Free Software and the Academy

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This collects links to resources, such as tutorials, programmes, and commentary that is useful for academic use of Free Software. Importantly it also includes a wish list or a to-do list.


If you do not want to completely leave Windows, but just want to check out what the fuzz is all about, then you can easily download a Knoppix Live-CD, which comes as an .iso image that you will have to burn in your favourite CD burner, such as NERO. Windows nowadays has these sort of functions (to burn an .iso image) built-in, I believe. Burn it, stick it in to your computer and (re-)boot into a full-blown GNU/LInux system without any hard disk installation - it simply all runs from your RAM (and is therefore not too good for older machine, you'd probaby need around 256MB RAM-ish to get it going).

"KNOPPIX is a bootable CD or DVD with a collection of GNU/Linux software, automatic hardware detection, and support for many graphics cards, sound cards, SCSI and USB devices and other peripherals. KNOPPIX can be used as a productive Linux desktop, educational CD, rescue system, or adapted and used as a platform for commercial software product demos. It is not necessary to install anything on a hard disk. Due to on-the-fly decompression, the CD can have up to 2 GB of executable software installed on it. (over 8 GB on the DVD "Maxi" edition)."

If you have an older machine, are in doubt about where all this going or just want to get some more details, then this article, Reincarnating a discarded laptop with Linux, is a good starting point.

Alternatively, visit and read more.

Choosing a distribution

If you want to close the Windows and open a world of opportunities with Free Software, then the first thing that you need is a distribution (an entire operating system) of which there are many.

It might be a good idea to contact your department, faculty or university IT support team to find out what kind of Free Software they are already using. Most universities will have some sort of GNU/Linux, BSD or UNIX servers, and some varieties might be "more compatible" than others for your particular network.

If the choice is yours, if you want to install it on your own machine, Ubuntu is commendable.

Ubuntu is based on Debian, which is not-for-profit, community driven, and an open and democratically organised project with a reputation for system safety and reliability. It is what you can call an operating system based on scientific values, a tool that is truly open for public scrutiny.

Any distribution will include a wide range of ready-to-use (end-user) programmes, and access to many more.

The Usual Suspects

Here is first a list of the most common programmes, the ones that you will be needing immediately

  • Email clients: [Thunderbird
    • Evolution if you really need an Exchange server connector, calendar etc.)

Of these only Evolution is not available for MS Windows. See for more information.

Special Programmes

  • “O3Spaces technology enhances and StarOffice with an integrated solution for Collaboration, Document Management and Document Retention within teams and small businesses. O3Spaces provides the OpenOffice 2.0 and StarOffice user community with a professional out-of-the-box extension for team and project collaboration, O3Spaces means an affordable and integrated alternative for MS Office Sharepoint.”

Free Software in action: tools on the web

  • the often mentioned Wikipedia is a good example of a veru useful tool that has been developed in the Free Software spirit.

Understanding the Free Software Community=

What do I do if I cannot find my way around? Although learning curves sometimes can be steep, those days are mostly gone. However, if you understand a few principles, get to know a few basic concepts, aquire a few basic skills and find a few good places to ask, and learn how to ask, someone will most likely help you along. Keep in mind that you are not procuring a commodity, but joining a community.

CLI: typing commands, using man & info

IRC: asking for help

Googling in fora



Wish List

Some programmes are desperately needed in the following areas of the the academic publishing process currently threatened by an imminent lock-in, or addictive, irreversible dependency on non-free software: