OFSET is a not for profit French international association under the law of 1901. It has been set up in response to the slow development of free educational software. It will promote all possible forms of development and localisations needed by the world wide education system. OFSET wants to be very close to the philosophical aspirations of the FSF.
The concept of free computing is based on the distribution of software with the complete source code that can be freely used, modified, distributed and protected due to the copy-left license.
A free educational software follows several principles:
- Freedom to use a software without restriction;
- Freedom to copy, sell and share it between teachers and students;
- Freedom to understand its internals;
- Freedom to modify and redistribute it. Here, the author should be very careful with the distribution license used. We suggest using a copy-left license and specifically the GNU GPL;
- Academic freedom: the freedom from corporate interest in the area of education. Software should be picked by teachers based on merit, rather than because a company has given money to the teacher. Also free software does not lock students into proprietary standards.
- Equality of access to the knowledge that can be generated by free software in an educational environment;
- Equality of access to the knowledge transported by free software, for example access to the world wide web infrastructure.
Fraternity between developers and users thanks to free access to the source code. A developer does not have any interest in hiding information. On the contrary, the more information he provides the greater the chance of user contributions. The users can also adapt the software to their needs. If they do not have this capability, they can suggest additions to the authors and even help OFSET by becoming a member of the organization.
The remarks by users to authors are always taken into consideration by the authors.
In fact, a division between free software developers and users does not exist. A user can easily participate in the development of an application, by creating source code, translations, documentation, graphic art, etc.;
Fraternity between developers, especially in two ways. First by allowing sharing and cooperation between authors of different projects, due to the open nature of the source code. Second by very close cooperation between authors to build extensive projects: for example the Gnome project, where close to 300 developers work towards the realisation of a free GUI;
This fraternity is the real strength of free software, thanks to the copy-left GNU GPL license. In less then 15 years and with few financial resources it has produced a completely free operating system - GNU/Linux - out-classing many alternatives. In the world of computer science, 15 years is a long time but we have to consider that the project started from scratch and now offers an entire system. After all, 15 years is not long considering the freedom we now get. The main goal of OFSET is to promote this rising freedom in educational software.
Free Educational Software
The development of free software is mostly conducted trough the Internet using tools such as mailing-lists, IRC and CVS. The developers are very often volunteers but increasingly business companies dedicating development time to free software. With the huge energy spent in projects like Gnome and KDE, it is realistic to think that in the near future the GNU/Linux system will be a major player in the desktop scene. To allow the emergence of free software in primary and middle schools we need to develop more free educational software dedicated to teaching. Also, free software has an intrinsic educational value: the source code. Free access to computer tools allows advanced students to go further on their own: 1. they acquire a sense of emancipation in exploring and modifying software; 2. they are formed through the idea of free collaboration in software development.
Today installing a workstation based on GNU/Linux in a school is a reality. The distributions are getting more and more easy to install. Even if installing such a system requires specific knowledge or training, several schools have taken the step. Taking care of such a system is quite easy thanks to the rock solid behavior of GNU/Linux.
Of course, a system of networked GNU/Linux workstations is not enough for a school. A lot of applications that can be used in schools are available under GNU/Linux and cover several areas - with greater emphasis on science. Schools need applications for common needs such as office and communication software, but schools also need specific educational software to support teaching.
These applications exist in proprietary forms but are not always available in free equivalents. When available, it’s in very specific domain area and very often it is not localized to the language required by the user. A problem of the existing applications that can be used in school is their lack of consistency concerning the user interface. This is really a challenge to students as they need to learn a different interface with almost each application.
OFSET will be very meticulous regarding this issue by following the FSF guideline and favoring the GNOME desktop for free educational software development.