Overcoming the “Required” Use of Microsoft in College

In this interview Daniel Bray (Lupine) of the Ubuntu Florida LoCo Team explains how he was able to use Ubuntu instead of Microsoft to complete his college degree. In an era when almost all schools in the United States require that its students use either Microsoft or Mac based technical solutions, Bray finds a way to exercise his freedom of choice and use Free and Open Source software to complete his degree.

Question: Can you please tell me a little about yourself?

Daniel Bray: My name is Daniel Bray, I’m 35, I live in Rockeldge, Florida with my wife Kristyn. Currently, I’m working full time for Harris as a Systems Engineer. I’m the team lead for a great group of guys, and our primary responsibilities are taking care of Health First, Inc. (a health care provider for Brevard County).


Question: What school did you attend? What is your major?

Daniel Bray: UCF. B.S. in Information Systems Technology (December 2008) M.S. in Digital Forensics (in progress)


Question: Did you attend classes online or in a classroom setting? If both what was the ratio? Was having the option to do both important and why?

Daniel Bray: The entire B.S. degree was online, as is the M.S. degree. With my work schedule, a 24/7/365 hospital environment, attending classes online is the only option that fits into my schedule.


Question: How many of your classes “required” that you use Microsoft applications to complete your assignments? What were the challenges you faced being told you had to use something other than Open Source Software to complete your classes?

Daniel Bray: It’s hard to put an exact number the classes. Probably about 90% of them stated they “required” MS Office. However, after questioning the professor, they all accepted PDF format for my papers, so I just used LibreOffice to export out. Other requirements were the ability to view proprietary PowerPoint files, which again, LibreOffice took care of for me. Probably the biggest thing that jumped out at me, is that the web portal that UCF uses, to this date, still states that I’m running an unsupported OS.


Question: Since you chose to use Ubuntu in school what were the biggest obstacles you faced as a user and how did you over come them?

Daniel Bray: Obstacles? What are those? Ubuntu removes obstacles, it doesn’t create them. Seriously, other than some annoyances of disheartening “Supported OS” documentation (see link above), I can not recall any thing that I could label as an obstacle. True, every now and then I needed to use Wine to check out a Win only based forensic tool, but that was never too difficult to setup and get running. Other tools like VirtualBox was a must have when doing network related examinations (studying Wireshark captures). There was never really an obstacle, just a different way of doing things. I felt like it was just all part of the learning process.


Question: Since you graduated what field are you currently employed in? Can you tell readers the technologies you use at work? Does this differ from what you use at home if so how? Why?

Daniel Bray: I am employed in the same field I graduated in, which is Information Technology. At work we use a vast variety of technologies. I primarily stick to my Ubuntu laptop to get my day to day work done. I bring it back and forth to home, so that I can keep a familiar and efficient environment with me at all times. A lot of the development work I do, web apps, etc. all follow me wherever I go.


Question: Since you currently work as a Systems Engineer and developer, what applications have you developed? Are they Web based? What languages the applications written in and what tools are needed. What are some of the security challenges you faced during development?

Daniel Bray: For my work based applications, I pretty much stick to the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack. However, I’ve had to tackle various tasks with scripts written in Perl, Bash, and Python. I have a pretty firm hold on what security requirements are required for the organization, so I was easily able to accommodate those needs into my web apps. For example, all web-based authentication is accomplished using a TLS secured LDAP connection. This is all seamless, and occurs in the background.

Another work related tool I use on a daily basis, pyconnmgr, is written completely in Python, and with a Glade frontend. This is a huge time saver for me, as I constantly have to SSH, SFTP, SMB, FTP into various servers throughout the day.


Question: What do you want other students faced with similar difficulties to understand about this process and your continued success with using Free and Open Source Software via Ubuntu as a solution.

Daniel Bray: Don’t believe anything, until you try it for yourself. Make smart, educated choices, and you will usually be happy with the results. You can always have a safety net like VirtualBox standing by, which I had to use a few times for various “network intrusion assignments”, so there really is nothing to fear. Most things are going web based, and FireFox is FireFox, so if the web app says that it supports that, then just ignore the incorrectly labeled “Required OS”.


Question: Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you about your success story that you would like to mention now?

Daniel Bray: A success story, me? I wouldn’t go that far. Honestly, I don’t even look at using Ubuntu as being different anymore. To me, it’s just a way of life. I mean, at this point, I think it would be more difficult to start using proprietary OSes and software. And why would I want to create problems for myself. Some people tell me they “just use Windows because it’s easier”. Well, after using Ubuntu for a few years now, I have the exact same argument. I just use Ubuntu because it’s easier.


Many thanks to Daniel Bray and Chris Crisafulli for making this interview possible.


For more info on how you can participate in and contribute to Ubuntu, visit: http://www.ubuntu.com/community/participate.


I'm also having some success with this.

As a mechanical engineering major, the challenges are different, but I'm also having some success with Ubuntu in my classes.

I'm thankful that the commercial Matlab programming language supports Linux. (Hopefully the first of many commercial programs to support Linux) I couldn't use any of the free alternatives, because I actually needed the Matlab GUI for various reasons.

For most of my typed assignments, openoffice works great.

On the other hand, there have also been some letdowns. I had to use MS Excel for one of my classes that dealt with some very advanced features that don't work the same in alternate programs, and I was also expected to learn some highly obscure GUI features of excel.

Also, I need to use alot of drafting/CAD software for my classes, and almost none of it has been ported to Linux. For this reason, I dual-boot.

We're making progress, but we need commercial software companies to realize that Linux is starting to really matter, and we need to accept that commercial software isn't evil, it's just not free.

I got away from windows in college too

I was a distro hopper back then experimenting with pclos, linux mint, ubuntu, and mepis.

First off, for general use college programs. Yes, there are plenty of linux equivalents. There's almost an equivalent to everything. And when there wasn't, i used wine.

Then i had my excel 2007 class. It was very essential to do my homework at home as opposed to a computer lab with the right software.
So without further ado, i didn't slap down money for office 2007 for a one semester class. This was also back in early 2008 when wine didn't support office 2007 yet. I opted for a virtual machine environment in linux. Yet again, i didn't slap down money for windows for a one semester class.

The virtual machine was the perfect working last ditch effort for getting a program that absolutely wouldn't run in linux to run in linux. And no, i didn't pirate windows or office 2007. I borrowed a copy of xp and office 2007 from a friend, installed them, and just never activated them in the virtual machine. After 30 days of non activated xp, and 21 uses of office (unactivated office just turns into a document viewer after so many uses), the easiest thing to do was just to format and reinstall everything on the virtual machine.

In reality that sounds like a lot of complication just to save some money for one semester and to not use windows as my primary operating system and with everything being legal. But, in reality, it's really easy and fast to redo a virtual machine two to three times a week (this was preferable to spending mad money on an os and expensive office suite i'd only be using once). Since then, wine has come out of beta supporting office 2007 that i have since never needed to touch again. Relying completely on linux is quite possible, and is definitely getting better.

Follow along as Ubuntu enthusiast and Community organizer Amber Graner helps put the "You" in Ubuntu.

Amber Graner is an active Ubuntu community member and organizer who encourages everyone around her to participate, support, and learn about Ubuntu and Open Source. With a smile and a sense of humor, Amber reminds people that there is a place for everyone in the Ubuntu community – regardless of technical skill level (or lack thereof). She is constantly looking for people, places, and events within the Ubuntu community that help inspire Ubuntu users to participate actively within the Ubuntu community. Email Amber at amber AT ubuntu-user DOT com.


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