I don’t believe I’ve made it a secret: I believe strongly in the mission of free and open-source software. I see them as great tools for democratizing technical spaces. Once the burden of cost is removed, the only burden that remains in learning software is the time required to learn it. Thankfully the difference in learning GIMP and Photoshop; in learning QGIS and ARCGIS; in learning PSPP and SPSS is rather minimal and firmly in the reach of every person.
But I do make one large exception to my open-source bias and that is when teaching and especially when the person I am teaching has paid for said instruction. Even if you don’t agree with me, or this rubs you the wrong way (as I know this irks many of my fellow open-source friends), please let me a chance to explain.
On Being a Wet Blanket
If you are going to seek a job for which professional level graphic design is required, you’re going to be using Adobe’s Photoshop. If you’re going to work as a city planner for a local planning agency, ArcGIS is what they’re going to be using. Now there are many reasons for this ranging from the cynical (great marketing, they were first) to to laudatory (they’re the best, been around for a long time) and I don’t think either end completely reflects the reasons, and I don’t necessarily think it matters.
Many of these professional softwares are prohibitively expensive for home use and therefore educational environments are the only place where many will have an opportunity to be exposed to them. For many students the programs that they gain familiar with in an educational environment can be the difference between meeting the bare minimum requirements for applying for a job and not.
But I know _______!
And that is great. An Assset! But unfortunately, its not a qualification in most places and fields. Ideals aside, rarely do hiring directors or commitees hire the candidate with expertise in an alternative application over a preferred application. You may have all the confidence in the world in this person, but unfamiliarity will always place one qualified person without knowledge of a tool behind a qualified person with experience with a tool.
I make this argument first, but a reality which I can say is pernicious and possibly more prevalent is” what is GIMP?”
“Real World,” Jobs and the like, sure. but this is Education!
The last word is the word where I lose this argument: education. If education and imparting skills and knowledge is our job then it might be incumbent upon us to let go of our own biases and offer training and skills which open up opportunities. The goal of education is to offer people the knowledge they need to interact and participate fully as a member of the field or profession that they’ve chosen to study.
The open source analytics packages PSPP is rarely taught because among many fields, among which include academia, SPSS is the standard program and method for analyzing quantitative data. For home use and the sufficiently motivated individual PSPP can accomplish a lot of good. But learning that latter initialism rather than the former can possibly be the difference between a good job and not making it past the first round of the application process.
So when education is at stake, I always tell people that there are other options and let them know where they can find them. But I always push to teach the professional and most widely-used software for that task, even if on my personal home computer there’s QGIS, Gimp, PSPP, Aptana Studio, and Reaper.