This started out as part of the Desktop Publishing post, but as I got into it, I realized that I've wanted to talk about some of the global impact/importance of the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) community for some time. So, here are some of my thoughts in their own separate post. I've included some Additional Reading resources that cover areas other than software to give you even more ways to get involved. Please keep in mind as you read this that you can contribute to the community, even if you're not a programmer or an Open Source software guru. If you have questions about how your talents fit in with the grand scheme of things, send us an email and we'll try to give you any information that we have and/or refer you to projects that will fit with your talents.
As always, be careful with any information that you get from us, or any other source on the Internet. Always be sure to double (and triple check) information from any source, and form your own educated opinions. For details, take a look at our disclaimer.
Linux Publishing Around The World
There are many organizations using Open Source software on Linux for publishing around the world, and several that focus on helping people to better themselves through the acquisition of technical job skills. Publishing and general word processing skills are two key elements in many educational programs since they are some of the most basic computer skills that people need in the modern workplace. If people are taught the hows, whens, and whys (as opposed to only memorizing a set of steps) of working with an office/publishing software suite, their skills seem to typically transfer well when the user is faced with non-open source software like Microsoft Office. This cuts out the cost of organizations having to spend their budget on fee based software while still passing on useful knowledge to their students/clients. It's important to note though that Open Source is not a totally "free" alternative either. There are many costs associated with setting up and running computer labs whether they are free or fee, such as obtaining computer hardware, installing and maintaining the hardware and software, and training people how to use the hardware/software that's been set up. The training of course needs to include the end users, but something of equal importance is to train system administrators so that they can keep things running. For more on the cost of open source software versus fee-based software like Microsoft Windows, have a look at the Linux for the Long Haul Linux Journal article referenced in the Additional Reading section of this post.
Another reason that it's important for the open source community to be involved is because technology is not a fire-and-forget type of thing. Continued involvement in training, support, providing replacement hardware, putting on workshops (in person and over the Internet) and the like are critical things for the community to be doing. Another important component as well seems to be developing a project that a local contingent of people can rally around (like a local newspaper or comic strip) to make sure that the new skills/hardware/software don't gather dust. Making sure that adequate learning resources (e-books, tutorials, etc) are available is very important too. Check out the Additional Reading resources to see what I'm talking about with these issues.
Not to be left out, we here at Tillamook Rage are involved, and continue to look for more ways to be involved in providing technology (hardware and software) and educational resources to those who need it. Take a peek at our "EAT Initiative" sidebar to see what our philosophy is. We're currently also looking at expanding our support offerings through cooperative research projects with colleges, audio/video podcasts, and many more. Keep your eyes open for future posts and projects coming from us.
One last thing that I would like to mention has to do with environmental responsibility. Boot and I are both heavily involved with programs that deal with electronic scrap (sometimes called E-Scrap), and we would like to hit you with a few things to ponder when sending computers (if you choose to get involved that way) to countries with weak or non-existent environmental protections. This definitely isn't a full list, but it addresses some issues that we want to make sure we tell you about.
1. Please don't send non-working computers, or computers that will soon be non-working to a country where it's going to get thrown in the trash if it dies. Keep in mind that one of the many reasons that we endorse Xubuntu and Puppy Linux here on Tillamook Rage is that both of those distributions extend the usable life of computers. As long as the computer is fuctional, even low end hardware (i.e. 266 MHz Pentium with 128 MB of RAM) will run well with Xubuntu and Puppy Linux (Puppy even runs on very old 486 computers). Even so, there is a limit to how much life you can squeeze out of a computer. Don't send a computer that's so sluggish that you can't bear to use it for 5 minutes. If it's frustrating for you, chances are the person that ends up with it on the other end is going to get frustrated eventually too.
2. Laptops are a good choice for shipping to areas that need computers because they cost less to ship, typically (but not always) use less electricity, and are good for areas with frequent power outages (or unstable line voltage) since they can run on battery.
3. If you are rebuilding or repairing computers to be sent to those who need them, please recycle your unusable parts with a reputable recycling vendor.
4. This is an idea and not something that we've tried yet (and I emphasize yet). If possible, look into getting prepaid shipping labels and packaging sponsored (or just pony up the dough yourself) to send with the computers (or at a later time when it's needed), so that the end users can send them back to you to be disposed of properly if they can't do so themselves. This may seem like a really inefficient and expensive way to handle the problem, but I feel that it would be better than having a computer buried underground leaching lead and mercury into someone's water supply.
Well, I've just scratched the surface of a very deep topic, but maybe it will open some dialog on this topic here on Tillamook Rage. Please feel free to comment on what you think. We're always interested to discuss what we write about with you our reader. Also, the fact that a resource is listed in our Additional Reading section does not necessarily mean that we endorse it, so if you have any experience with any of the organizations or resources listed (good or bad), please let us know.
1. Linux Journal Magazine - Oct 2007 - Pages 16,17 - "A Ticket out of Poverty"
2. Linux Pro Magazine - September 2007 - Pages 92,93 - "Hai Ti! Comics"
3. Linux Journal Magazine - August 2008 - Pages 68-71 - "Linux for the Long Haul"
4. Five Minutes To Midnight - http://www.i2r.org/fmm/
5. Article 13 - http://i2r.org/fmm/a13i/
6. FOSSED - Free and Open Source Software in EDucation - http://fossed.blogspot.com/
7. Geekcorps - http://www.geekcorps.org/
8. TechSoup - http://www.techsoup.org/
9. The Open Source Teaching Project - http://www.opensourceteaching.org/
10. Non-Profit Technology Resources - http://www.ntronline.org/