The Penguin Driven Church Office
Every church faces challenges. Ours is growth. Thanks to a donation of 19 computers, we now have more computers than church members. Like church members who simply keep the pews warm, some of these machines need refurbishing. Several do work rather nicely, however. So when I tell you that one of our most active church members is a friendly little penguin who manages our church's data, I'm being quite honest. We call him Saint Tux.
Why should churches let penguins into the Pastor's study? That's a fair question. We considered our options rather carefully. Cost, choice, freedom, ease of use and ability to customize the software were our main issues. We had the connections to obtain software from a large proprietary corporation. Unfortunately, because we're not a 501(c)(3) organization, we didn't get any consideration. We have paperwork from the government that confirms our non-profit status--meaning everyone still gets their tax deductions--but some companies won't touch us because we lack that status.
That situation led us to consider other options, because we cannot afford to pay full price for proprietary software. On top of that basic purchase price, we'd have to pay additional money to obtain church management software. The good news is that our $80 Linux distribution will be able to handle our church data for years to come. If 1,500 people show up one Sunday morning and join our ministry, I can manage all of that data, whether they arrive next Sunday or a year from now.
Aside from cost, choice was another major factor. Choice is important, and not only the choice of which desktop to use. I'm thankful to be able to choose which printing system, text editor, office suite and Web browser we use.
Freedom was another factor in our decision. None of us are programmers, but we know that free software can be redistributed in order to help others. Richard Stallman, the founder of the GNU project, may be an atheist, but his view of software has close theological parallels to Christian theology. Proprietary software limits my ability to help my neighbor, one of the cornerstone of the Christian faith.
An encounter I had with a pastor and one of his deacons left me with the distinct impression, although I did not know for sure, that they might be using proprietary software without the proper licenses. The deacon stated that he had a copy of the software he could bring in for me. It could have been a perfectly legitimate copy, or it could have been a personal copy that he would be giving to the church in violation of those famous End User License Agreements. This possibility raised a few questions: Are churches and other religious groups using proprietary software without the proper licenses? Is this being done with or without the knowledge and consent of the leadership? I'm a preacher, not an attorney. This issue raises a moral question that churches need to consider. Church leaders would consider a person who walks out of a bookstore with a book they haven't paid for to be a thief. Using proprietary software without a license is the same thing--stealing.
The penalties for violating copyright are far more costly than the price of the software in question. Even settling out of court is costly. Church leaders should do everything within their power to ensure that all software is in compliance with the law. If a church cannot afford proprietary software, it really needs to consider open-source software. The reply that "everyone uses that other software" is no excuse, especially because current open-source products are highly compatible with proprietary products.
Given the conversations I've had with others about Linux, a lot of people seem to think you have be a rocket scientist or a masochist to use Linux. That is simply untrue. In addition to recent studies demonstrating that Linux is no more difficult to use than are other operating systems, my personal experience is that anyone who can read and follow instructions can use Linux.
Because most of the graphical interface is so similar to Windows, I'm puzzled that people would think Linux is more difficult. On the contrary, Linux actually tends to be more intuitive in many respects. Multiple desktops allow me to organize my work. I can roll up a window instead of minimizing it, which often is more efficient. Heck, even the command line offers ease of use. If you discover a typo, you simply backspace to the error and edit it instead of the whole line.
Everything about Linux is customizable. I may not be the most experienced system administrator, but at least I know I can reconfigure my kernel if I need to do so. I don't have to understand every part of the system right now--I can pick it up as I go.
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