Yesterday I started looking into MIT OpenCourseWare and got very excited. The range of courses for which there is open material available is enormous. With these curricula at my fingertips, the way was open for me to educate myself, on my own time, without significant expense.
Then I dug a little deeper, into the available content for their introductory course on Nonlinear Dynamics I: Chaos. To my dismay, I learned that their assignments involved code snippets written for MATLAB, proprietary mathematics software for which you need to purchase a license.
MATLAB is an excellent product and a standard software package used in universities, so it makes sense that courses transitioning to openness would initially depend on it. However, it presents a serious obstacle to the open distribution and use of the course content.
Fortunately, Ryan Morlock has listed several open source alternatives to MATLAB, and some use languages that are “mostly” compatible with it. It looks like the most of the assignments wouldn’t be difficult to port over to something like Octave. It’s just a little shocking that nobody has done it yet.