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WriteType -a word processor to help students write

While looking for an open source technology to review, I came across WriteType, .an open source word processor geared towards school-age children.  I work in special education in a middle school and all too often I hear students lament about having to type out assignments.  WriteType through the combination of an accessible interface and valuable features, strives to be a word processor that students can readily use.

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The WriteType window

Let’s start by checking out the WriteType window, shown in the screenshot at left.  As can be seen, the interface is WYSIWYG, offering a menu bar and the top of the window and simple toolbars below this.  WriteType offers only the most common word processing features, such as text and paragraph formatting.  Features can be quickly and easily utilized via either the menu or the toolbars.  Simply put, everything a user needs is here.  There are no tabs or complex menus offering features that can confuse new users and into which one could get lost .  This functionality is further enhanced by context menus accessed by right-clicking on the text or area in question.

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Note the Word Completion list on the right

So, what makes WriteType ideal for students?  The integration of certain tools takes much of the pain out of writing.  One of these tools is word completion.  As the screenshot on the right shows, as they type, users are presented with a list of suggested words in the gray field on the right-hand side of the screen.  Simply click on the the desired word in the list, or press an indicated function key, and the complete word is inserted into the document.  Another useful feature is the fact that WriteType can read back what users have typed, which will help them to catch mistakes prior to proofreading or printing.

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WriteType’s Se tings window

If these features aren’t reason enough to give WriteType some serious consideration, other features include auto-correction and grammar checking.  Users can also add words to the integrated spelling list.  Text highlighting allows users to mark areas of text in need of attention.  Distraction-free mode allows users to work without the added distraction of a menu and toolbars.  Other customizations include adjusting read-back speed as well as changing the font size of the suggested word list.  WriteType also offers multilingual support.  WriteType can be readily customized further via the Settings option under the File menu.  Documents can be saved in either the native WriteType format (.wtd), as formatted text (.html) or as plain text (.txt)

WriteType is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS.  WriteType teacher workshops are available for free to schools in the Minneapolis area.

Resources

WriteType Home Page

Reference

Documentation: a word processor to help students write.  (n.d.).  GNU General Public License.

Shinn, M.  (2010).  WriteType [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

Partimus: Educational Opportunities Through Open Source

Arguably, one of the greatest strengths of open source software is that it can add new life to old hardware. For example, I have a Dell laptop built for the now unsupported Microsoft Windows XP. The lack of support from Microsoft doesn’t bother me, because that laptop is now running Xubuntu 14.04 LTS. With this in mind, I’ve chosen to take a look at Partimus, an organization that refurbishes computers, installs open source software on them and then distributes the computers to students and schools that need them.

Partimus logo

Partimus Mission Statement: Provide educational opportunities through open technology to educators and students.

Partimus (Latin for “we share”) is non-profit and currently serves schools in the San Francisco Bay area. This project was co-founded by Cathy Malmrose and Maile Urbancic. These two ladies share a passion for helping children succeed and for open source technology. They also share a background working in education. The organization is now run by a board the members of which share the passions that led to Partimus being established.

Students working in a computer lab.
Students using the new computer lab at the ASCEND School.
(Photo from Robert Litt of ASCEND School)

So, what kind of projects has Partimus been involved with? One program that they implemented that is somewhat close to my heart (see my blog of February 25, 2015, An Old Laptop Made New) is the Laptops for Linux Users (LALU) program. They accept donated laptops (better they should go to people who need them than to sit on a closet shelf forgotten). The people at Partimus then talk to the person who needs the laptop and they install the free and open source software needed to meet the user’s requirements. For example, on the Partimus site, they mention helping an elderly Washington state woman, Sky, who was a retired system administrator. Sky likes to help others, especially elderly friends, get into computing. She could not afford a new computer, so the people at Partimus matched her up with a laptop that fulfilled her needs. Now Sky provides elderly friends with laptops running Puppy Linux and helps them get started in computing.

