Being an Apple owner and being in education, I want to state unequivocally that what our hobby needs most is more free public domain software—especially in the field of education. We in education are in the business of disseminating ideas, methods of thinking, algorithms, and so forth, which by their very nature cannot be copyrighted or possessed in any way. No one can own the Pythagorean theorem! No one can own our language, or our history, or our science. There is a contradiction in principle between public access to this knowledge and private ownership of the materials that communicate this knowledge. So, for example, when the order for textbooks is late arriving at the bookstore, we quite readily photocopy whole chapters for our students to use. And we copy these chapters in class-sized lots—by the dozais. I feel exactly the same about software. Why do we in education make students buy books? Certainly they don't need the books to learn the material. The libraries, both school and public, have copies. And the teacher teaches. I have all the material in my head and I do my best to present it in class. All the students really have to do is pay attention. But they cannot take me home and pick my brain at their convenience. If they do, they will have to pay me a fee for tutoring. The content is free; the convenience is not. That's why they buy textbooks—so they can haul them around and peruse them when and if they wish.
The same applies to software. The content simply cannot be protected. The convenience and ready access really is something worth selling. It is certainly worth what textbooks of comparable content are going for in the current market, but no more. Yet, there is another issue involved A few big textbook publishers have an unhealthy stranglehold on the education of our youth. One particular biology text, for example, is used in over half our country's school systems. And that text, in the last few years, has watered down its treatment of evolution to an innocuous few pages, seeking the lowest common denominator and the big business. We do not want to allow a similar thing to happen in educational software. Recently, Softalk began a regular column on educational software that is nothing more than one review after another of software that almost no one can afford to buy. These reviews end up being nothing but more detailed advertisements than the ads that the publishers actually pay for. This is useless. It just helps me decide ahead of time which software I will bother to copy illegally whenever I get the opportunity. What is needed is a column on educational software that gives listings, that tells us where we can get something at a reasonable cost (say, under twenty-five dollars), and that helps the people in the classroom learn to program in order to take up the slack until the publishers learn what education is really all about.
Ellis R. McDaniels, Williamsville, NY - V3N1