📝 Asking to use FOSS or an Open Standard

10 Apr, 2018 — 3 min

This article hopes to pass along personal experience I’ve had with asking to use non-“normal” software/formats.

1. Acknowledge that you’re still going to do all of the work

“My thing that wasn’t what you asked for anyway couldn’t do it” is not going to work as an excuse if something breaks. Conversely, this may mean occasionally going back to the software you were originally trying to avoid.

2. Be upfront

If you encounter issues down the road, or if something work fine for you but breaks when the professor opens it, you might be in for a really awkward moment. Depending on the professor, they might have advice from previous students doing the same thing, or might be willing to help you debug any issues you may encounter.

3. Propose your alternative

GIMP, Inkscape, whatever you plan to use. This might also be the format you want to submit in. I’ve also found that the professor might not care as long as it’s submitted in something that opens with what they’re using.

4. Give a good reason

“Too expensive” is a valid one. This can be mixed though, as I’ve found that my professors have been lenient, but heard that others may consider it a material/textbook cost. In the case of an open standard format, try to promote the benefits. For example, while an SVG might not have all the features of a similar proprietary software’s project format, you can drop an SVG into a web browser/page and it’ll work; the format is commonly used & accepted.

5. “In the industry…” and/or “It’s the industry standard”

This is really hard to defend against, particularly since (at least in the US) FOSS is very much not the “industry standard” for design-related fields (not to say it doesn’t happen, just that it’s uncommon). However, I would encourage you to refer back to points #1 & #3, namely that you’re still going to do everything in the assignment and that you have a reason. Unfortunately, this is not quite an ad hoc fallacy, there is evidence of this. Another point for consideration that you might hear is this, which I got when was having a casual conversation after class with one of my professors:

“When you’re in a company they will be paying out of the box for you to use [software]; it’s an assumed cost. Since they are paying for that license, they’re going to be expecting you to use it.”

6. Don’t expect help

The professor might attempt to help you, but they might also leave you completely on your own. This could be due to their own lack of familiarity or time. Regardless, if you’re going outside what they allow, you might get help, but you should not expect it.

7. Know when to back off

Ultimately, if you’re having to seek permission to do this (as in a professor or boss), they will have the final say. Just as it’s good to use FOSS and Open Standards, it’s also important that you don’t destroy your reputation and their goodwill to do so.

8. You’re still welcome to use it on your own

Even if you get denied permission to use the FOSS/Open Standard you wanted to, you can still use it on your own time. This is also a great way to learn. The same professor as quote before also gave me the following:

“In the industry they will expect you to use [software]. Yes, I’d agree that it’s fine to use [FOSS/Open Standards] for personal and indie studio work, but also be aware that a client might expect [proprietary software format].”

Thus, if at first you can’t succeed, start small, and you can get there eventually.

2019-07-29: Content reflow