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Open source software is becoming a force
for change in educational ICT, offering free
solutions to match the best the market has to
offer. Teacher Kester Brewin explains more
ith the government allows anyone to download and examine the source
saying it wants to accelerate code of the program and tweak it to their own needs.
the use of open source this is in stark contrast to the sort of proprietary
software in public services software that we are used to having on our computers,
like education, and with where we pay large sums of money and have to agree
this year’s Bett education not to change or “hack” the program in any way.
technology event showcasing Behind these two very different approaches
an array of this completely free software, covering most to software development and distribution are two
of the curriculum, it seems wise for all schools to fundamentally opposed ideologies. the closed source
explore whether they are getting best value for money ideology – as exemplified by large software companies
from their iCt budgets, and whether they too should such as Microsoft or Adobe – believes that the best
think more towards open source solutions. way to make applications more secure and have better
functionality is to keep the code as secret as possible.
A definition
Because only a small number of people have access to
the term “open source” is self-explanatory: as well as the code, it is thought less likely that anyone would find
being completely free to use, open source software also vulnerabilities in it and be able to exploit them.
Bright Schools provide a wealth of interactive
website tools to improve communication and
create a vibrant online school community
the open source ideology takes a wholly different to know when exploring iCt products for education,
view of the problems of security and functionality. namely: is the software going to be secure and is it
the reason that open source software is secure, their going to work? Before moving on to examine some of
reasoning goes, is that anyone can look at the code and the open source software available and how it might be
so there are hundreds or thousands of fresh eyes looking best used in schools, i think it is important to answer
over the code able to spot vulnerabilities. Assuming that both of those questions.
there are more “nice” people out there in the world who First, is open source software secure? the basic
want things to work well, than nasty hackers who want answer is yes. Of course, whenever you load a piece of
to do people harm, then problems come to light and software onto any computer you are taking a risk with
solutions are found very quickly. security. Microsoft’s internet explorer is certainly the
the problem with big corporate solution, they say, most widely used browser in the world, but it has in
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is that once a vulnerability is found, there is only a tiny the past been found to have security flaws and needs
group of people allowed to see the code and who can updating with “patches” if these are discovered.
try and fix it, so things take much longer to evolve into the open source browser Firefox (free to download,
good secure, functional products. see further information for this and all subsequent
weblinks) is widely regarded as a far more secure
Staying secure
browser. Nothing, though, is ever going to be perfectly
the reason i start by making this difference clear is secure – this goes for an expensive product like Windows
because it highlights two key questions that people need Vista just as it does for an open source program too.
10 SecEd • may 21 2009
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