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tux Thanks to pioneering initiatives in Indiana, New Hampshire, and other states, Open Source Software is receiving increased attention in US schools.  This page contains several links to various resources you might find interesting, along with information on a book on this topic written by Dr. Thornburg.  Short cuts to the main sections of this page can be found on the panel to the left.

Latest news:
I did a small research project on one-to-one computing using Linux that can be found here. (posted 11/2007).

A report on Indiana's Linux on the Desktop initiative has been published by CoSN here.  It makes for very good reading! (posted 2/5/2007).

Open Source Software (cross platform):
The following programs can save schools hundreds of dollars in software expenditure per computer, and run on all common school platforms (Windows, Macintosh, and Linux)

Function Name Download site
Office suite
Desktop publishing Scribus
Concept mapping tool Cmap
Image editing GIMP
Paint program for young students TuxPaint
Drawing tool Inkscape
Diagram creator Dia (Windows)
3-D image and movie creator Blender
Audio recorder and editor Audacity
Web authoring tool NVU
Advanced Logo programming language NetLogo
Astronomy modeling tool Celestia
Web browser Firefox
Online courseware system Moodle
Elegant web authoring tool Pachyderm
Mathematics visualzation tools MVT
Earth mapping software GoogleEarth
Image website creator JAlbum
3-D image editor Art of Illusion
Jazz improvisation tool Impro-Visor
Video scene creator Jahshaka
NASA math tool MathTrax
NASA virtual microscope Virtual Lab
Global mapping tool OpenMap
Multiple curriculum tools Molecular Toolkit, etc.
Physics simulations PhET
Math tools Shodor
Concept mapping VUE
Animation builder Synfig
Professional Audio Editor Ardour
Vector Graphics Editor Xara Xtreme
Bibliography tool Zotero

Other resources for free open source software exist.  One nice compilation for Windows users is the Open CD.

If you are looking for an open source alternative to a commercial product, one place to start is the Osalt site.  Here you will see a variety of alternatives to some pretty specialized programs - some of which may work better than others.

Another recently updated compilation of open source software for Windows is the WinOSS collection.  The CD image can be downloaded here.  And, there is another nice Windows collection, Software for Starving Students, that can be downloaded as well.

Open Source Resources for Educators:
The following list contains a few resource sites for the use of open source software in schools (This list will be updated regularly):
Open Source Hardware
One of the more ambitious open source projects involves the development of a replicator that can build 3-D parts and machines.  All aspects of this project -- software, circuitry, and the replicator plans themselves, are open source, making this an amazingly powerful project for schools.  The main project site is located at

Two magazines that feature open source hardware designs are Make and Craft.  These quarterly publications are written for those who believe that, if you can't open it, you don't own it.  Many of the articles contain full instructions for hacking or building all kinds of nifty gadgets.  For example, if you don't like the fact that the iPod was not designed for easy battery replacement, you can build your own MP3 player using the directions found here.

In the same spirit, the Make Blog has an open source gift guide with links to some amazing products, some of which are tailor made for student projects in school.

For example, Liberlab is a French project (also available in English) for a cheap ($15) computer interface for remote sensors.  In addition to having students build their own interface, they can design their own projects for measuring temperature, light, etc. for a fraction of the cost of prebuilt commercial products.

Other Open Source Resources:

Open source is not just a concept for software and hardware, as the following sites show:
Open Textbooks and Courses:
The concept of openness does not just extend to computer software.  Textbooks are currently one of the largest material expenses in many school districts, and there is movement toward addressing this challenge by letting textbooks be written by large teams of volunteers who then contribute their efforts to the open source world.  Alternatively, some textbooks are created by a single author who then chooses to make her work available for free access by students and teachers alike.  At this point, the majority of free textbooks are written for college audiences, but K-12 textbooks are under development.

The following links point to a few efforts in this domain, including projects that create open courses.
Please let me know of other projects worth watching!

While excellent open source software exists for all computing platforms, the Linux operating system is starting to get increased attention in schools.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. Linux is now easy to install and use - as easy as any other operating system,
  2. Linux-based computers outperform the same computers running other operating systems,
  3. Linux is much more crash-resistant than Windows XP,
  4. Excellent Linux packages (including a rich collection of commodity educational software titles) are available for free,
  5. A growing number of specialized commercial educational software titles are being ported to Linux from Windows and Mac OS X.
  6. Windows Vista requires more powerful computers than found in most classrooms.

For those wanting support from a company that has been in business for many years, the Novell OpenSUSE and SLED distributions are worthy of attention.  Both of these can be downloaded and installed for free, although SLED has an annual fee for automatic updates and has the kind of support expected of commercial projects.

Of the various Linux implementations available now, one worthy of special attention for education is Edubuntu, which can be downloaded for free and installed on as many computers as you wish.  This implementation supports a good graphical user interface, includes a wide variety of free educational software, provides massive libraries of additional free programs, and periodically updates itself and installed software with a minimum of work on the part of the user.  This is a special version of Ubuntu, the most popular Linux distribution so far.  The latest versions of Ubuntu do an amazingly good job of recognizing various hardware configurations, making setup very easy for first-time users.

Another specialized version of Ubuntu for creative professionals is called Ubuntu Studio.  This version sets up your computer for commercial-grade sound and video editing, all based on free open source software.

While some are bold enough to install Linux on a computer without trying it out first, many distibutions are available as "live CD's" (or DVD's).  After burning one of these discs, you can boot from it directly to make sure that the distribution of Linux you are exploring runs well on your computer.

To keep up with various distributions (distros) of Linux, be sure to visit DistroWatch on a regular basis!

And, for some interesting Linux sites, check these out:

Low cost computing:
Several companies and foundations are working diligently to overcome the global digital divide.  In many cases there is a belief that the strategies used to bring the first billion users online will not work with the next billion.  The following links will connect you with projects designed to address this issue, each in its own way.
Please let me know of other projects worth watching!

When the Best is Free
book cover David Thornburg's new book, When the Best is Free: An Educator's Perspective on Open Source Software, is the first devoted to cross-platform open source software appropriate for classroom use.

This books starts with an overview of the topic and makes the case that well-chosen open source software not only can save schools and districts tremendous amounts of money, but can also provide software at least as good as the proprietary products they replace.

While not a detailed instruction manual for the numerous titles explored in the book, When the Best is Free provides enough information for teachers to decide which titles to install on their computers - no matter if they are using Windows, Macintosh, or Linux-based systems.

Your copy of this excellent book is only $24.95.  E-mail a purchase order for this amount to:, or send a check or purchase order to:

Thornburg Center
New Book
711 Beacon Dr.
Lake Barrington, IL 60010