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Open source software is not only a cheaper option for students, it can also be the better option.

October 24 to 30 was Toronto Open Source Week (TOSW), starting with the Ontario Linux Fest and ending with the Free Software and Open Source Symposium (FSOSS). Open source is a software design approach that opens up the source code, which is normally closely guarded, for users to edit and improve. The programs are turned into a community effort and are usually free to download and use.

“You pay nothing and there is almost every functionality that you need available,” said Ryerson computer science professor Vojislav Misic. He said that when looking for new software, more often than not, “there is an open source tool that does it.”

For students, Misic would recommend OpenOffice, which can be downloaded for free at The application suite, which recently passed its hundred millionth download, offers word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. It’s like Microsoft Office — but without the price tag.

Chris Tyler, a coordinator for TOSW, recommends Mozilla Firefox, a web browser that also happens to be open source. This allows users to create add-ons, which can be downloaded at

Some handy add-ons include a oneclick YouTube video downloader and Boost For Facebook, which adds skins, roll-over pictures and other features to the site.

Open source can do more than save money and deepen Facebook addictions. Tyler said it’s also a useful tool for CS students.

“There’s, first off, obviously cost, and beyond that there’s the opportunity to get involved,” said Tyler.

Talas Glek, a platform engineer for Mozilla, agrees. During his presentation at SOSS, he said that collaborative open source projects give CS students the opportunity to work with programs with millions of lines of code. And the feedback cycle of the open source community can give CS students a leg up.

“With open source it’s more sort of ‘put your effort where your mouth is,’ so if you say something and you do it, you get respect,” said Glek. “It’s very empowering that way.”

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