Computer lab in a school library
The new computer lab in the library at the International Studies Academy.

Partimus has also provided used computers running the Linux OS to schools in the San Francisco Bay area. Partimus donated over 20 networked, standalone Ubuntu Linux desktop computers to the International Studies Academy in San Francisco. This school has 420 students in grades 6-12 who are pursuing the study of foreign cultures, languages and geography. These computers provide Internet access using Mozilla Firefox and productivity via OpenOffice. Other schools that have received Linux computers and ongoing support from Partimus include the KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy in San Francisco, the ASCEND School in Oakland and the Computer & Technology Resource Center in Novato, among others. All of these organizations are non-profit.

So you’re thinking “This is a wonderful organization, Chris, but what can I do to help?” There are a variety of things that you can do to help Partimus bring technology to those in need. They accept the following hardware: flatpanel monitors, laptops and desktops with at least 1 GB of RAM and CPUs at 2 Ghz (at least), optical mice and USB/PS2 keyboards. You can also give the gift of funds through monetary donations or through the patronage of such companies as AmazonSmile and Boutique Academia. For more information about how you can help or to ask them to help your non-profit organization with its computer needs, check out their Web site (link below).

Resources
Partimus Home Page

References
Information for this article was taken from the Partimus Web site.
All images are from the Partimus Web site.

Three Open Source Web Development Appllications You Should Check Out

If you’re a Web developer, you probably have invested in Adobe Dreamweaver, which is a powerful, proprietary Web development application. There are open source alternatives that you should consider. Why consider open source? The biggest reason is financial expense. For Dreamweaver alone, without additinal packaged software, the price is $249.00. The software that I address here is free. Another reason to give these programs a try is that each of these develpment tools is full-featured, providing everything you need, plus a few surprises.

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Bluefish Editor

Bluefish. Bluefish has been called a developer’s HTML editor. This is because, unlike the other two programs addressed here, users work entirely with code in an environment similar to a text editor. This may seem daunting to new-comers to Web design, but many developers feel that this gives you complete control over every element of your Web pages. Bluefish can be readily customized through several ways. Toolbars are divided by tabs, according to categories (Forms,Frames, CSS, etc.). The Quickbar is an empty toolbar to which users can add frequently used tools offered by other toolbars. A menu bar provides a ready alternative to the toolbars. Bluefish can be easily customized through Preferences, offered under the Edit menu. Customizations can be applied to appearance, default document formatting, output parsers and plugins as well as to many other aspects of Bluefish. The screenshot on the left gives a good look at a typical Bluefish session.

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KompoZer in split screen mode

KompoZer. KompoZer is a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get; pronounced whi-zee-wig) Web authoring tool. In layman’s terms, this means that users can create Web pages graphically (typing, dragging and drppping, text formatting, etc.). KopoZer also allows users to work directly with the code. Furthermore, KompZer offers a split screen view that divides the work area into two panes. The top pane displays the current page in WYSIWYG mode, while the bottom pane displays the page in HTML/text mode. In addition to these interesting features, KompoZer offers everything a Web developer needs. Features can be accessed through a toolbar or menus. This includes customization. One neat feature is a tool that allows users to validate their code (HTML/XHTML) through a direct link to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Code Validation Service on the Internet. KompoZer is supported by Mozilla, the people behind such open source programs as the Firefox Web Browser and the Thunderbird email client. Check out the screenshot to the right for a look at KompZer in action.

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BlueGriffon doing it’s thing (thanks to the BlueGriffon team for the screenshot).

