Zotero and Open Source Software

Logo Open Source Initiative

Image via Wikipedia

What two posts in the same week? Could this be?! I have some time so yes I’m writing about something not practicum related. Give me a break it’s my last semester. Anyways I just wanted to speak more on this Zotero tool. I’ve had a chance to use it more as I do my research for a paper I have due at the end of this month (read:Monday) and I wanted to share my thoughts on it.

I’m a big supporter of open source software. If I happen upon a new software I try to see if there is an open source twin floating around. Sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I get a lot of junk. Not many people know what open source is and what it does.

” The term open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s source materials.” – Wikipedia

Open source can be applied to a lot more than technology and software but for the purpose of this post it’s being applied to software. So “open source software is software whose source code is published and made available to the public, enabling anyone to copy, modify and redistribute the source code without paying royalties or fees.” Open source software is not software that has been pirated from some big named creator and given a different name. Pirated software is the software that is illegal and causing someone to loose money. While open source has it’s problems, it’s still legal and fair.

What are those problems? Well for one is someone has to have the notion to create open source software. It’s sometimes a thankless job, because you aren’t going to get paid for doing it. You might receive donations from grateful users but don’t bank on it (pun intended =D). Because it’s free it will not be perfect. Some of the bells and whistles you will find on the $100 counterpart will probably never be introduced to the free open source version. However never is a strong word and people are always contributing to their favorite open source software making it better all the time. So if you want to use a software for a certain function don’t disregard the free open source one right out of hand if that function isn’t available.

But enough about that, Zotero is why I sat down to write this post. And why I’m loving Zotero as suppose to my old way of managing my citations. Well first my old way, which entailed keeping a list of sources in a document in the same folder as the downloaded pdf files and typing up hand written notes. Then as I wrote my paper when ever I pulled from these pdfs or written notes, I would use the built in citation tool that came with my word processor and create a citation list that way. It was very time consuming and often times I found myself with a single quote or a unfinished citation that I had no idea where it came from. What makes Zotero so much better?

Well first off it’s integrated into my browser, it’s not extra program window I have to keep open and risk closing it before I had a chance to save it. I don’t have to make sure I bring it when I head to the library or if I happen to get some free time to do some random researching/writing I don’t have to search for paper and pen. I can download it to any firefox browser sign in and it’s has all of my notes and sources ready to go. The best part is as I am searching online I can click one button and all the information I need is transfered to the zotero widget. As well a space to write detailed, formatted notes. When I’m ready to write the paper I can open up my word processor and because I went ahead and downloaded the word processing add-on I can do in text citations with another simple click of the button. I can view my notes about a source by running a report on my collection and saving it to my computer.  When I’m done I can click create bibliography and it creates a simple bibliography that I can update just as easily. Seamless research at it’s best.

However because it’s free means that it’s not perfect. Some sites don’t work as well as others and I do have to manually insert the information on some sources. However that’s not a big deal because I have the source in front of me will I do it. Which works fine when I have physical items as well. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles as some of it’s more expensive cousins but it’s great for the basic if not better.

I haven’t tested all of the features like shared collections, offline dealings, etc. But I do know that it’s great having all my sources saved to the cloud and all I have to do is sign on to zotero.org and pull them up if I don’t want to download the add-on and I don’t have my laptop. The user interface is great and not clunky at all and the updates made to it by the users are incredible. I recommend this to anyone who does lite to heavy research (read: EVERYONE!). The free accounts get 100MB of space, but the price for more isn’t bad and there are discounts for libraries and institutions.

I’m curios to learn of other open source software that anyone else would like to recommend.


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