FSFE Fellowship Blogs weblog
Studying at the institute
Studying at Moscow Aviation Institute I meet with different lecturers, different sciences and of course different software. As most of lecturers are quite an old men, some of them do not know computers and computer’s software and some of them know only that, what were introduced in Russia in the middle of 90s. Where PCs became accessible for people. Of course nearly all of this computers run Microsoft’s operating systems, such as Windows or DOS. Of course people did not know anything about free software, “alternative” OSes and even Windowses quite good. And of course nearly everything was stolen, was free (priceless). The bigger part of engineering and scientific programs in our institutes was created on that PCs with illegal Windowses.
Today, great quantity of works, tasks, etc for students are in need of computer and in need of those old programs. Many of them are lecturer’s property – their own creations. And everything of this can cause many problems for a man trying to use, support only free software. Some lecturers give their programs with all corresponding source code (as a rule it is Fortran programming language). The other part of them gives only binary/object code and deny giving it’s source code, as, as they say, it is very hard to understand and is very important and expensive intellectual property. And the other one uses scripts for MatLab, MathCad and force to use this products. Also, many of them demand to use Microsoft Office Word’s format for all reports, Excel for building graphs and AutoCAD for drawings.
It is very hard to study in such environment. Most works I can complete using free GNU Octave instead of MatLab, Maxima or SAGE instead of MathCad, Gnuplot for building graphs and QCad instead of AutoCAD and assure teachers that there is no need in proprietary, expensive, unreliable software and I can successfully use the free one instead. I can say that I have got no money to purchase most of this software. They can give it to me, but nearly all of it requires Microsoft Windows to work. Problems can appear even when teachers give task itself… again in closed proprietary Word or MathCad format. They can refuse to talk with me, because I deny using of proprietary software on my computers, I can not afford it, I do not trust it and in best case I forced to run it in virtual machine or separate computers, because I have got valuable documents and information on my PC. And currently I am not talking about the ethical and social aspect of such doings: only about price, safety of my information, compatibility with other software, legal use of it (I do not want to be offender).
Instead of learning, much deeper diving in science, I have to listen how to do something in expensive non-free software and simultaneously learn the free alternative of it at home (actually I like it, but it takes much time). And then, I must prove that work’s results are correct and full. And, by the way, I have to take notebook and show my work on it (if paper printings are not enough) – as teachers will deny installing the free software, they do not know and do not want to know. And they can not accept that student can use the really hard and serious programs (OpenFOAM for example for aerohydrodynamics computing). And in other case I have got big problems with the teacher and have to show my work to the other one.
But hopefully something becomes good after all this stories. People, seeing those rejections, hard positions, begin to think about the cause, they begin to answer why are you doing so, what is the problem. They discover the free software existence and it’s benefits. People begin to think, think about their future. They are not calculation mechanisms anymore, they are thinking creations – people – from the lecturer’s view. And after several years of studying I see progress – recommendations and offers (by teachers) to use OpenOffice, Maxima and LaTeX for example.
PS: Today I discovered DreamSpark project of Microsoft. It’s aim is to freely give different software (including Windows OS itself) to students. It is terrible. They are openly forcing students (and future workers, users of proprietary software) anyhow to use their products. Also they force students to register in their Windows Live service. On their site I saw many student’s competitions. I (as a student) was very interested in that, interested in competition’s reports. But… everything is available only in OpenXML-based Office formats. Looking on other links I found student’s “success” stories. There and there (in russian). I can not believe in such delirium, I can not believe are there really exist people who can believe in them? Are Microsoft Office’s users/student are so silly? I was shocked.