Open standards in Academica

Posted on October 21, 2016 by Dom Rodriguez

So, I started college this September, and I’ve already come across various challenges when it came to keeping to my software freedom, and not being restricted and oppressed by non-free software.

I’m in the UK, and I’ve heard a lot about MS influence in our schools.. and sadly witnessed it for myself in both primary school, and secondary school.

I hear US is worse for it, however, which is to be expected, considering a lot of non-free software is US-based- read: Microsoft, Oracle, Apple - you name it.

I thought that perhaps in a college, it would be less centred around non-free software, and offer more choice.

Funnily enough, I was somewhat correct. Originally I was told to use Microsoft Word to make my essays in, but I decided on the spot, that Induction Week, that I wasn’t going to do that. Why use a non-free format to submit work in, when I have a open, and somewhat freedom respecting1 format like PDF?

So far, I’ve done essays in LaTeX with the report document class, using my [template][latex-template] that has evolved throughout my college time this year- I started work on it in August, in preparation for college.

I’ve been told by my lecturers that the ‘quality of my work’ is excellent and is laid out perfectly. One of my lecturers used to use LaTeX as well.

I use Zotero and BibLaTeX together to manage references, which works well, along with the Better BibTeX plugin for Zotero. I have a Makefile which downloads the references via the API provided by Zotero.

All in all, I think college has been better off for letting me use formats that work better, but YMMV. Sadly, a lot of schools/colleges still insist on non-free formats, and this has to change. Not later, not in a month, I mean right now.

If your school/college allows other formats than the proprietary Microsoft Word, try using (La)TeX. It may be an old piece of software, but so is email. So is IRC. Age means nothing.

If your school/college doesn’t allow other formats than the proprietary Microsoft Word, try having a look at [this][ms-word-gnu], and perhaps try to raise awareness of it at your school/college. It’s important that MS Word is realised for what it really is.. a denial of the four software freedoms, and vendor lock-in.


  1. Read: DRM and non-free PDF readers. I personally recommend Evince, Zathura or mupdf- these are libre and freedom respecting PDF readers. [latex-template]: https://github.com/shymega/latex-templates [ms-word-gnu]: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/no-word-attachments.en.html