Academic end-users

by Elena Blanco on 1 July 2005 , last updated


The profile of open source software has now reached a point where it is no longer exclusively in the domain of IT experts and service providers. High profile open source projects such as Firefox and Android have brought open source software to the attention of many people who had formerly been unaware that there was an alternative to proprietary software.

You may be investigating open source software because you want to try out and use new software for free. You may have heard something about the spirit of the open source development methodology and find that it appeals to your ideals. Indeed, you may already be an experienced user of a particular open source application. Whatever your circumstances, we hope that the resources that we have gathered here for you will be of help and interest.

Scene setting

As an academic end-user, you may be curious about how open source software is created, the kinds of communities it forms, and even whether there is any way you could participate in those communities. On the other hand, you may be wondering why you ought to be interested at all in the freedom to adapt the source code of a computer program when you have no desire or inclination to do so. Fair point. End-users really need to stay focused on what works for them. But in case your interest gets stimulated these resources will provide some background to the open source software world and the way that it works.

Quick and easy trial of open source software

Of course the fun thing about open source software is that once you locate some you can start using it right away. And if you like it, you can keep using it. There are no strings attached. The open source licence under which the software is released (or made public) ensures that this is the case. That being so, the real question for question for academic end-users is, “Where do I find open source software?”

Sometimes you find a set of open source software that you want to take with you and use on any PC anywhere. provides just such a solution. It allows you to run certain open source software packages, such as LibreOffice, GIMP and the Mozilla Thunderbird email client, from your USB memory stick. This can be a life-saver if you need to travel around the country without a laptop computer accompanying you.


If you have never used Linux, you may want to explore it and some common open source applications without going to the effort of installing the software. Some systems administrators will already be familiar with the concept of a LiveCD. These allow you to boot a PC into a Linux environment without the need to install anything whatsoever. It will not touch the contents of the PC’s hard drive in any way (unless you specifically want it to). In fact, the entire operating system runs directly off the CD. Well known examples of LiveCDs include Ubuntu and Knoppix.

Examples of open source software

It is difficult to know in advance all of the open source software which might be of use to an academic end-user, discipline by displine. We would value your input to hlep us compile such a list. Just write to us at with your tips. In the meantime, the following resources each point to software you might be using, or find useful. In addition, the Top Tips for Selecting Open Source Software resource offers guidance on criteria to use when choosing open source software, and Open Source Options for Education contains some examples of open source alternatives to common proprietary solutions used in education.

external resources:

Stay in the loop

To keep up to date with what is happening in the open source world as it relates to the academic sector you may wish to

OSS Watch also provides institution specific consultation workshops for universities and colleges seeking assistance in thinking through their engagement with free and open source software.