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A Student Manages to Graduate Using Exclusively Free Software

Item posted by Dora Scilipoti <dora> on Wed 21 Apr 2021 03:16:06 PM UTC.

A student of Computer Science in Poland fights back proprietary software at his university and manages to graduate using only free software.

How I Fought To Graduate Without Using Nonfree Software

by Wojciech Kosior

As a university student, I have struggled during the pandemic like everyone else. Many have experienced deaths in their families, or have lost their jobs. While studying informatics at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, Poland, I have been fighting another, seemingly less important battle, but one I passionately feel is vital to our future freedoms. I describe my fight below, so as to encourage and inspire others.

Gentle persuasion

Without serious problems, I completed the fifth semester of my studies. At the beginning of the sixth semester, the pandemic began. Universities closed their physical facilities, so most students returned home and professors started organizing remote classes. Unsurprisingly, they all chose proprietary platforms. Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, ClickMeeting, and Skype were popular choices. I could not find a free software client for any of those. Also, not realizing the problem of nonfree js, professors expected everyone to be able to easily join the video sessions using any web interface.

How did I handle these requirements? I would very politely email every single professor who announced something would be done using a problematic platform, explaining the lack of a suitable free software client. I often included a link to a popular online explanation of the issues of software freedom and universities, the “Costumed Heroes” video created by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), along with some other links to free videoconferencing programs like Jami and Jitsi Meet.

Although there are many documented surveillance and security issues on these centralized platforms, I explained that, for me, software freedom was the troubling factor. Replies urging me to “run the program in a virtual machine” or saying that I “don't need the source code to use the service,” made it clear that some of my professors didn't understand, or understood only part of the issues. Had I been studying anything other than informatics, I suspect the fraction of those who understood the problem would be far smaller.

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