Computer Science theory (Turing machines etc.) and practice (networking basics, protocols, storage/file systems and so on). I myself studied Computer Science 20 years ago (that's when my course started), specialising in Software Engineering. My Bachelor's degree says "Software Engineering" and my doctoral degree says "Medical Biophysics" (the latter was partly completed in the Computer Science department, under supervision on its president at the time).

Feld mit SonnenblumenI really don't wish to make this article (or any article for that matter) about me, but now that the 20-year anniversary is officially reached I wanted to explain how Free software was introduced to me and how much it helped me with my studies, my research, and my post-doctoral years. I almost never touched any proprietary software there, except MATLAB (which I later replaced with GNU Octave). MATLAB was sort of imposed on us at one point. It was hard to collaborate (with colleagues) without it. My writings were all done in LaTeX (not exclusively under LyX, which has just surpassed 25 years in age), most of my programming was in C, and I used a wide variety of text editors, eventually settling on Kate (which I favour to this day). Thankfully I never had to contribute even a single line of code to proprietary software. I was lucky in a sense because wherever I went there was a permissive tradition, allowing me to publish every bit of code that I wrote.

"Nowadays I'm enjoying Debian, which is 100% Free software..."The educational experience with Free software was overwhelmingly positive. Any time I was given an office to work in the first thing I did was install a GNU/Linux distribution. In MCC (home of the first GNU/Linux distro, where I worked for about 4 years) I installed the first-ever version of Ubuntu and in my first post-doc position I installed Fedora. Nowadays I'm enjoying Debian, which is 100% Free software (I never installed anything proprietary except the Wi-Fi blob because I need WiFi -- the only alternative being a 15-meter Ethernet cable running through the home, crossing through floors).

Going back to the studies, if I was taught or was forced to use proprietary software, I'd become accustomed to and dependent on it. My code would become dependent on proprietary stacks to merely run (execute), so it's a trap, vendor lock-in. Right now I'm almost monopoly-free because many programs I developed, including scripts, are still usable on pretty much any GNU/Linux distro. I have loads of files on my systems, across which I split tasks like writing, reading, monitoring and so on. Even my Palm PDA stuff (going way back... all the way to 2001) is still accessible and usable. I still have two Palm PDAs on my desk. My personal Web site, which goes back to 2002, is still totally usable. Some hacks here and then were needed (editing code and migrating data), but almost every page works today like it did 18 years ago. Good luck accomplishing that with proprietary software, where the objective is to routinely force people to 'upgrade'.

"People who speak negatively about Free software are often afraid of that which they fail to understand (or unfortunately overlooked for many years), thus attributing their supposed 'success' to brands like Apple and cult figures such as Steve Jobs (whose main accomplishment is milking/bilking a lot of people for a lot of money, gradually and repeatedly spent on overpriced hardware and technically inferior software... which soon becomes abandonware, necessitating more sales)."Looking back at the whole adventure, I am most thankful to the software I used and still use. People who speak negatively about Free software are often afraid of that which they fail to understand (or unfortunately overlooked for many years), thus attributing their supposed 'success' to brands like Apple and cult figures such as Steve Jobs (whose main accomplishment is milking/bilking a lot of people for a lot of money, gradually and repeatedly spent on overpriced hardware and technically inferior software... which soon becomes abandonware, necessitating more sales).

I was 18 when I started my university days, so one can calculate my age (either way, it's no secret). Oh, how time flies...

Sonnenuntergang

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