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Open Source Endeavors at Dartmouth

The following are some of the efforts going forth at Dartmouth concerning Open Source. The efforts mentioned below are restricted to those of which I have personal knowledge, and do not accurately reflect all the endeavors at the College.

A resolution was passed in April 2003 by the University of Buffalo faculty senate in support of Linux and Open Source in general. This resolution was sufficient impetus for a discussion of Open Source to gain a slot on the agenda of the College's Council on Computing that May. A presentation was made to the Council by members Thomas Shemanske and Robinson Tryon, and invited guest Joseph Hill. The presentation focussed on open file formats and was an attempt to raise the general level of consciousness of the Council members. The presenters were especially grateful for the feedback they received on drafts of the proposal from the Linux Users group on campus (linux-users at listserv dot dartmouth dot edu). The text of that proposal [Promoting Open File Formats and Open Source at Dartmouth] is here.

The ensuing discussion was robust, with some appreciation for open file formats, and an agreement to field test OpenOffice over the course of the summer. The experience with OpenOffice was mixed, those with Windows machines having a somewhat better experience, but there remained the attitude that replacing the current office suite with OpenOffice should be seamless, when no transition of this magnitude can be.

In Council meetings during the winter of 2004, an issue was raised concerning the development of software by the College's research computing group, and the question of licensing and ownership was raised. This turned into an interesting discussion which began to bump into issues of Open Source and the GPL. I asked the chair of the Council to consider adding another meeting about Open Source to the Council's agenda, and that meeting took place on April, 8, 2004. Unfortunately it was the third item on a full agenda, and there was only a brief time for presentation and discussion. This time, the proposal took a much broader perspective, hoping to gather some momentum for an institutionally supported Open Source initiative. For reference, the text of the most recent proposal [Promoting Open Source at Dartmouth] is here. Minutes of that meeting are here (no longer available). At the final meeting of the year, the College did choose to provide official support for Mozilla-Thunderbird, mozilla.org's Open Source email client, based largely upon its feature set and cross-platform availability.

Aside from it's support for Thunderbird, the College has chosen not to offer much more than "conceptual support" for an Open Source initiative. Given institutional reluctance to move forward with such an initiative, the Mathematics Department has decided to begin its own commitment to Open Source. As a modest first step, beginning mid June 2004, the department staff will all be using Open Office (on Windows) as the "application of first choice" when dealing with text documents and spread sheets. In dealings with departments outside of our own, the staff will get a good workout using OpenOffice's filters to import and export documents in proprietary formats. And even internally, some reeducation is necessary: in particular, that plain text and pdf are two exceptionally fine file formats. Adding faculty support to our department's effort will be more difficult since most of our faculty either use TeX, or are Macintosh users for which the installation and use of OpenOffice is not as smooth as for Linux and Windows platforms. Nonetheless, it is a small beginning.

Further developments:

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Last modified on May 10, 2010