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I saw this article from Ken Starks, the maintainer of the Helios Linux distribution, about a letter he received. It is from a teacher who confiscated a number of live Linux CDROMs from a student and then accused the Helios maintainer of illegal activities. The teacher’s letter is astounding in its misunderstanding of the true nature of open source.

Setting aside the audacity and ignorance of the teacher for this article…. It goes to show that not everyone is as well-informed as many of us. The teacher in this case perhaps has never heard of Edubuntu, a distribution formed just for education – nor of OLPC, a nonprofit organization trying to get laptops (Linux laptops mind you) into the hands of all of the children of Africa and the third world.

We must be prepared for educating our supervisors, users, and others that rely on us as to why this or that open source project is worthwhile. In many cases, the fact that a product is open source (or not) is not a selling point: many folks will not use something because it is open source, but would rather pay for something which is better – or meets their needs – or is “what everyone uses.”

Examples of this abound: Linux v. Windows – Linux v. UNIX – Red Hat Enterprise v. CentOS – OpenOffice v. Microsoft Office – OpenSSH v. SSH – GNUCash v. Quicken – and more. Put aside the open source nature of the product and explain why it is better than the commercial product. Does it have more features? Does it work in more places? Is it easier to use? Does it cost less? (Okay, the last is not free of the open source movement – but freeware is there too…) Does it have a lighter footprint? Is it more widely used than the commercial product?

All of this must be explained to those who have no idea what open source is about – and perhaps have no technological background, much less an understanding of technical history.

Let’s get out there with our heads held high and educate the masses!

Update: this story has a happy ending. I’m also glad he didn’t name the teacher involved, and I can just imagine the vitriol that flew his way. The fact that he stood his ground speaks tremendously to his character. Kudos, Ken!