BlueGriffon. BlueGriffon is a WYSIWYG Web authoring tool that allowing users to work in either a graphical environment or directly with code. This application, like KompoZer, is supported by Mozilla. BlueGriffon utilizes Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine, which is used by Firefox to display Web pages. This means that Web pages created and viewed in BlueGriffon will appear the same in Mozilla Firefox as they do when previewed in BlueGriffon, regardless of the operating system being used. BlueGriffon has all of the features you would expect to find in a Web authoring program. Customization is easily handled through the Preferences option under the Edit menu. There are also a variety of add-ons offered on the BlueGriffon home page to enhance functionality. These include a user’s manual, a CSS editor and an integrated FTP client. The screenshot at left shows BlueGriffon being used to edit a page in text mode (thanks to the people at BlueGriffon for use of this screenshot).

In closing, I just want to say that technology does not always have to be expensive and that just because you have not heard of an application, doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you. There are other open source Web development programs out there, so if you find that these don’t meet your needs, I encourage you to do a little research and find something that will. A little time and effort can save you money and possibly result in finding an application that will make you wonder how you managed without it.

Resources

BlueGriffon Home Page
KompoZer Home Page

References
BlueGriffon [computer software]. (2010). GNU General Public License.
KompoZer [computer software]. (2010). GNU General Public License.
Sessink, O. et al. (2010). Bluefish [computer software]. GNU General Public License.

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

GIMP is a very powerful, feature-rich and versatile image creation and editing tool. Better still, it’s open source. Users can do everything from simple photo enhancement to creating lively, eye-catching graphics. Among the tools built into GIMP are a wide variety of brushes, special effects for customization and support for layers. Web masters can even use GIMP to create image maps. In short, GIMP has every feature you would expect to find in a modern image editing application.

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The author created this parody of a popular product using GIMP.

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

If you’re looking for a full-featured spreadsheet application that is light on system resources, you should take a look at Gnumeric. Gnumeric is an open source electronic spreadsheet program that is free, fast, light and stable. Users will find all of the tools one would expect to find in a spreadsheet -a sum tool, statistical analysis, cell formatting and graph/chart generation and insertion. These are just a few of the useful tools available. So check out Gnumeric and find your next spreadsheet application.

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Could Gnumeric be your next spreadsheet?

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

It’s summertime again (at least in the northern hemisphere). You’ll no doubt be taking lots of photos to cpature some memories. If you want a cutting-edge application to edit your photos, you need look no further than GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). GIMP is a powerful and versatile open source application for creating and editing images. GIMP is every bit as feature-rich as Adobe PhotoShop, but at none of the financial expense. So why pay big bucks to modify your summer photos, when a viable alternative is so readily available?

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Summer fun viewed in GIMP.

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

If you’re concerned about Microsoft Internet Explorer’s vulnerabilities, I’d recommend that you try an open source alternative, such as Mozilla Firefox, Mozila Seamonkey or Chromium Web Browser. Open source Web browsers are stable, secure and just as user-friendly as Internet Explorer. Best of all, they’re free to download, use and share, so check out an open source Web browser. It might just change your Web surfuring experience.

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Mozilla Firefox displaying information about Mozilla’s license.

GIMP -not just a photo editor

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a versatile and feature-rich image creation and editing application. Chris WHittum, the author of Energize Education through Open Source: Using Open Sorce Software to Enhance Learning, used GIMP to create the eye-catching logo below.

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If Chris Whittum made this simple banner with GIMP, just think about what your students could create. (This image is released under GPL.)

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

Mozilla Firefox is probably the best-known piece of open source software. It’s stable, secure and lightweight. Firefox can be readily customized in a number of ways and supports tabbed browsing.

alt="energize education through open source,open source educational software,open source instructional software,free educational software,free instructional software,open source educational technology,open source instructional technology,free educational technology,free instructional technology,christopher whitttum,christopher d. whittum"
Mozilla Firefox (Thanks to the Mozilla Project for the image.)

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

Make a New Year’s resolution that you can stick to. Save yourself hundreds of dollars by switching to LibreOffice, OpenOffice.org or any other open source productivity suite rather than upgrading your current proprietary software. You can then use the money saved to take your significant other out on the town. You can both thank me later.

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The LibreOffice Logo