Western Kentucky University if one of seven academic programs working on a joint Knight Brothers 21st Century News Challenge grant (Ithaca College, Kansas State, Michigan State, Saint Michael’s College, the Univeristy of Kansas, and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas).

Three student-developed projects were presented at the Online News Association conference last year. This summer, the innovative digital news projects are being tested at newspapers. We were instructed to use open-source software for our projects.

Open-source is free. In the open-source community, there are comparable programs for every retail package produced by the big companies. Open-source software can be well- documented and is often supported by a large community of programmers.

For example, Gimp, an open-source tool that does most of what Adobe Photoshop does, can be downloaded for free at www.gimp.org. Adobe Photoshop CS3 is a minimum of $369.00. The developers who maintain Gimp provide downloadable manuals and plug-ins and tutorials as well. They even have a user forum. Gimp is stable and well- respected in the design community. Amazon.com lists at least five recent how-to books on Gimp.

Another open-source example is OpenOffice (available at www.openoffice.org). Students who may end up writing for a living can download this very robust office suite for free and for just about any computer platform including Windows and OSX. The program includes a word processor, a presentation program, a spreadsheet program and a basic drawing program. Sound familiar?

OpenOffice is very much like Microsoft Office—-some proponents think it may even be better. OpenOffice can even open existing Microsoft Office files and save them out again in Microsoft Office compatible formats. There are no fewer than six how-to manuals available via your local bookstore (or the Web) for OpenOffice.

We tell our students that when they for go a job interview, the employer is going to be more impressed if they can do “Flash” rather than an open-source software.

Is it okay to only teach the open-software and save the students some money?