Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Open Joyful Sourcing

The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas - the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market . . . . Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, dissenting in Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919).

I hardly ever write about real librarian stuff because . . . well, to tell you the truth, it’s really boring. But as I learned in Civil Procedure, even the most mundane things are sometimes really about justice. So today, I address the wonderful world of open sourcing. Which, I’m afraid, is true library stuff.

For those who don't know, “open sourcing” is sort of the first-amendment adversary-system version of writing software. Essentially, program code is written and evaluated in the light of day. People can use it for free, have access to the code, revise it, even sell it. By letting everyone have a crack at it, you get everyone's good ideas and the software improves at a rate far faster than it can in the hush-hush world of proprietary secrets a la Microsoft. That's the theory, anyway, and it sounds reasonable to me.

I bring this up because my laptop died over the weekend and I had to buy a new computer. Since most of my moonlighting income depends on being able to format resumes, I have to have a really good word-processing program.

I thought my only options were Word and WordPerfect – both of which are pricey if you're broke, which I usually am. I did end up buying Word on eBay because I’m too corporate-conditioned to try to go without the “real thing.” But Glory Be, I think I may have been wrong!

OpenOffice does most of what Microsoft Office does. It’s got decent clones of Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint, and some other stuff.

And it’s free.

This software has been around for a few years, and it’s probably not news to you, but it sure was news to me.

Maybe if I'd been reading all that boring librarian stuff I get in the mail every day, I would have known about it before now....

Anyway... Oh – did I mention that it’s free?

As it turns out I couldn’t get OpenOffice to download because I’m just sort of a moron when it comes to stuff like that. Fortunately we are just beginning to test OpenOffice for use at the law school, and our esteemed IT guru was able to give it to me on a disk. So I’m now an official tester.

There’s something deliciously socialist about the whole thing, don’t you think? The People’s Software.

Word is getting out…so to speak.

Just one more thing, this time about Oliver Wendell Holmes. Although he was right about that marketplace-of-ideas thing, he was real idiot in other areas. In upholding the right of the state to forcibly sterilize a mentally challenged woman, he wrote, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927). Nice, huh?

Ironically, Holmes' own nastiness provides a good illustration of why the free and open exchange of ideas is so vital to a democracy.

For more information about OpenOffice, try these links:



Oh Happy Day!


  1. I hate Word so I may try for this one. I want my Word Perfect back.

  2. It's nifty stuff!

    BTW, I posted my non-silver photos if you want ot see them.

  3. To pay or not to pay...that is the question.

    I have used many destop publishing applications in my days as a professional writer: Word, WordPerfect, FrameMaker, Interleaf, etc., etc. Each have their strengths and weaknesses. In the end analysis, one is not really different than any another - it just depends on what you want to do with it. After all, a document is a document.

    Even the open source idea is not new. Linux, the ever-popular UNIX-based operating system was open source. The only caveat I have is that with open source software, there is no formal support like there tends to be with commercial software, and one never knows when the next set of fixes will come.

    Other than that, enjoy.

  4. I was delighted to hear that one of our biggest community libraries will load open office on public access terminals, bookable, by the hour next month. Not only do libs need to love open office.. we should promote it yes. It is perfect for us!