This is the third post in a series on introducing open source software into your church. If you haven't already, read parts `one`_ and `two`_ first.

Last week we talked about introducing open source worship presentation software into your church. Once that has been running smoothely for a few weeks, it's probably a good time to explain to your pastor what open source software is all about.

When explaining what OSS is, it is important to make sure you don't use technical terms beyond basic software terminology. Most pastors (indeed most non-IT folk) will not understand the term, "source code" while most open source enthusiasts know what it is because it forms part of the freedoms of OSS.

I think that the first important thing to explain is that you are free to make copies of the software and give copies to anyone you like. Unlike commercial software, which is usually illegal to distribute, OSS by and large depends on free distribution to become widely known. Due to this free distribution, most open source applications are free of charge as well. That said, this is not a requirement, though most OSS enthusiasts tend to look down on people or companies who do that as following open source to the letter, but not in the true spirit of open source.

The second point to make is that because OSS is so free to distribute, you are not locked in to one particular company. There are a lot of companies these days that make their money off implementing and supporting software that they neither wrote nor own. To the "lay" person, this means that you are free to pick and choose who you want to support you, and you are not at the mercy of one company, who can therefore charge what they want.

As a side note: don't fall into the trap of thinking that because you are a church you will get free services. There are "christian" companies out there that specifically target churches, and they make good money off them.

The last thing you need to explain is the most difficult. As I said previously, you need to avoid using terms like, "source code". However, this is the crux of OSS, so it needs to be explained. I usually find it easiest to talk about, "the instructions that the programmer wrote to make this program."

Explain to your pastor that the core of OSS is that the instructions that the programmers wrote to make these applications are available to everybody, under the very same conditions we've already mentioned. While this doesn't directly matter to him, or the average man on the street, it is because these instructions are freely available that the above conditions remain true.

One of the biggest advantages to this last condition is that if a company wants to be malicious, anyone can take that program and continue developing it themselves, with no fear of legal battles with the afforementioned malicious company. A recent example of this very scenario is the split of LibreOffice away from OpenOffice.org due to Oracle's restrictions around OpenOffice.org.

Another advantage of the openness of the instructions is that if a company disappears, that program won't, or at least the way to read and write documents in the program is available for other similar programs to use.

To illustrate this point, think about Microsoft PowerPoint: the only application that can properly open and display newer PowerPoint presentations (those .pptx files) is Microsoft PowerPoint. Not even LibreOffice can open them properly. What would happen to all your annual reports that are written in PowerPoint were Microsoft to suddenly disappear, and PowerPoint no longer be a valid program? Now you can't open or display your annual report presentations.

On the other hand, if LibreOffice were to suddenly disappear, you can still open your documents in KOffice, or AbiWord, or even a few small commercial office suits. This is because not only is LibreOffice open source, but they also implement open standards that anyone is free to use.

I think that once you explain these things to your pastor, he will likely start to look more and more into using open source software where possible. Granted, this will probably be a process of years, rather than days, but you might find your pastor more open to migrating some of his existing applications to open source equivalents as time goes by.

In the next part of this series on introducing OSS, we'll look at migrating from Outlook to Thunderbird, and using Scribus instead of Publisher or (horror of horrors) Word for your church bulletin.


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