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(Under)mining open source


A good thread has developed over the the last week on the iDC listserv (you can go here to subscribe) inspired by an Infoworld article titled "Opening Up iTunes U," in which writer Jon Udell discusses Apple's use of proprietary standards, such as the m4a files used by iTunes.  May find this practice is problematic, in part because Apple has struck deals with academic institutions to distribute podcasts of lectures through the iTunes store, but, because of Apple's "walled garden" standards, only Apple hardware and software can play the podcasts, striking down the academic notion of open collaboration and distribution.

Some posters on the listserv were unsuprised, noting Apple's history of designing software for its hardware, effectively shutting out much of the computing world.  There are many reasons -- financial and technical -- why they did this, but the fact remains that Apple doesn't have a long history of using or supporting open source or open standards.

What does this mean for the education world?  For one, we are in large part slaves to proprietary software.  Andrea Polli pointed out that "it is more and more apparent that digital art/media in academia has been hijacked by the software industry."  To be competitive, a program must be able to afford expensive software; the inability to stay up to date inhibits some programs' abilities to keep up to date with professional and aesthetic trends (I know this from the experience of my own graduate program).

Some have turned to FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open-Source software) to help alleviate these problems, but a conscious rejection of mainstream software raises important questions:

- How must we revise software budgets and our own expectations to accommodate the steeper learning curve and narrower expressiveness afforded by open source tools?

- What is the nature of a new media program?  Should it focus more on technical tools to help students get industry jobs, or should it center on arts education?  Trebor wrote about this for fibreculture.

- In Andrea Polli's words, "in our embrace of open source, can and should we expect students to learn commercial industry tools outside of school if they want industry design jobs or to take unrelated jobs until they are at an art  director/non tool-specific professional level?"

- If we do embrace FLOSS more readily, what resources must we devote to documentation?

As Tiffany Holmes mentioned in the thread, Apple offers the double-edged sword of pre-installed, easy-to-use software.  The problem is that although software like iMovie or Garageband possess shallower learning curves than Final Cut Pro or Pro Tools, and are thus more easily picked up by new technology users, they can also have the adverse effect of scaring such users away from learning programming or the FLOSS tools that, while free, are more difficult to use.

There's much more, and you should go to the thread to read it all.

08:35 PM | Permalink


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