Evolving with Open Source Software at the iSchool

Evolving with Open Source Software at the iSchool

After 7 years of active duty, I came to the iSchool on a different mission. I wanted to learn how to integrate more open source solutions into my life. I’ll dig into the “why” and “when” soon, but in summary, it’s about the open source contributors’ community aspect. The priorities include quality, customization, and you – the user.

I’d been using primarily Linux and open source software for only 4 months when I started at Syracuse University. I started with Linux Mint, a distro (slang for distribution or operating system) focused on easing the transition to Linux. It does this by pre-installing necessary open source software alternatives for the average user – i.e. GIMP image editor, Banshee, and VLC media players, Firefox web browser, and LibreOffice, and Mozilla Thunderbird email client.

Everything I learned was from the Podnutz: Linux for the rest of us podcast, other Linux blogs mentioned in my Linux 2015 podcast, and trial and error. Since I’d been taught “train as you fight,” I figured the best way to further enhance my understanding of open source solutions was to enter every college course and project looking for ways to integrate free or open source software.

IST 335: Intro to Information Based Organizations

In my first semester, our first assignment was to present ideas for the class. Those ideas filter down to two main ideas and group projects for the rest of the semester. My idea was to create a Linux distro tailored toward Syracuse University students, complete with applicable open source software for each individual school. No one had an interest so the idea was dropped, but coming up with that idea led me to Linux Uberstudent, a self-proclaimed “Linux for Learners.” I had a thought that Linux probably isn’t covered much in iSchool courses. Remember, this was a week into my first semester.

Lesson: The word “free” isn’t always enticing enough to gain popularity, especially when people have to go so far outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes you have to tailor your info to meet people more than halfway with visual aids and info that directly relates to the audience.

IST 346: Info Tech Management & Administration

My second semester we had a few topics to debate in small teams via written essay and class presentation near the end of the semester. I signed up for the pro-Linux Ubuntu Server over Windows Server debate immediately. During the presentation, after my teammates covered general info about Linux, I basically went on a tangent explaining common myths:

  • Open source isn’t simply less secure than closed source (proprietary) software – IEEE.org 
  • WordPress is one of many industry-standard open source solutions for enterprise and home users
  • Ubuntu Server, Ubuntu, and Linux aren’t synonymous
  • All distros, including Ubuntu Server and Red Hat/CentOS, have different strengths and levels of difficulty due to target audience
  • There are GUI’s for many tasks within the IST 346 course – e.g. gufw for UFW

After the pro-Windows team presented, mostly myths I’d already covered, both teams stood up front while I answered more in-depth questions about the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) slide ranking the most vulnerable software in 2015. I kept and shared the original PPT on my personal blog.

Lesson: It’s helpful understanding opposing points of view on your stance to identify problems.

“I never learned from a man who agreed with me.” – Robert A. Heinlein

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IST 352: Info Analysis of Organizational Systems

During the same semester, my team recommended “Bob” use Libre Office and Thunderbird. This was in lieu of Microsoft Office to cut costs in a start-up business solution. However, I couldn’t convince the team to recommend Linux Zorin or Mint in lieu of Windows even after sharing my Zorin walkthrough video and Mint blog post. Admittedly, both posts are low quality. Small victories still count.

Lesson: Sometimes people just want what they know, regardless of the benefits of a change.

IST 323: Intro to Info Security

My presentation was written in collaborative real-time editor Cryptpad using the Markdown markup language (think of _italic_ and *bold* in Slack IRC and Github). I used that presentation file for my Cryptpad video tutorial.

Lesson: The _italic_ and *bold* in Slack comes from the Markdown markup language.

IST 444: Reporting and Presentation

My final team pitched the idea of a website people can easily create and access a live video stream via dedicated URL. You may be thinking about Skype’s relatively new in-browser capability or Rabb.it but our example graphics had the bases of Jitsi.

Lesson: Even the industry-standard can lack popular features sometimes.

IST 445: Managing Info Systems Projects

I didn’t find Planner for Microsoft Project (.xml) files until the end. But a teammate found Gantter which allowed collaborative project file editing online without downloading anything.

Lesson: Alternativeto.net, my number one resource for open source alternatives, doesn’t have everything.

What solutions have you used in lieu of what the iSchool and/or professors suggested?

Jacqueem "Jt" Spratley

Jacqueem "Jt" Spratley

Jt is a senior iSchool student and web designer for the Student Veterans Organization at Syracuse University. Jt blogs about Linux, open source software, and military Veterans' resources at Rallypoint.com and his personal blog and YouTube channel – GoLiveLively.com.

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