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Getting started with a manageable OS project

Nov - 11 - 2008
Nicole C. Engard

Today I participated in a series of open source talks at the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) conference. After I gave my talk, John Houser from PALINET stepped up. You can view his slides on his blog.

John started with a very important point – you don’t have to install an open source operating system to use open source software – can run on it on Linux, Windows and Mac (depending on the software package).

I always tell people in my open source talks that when they go back to their computers (at home and work) they should switch to Firefox. John backed me up and told everyone to use Firefox because it’s not only better in all ways but more standards compliant than IE. He also advised that once you get Firefox you want to install plugins to get the most out of it. He feels that the best plugin to install is a delicious tool or a furl tool – that way you can bookmark your resources on the web. I’d add to that that you should add Adblock Plus.

John pointed out that we’re seeing public libraries replacing Windows and MS Office with Linux and OpenOffice – saving money in licensing. These libraries are saying that they’re providing better services than they could with proprietary software. He mentioned two library systems in particular, Crawford and Howard.

One of the common myths that I hear a lot is that open source is too hard for libraries to adopt, John points out that open source apps do not necessarily require more skills than proprietary software – some are even easier – like Firefox (over IE). Even Linux is getting much easier to install and comes with a whole set of applications you can use right out of the box. Why not try to install Ubuntu (the easiest to use of the Linux desktop distributions) on an old PC to create a place to play and learn.

The other big myth is that open source isn’t secure. The fact of the matter is that Windows was designed for a single user and security was as add on later. Linux was designed for networked computers and so security is inherent. Any IT professional who doesn’t know that might want to find some continuing ed classes of his/her own (that last sentence added by me).

I’ve been saying for years that librarians should learn some programming skills so that they can participate in the development of their own applications. John mentions that some librarians might respond to that by saying, “I’m the librarian and that’s not what i do …” His opinion (and I agree) is, that to maintain our relevance in the world we should all know how to program to some degree – being able to read a basic script and understand what it does is very very useful. Open source development is a way of resource sharing and that is what we do.

One other note that John added is that as librarians we’re used to answering questions – but we’re not so great at asking them – we need to learn to ask – it’s a real skill. Why? Because if we know what to ask then we can ask for developers to create the tools we want and need in our libraries.

Overall a great talk and a great group of attendees too. Keep an eye out for part 2 which I hope to write up next.

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One Response so far.

  1. John Houser says:

    Thanks for the great write-up, Nicole. It’s probably better than my talk was!


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