Author Letizia Jaccheri
For Norwegian click here.


Computers were originally invented as machines to make calculations. This is why they are called computers, from the Latin word “computare” which means “to calculate”. Early on, some pioneers recognized that computers can be exploited as machine to create and share culture, as well as calculate. By culture we mean cultural objects like books, music, video, games, as well as the software itself. In ArTe, we look at cultural objects from these two perspectives: the relationship between the author, the audience and the media format, and the tools used to create. Openness and freedom are similar terms in this context. In ArTe we use both the term free and open.
Here we will focus on three important openness issues, namely licenses, formats, and tools.

Author – audience (Licenses)

A license places limits on who can use and make copies of a cultural objects. An important license is the GPL (Gnu Public License). GPL introduces an important cultural change as the the term copyright is replaced with the idea of copyleft. Copyleft licensing gives all recipients of a file the right to use, copy, modify, and distribute it, while forbidding them from imposing further restrictions on any copies they distribute. This means everyone can use, while no one can own. While GPL was conceived for software, Creative commons provides a family of licenses that enables an author to specify the constraint he or she wants on the cultural objects he or she produces. The license that governs the content of the site and its submissions is part of the creative commons family. Organizations wanting to build business models around OSS have developed licenses of their own, like for example the Apache licenses, which are less restrictive than GPL with respect to commercialization.

Media Formats

Open formats are standardized by International standardization bodies such as ISO (The International Organization for Standardization). Proprietary formats are developed and owned by single organizations or groups of organizations. Common file formats are summarized here:

  1. Sound: open (ogg FLAC, ogg Vorbis, ogg Speex); proprietary (mp3, mp4, m4a, wav (Microsoft), aiff (Mac))
  2. Pictures: open (xcf, png, svg, tiff); proprietary (jpeg, gif)
  3. Video: open (ogg Theora); proprietary (mov, wmv, avi, mpg)
  4. Document: open (odf, pdf, html, xhtml, xml, css z); proprietary (doc, ppt)

When you want to save in an open format, you can open the File menu, choose “Save as…” and check if an accepted format is available from the list “File type”. If there is not, you can ask us at ArTe about tools which can convert the file into the correct format. VLC can be used to convert between different sound and video formats.
xcf is GIMP’s native format which conserves layers, and GIMP can export png. Inkscape saves svg and exports png. odf and pdf is available in the latest version of all major word processors like OpenOffice and Microsoft Word.

If you want to upload a file in this blog, wordpress will give you the possibility to upload:

  1. Sound: mp3, mp4, m4a, wav, ogg
  2. Pictures: jpg, jpeg, png, gif
  3. Video: mov, wmv, avi, mpg
  4. Document: pdf, doc, ppt, odt

Usually a video file is much larger than a picture file. Some formats have the purpose of saving space (like jpg for pictures) while other have the purpose of maximizing quality. The tool you use will sometimes decide the format of your multimedia files. When working with digital media files, it is important to take time to think and discuss about which format to use, in order to make the right choices.

OSS Tools

By OSS (Open Source Software) we mean those computer programs which can be used freely and whose source code is available for modification. We have chosen eight contemporary tools which are open source and which allow the user to produce pictures, animations, sound files, digital stories, and interactive installations.
We have linked each tool to the website from which it can be downloaded and installed. For each tool we also give a short description. For those tools which have an obvious commercial alternative, we list both the alternative and its price. If not specified otherwise, each tool is available for Linux, Mac OS and Windows. Some tools, like Scratch, are not free versions of an existing commercial tool, but new unique tools developed with the goal of enhancing learning and creativity of children or teenagers. Other lists of OSS-tools for students and school are available, however, they greatly resemble our list:

  1. schoolforge
  2. art and code
  3. educational freeware

We have chosen these tools with the ArTe goals in mind:

  1. Openness: For each tool we look at the degree of openness of its source code and the format of the developed files.
  2. Support for teenagers: For each tool we look at the degree of support it offers to teenagers. We have discarded those tools that require knowledge of mathematical or programming concepts that goes beyond the knowledge generally required from a teenager.
  3. New media art: We have tried to select a set of tools that enables production and manipulation of audio, pictures, physical installations, software programs, and digital stories.
  4. Cooperation and sharing: We have looked at the easiness cooperation and sharing.
  5. Information Technology: One of the goals of the ArTe project is to attract students to the IT-field. While evaluating the tools we have asked ourselves this question: “does this tool make its users aware of IT issues, such as programming?”.


Arduino introduces the concept of open source hardware. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone else interested in creating interactive objects or environments. Arduino boards can be built by hand and all the instructions are available for free here or they can be purchased. A kit which makes it possible to participate in an Arduino workshop costs 50 Euro (less than 500 NOK). We are aware that Arduino is not designed expecially for teenagers and recognize that specific Arduino workshops with skilled teachers should be organized in order to facilitate the creative use of this tool. We encourage those of you who are interested in working with Arduino to take contact with us in the ArTe project. We will consider the possibility of organizing one or more Arduino workshops for teenagers if there is sufficient interest. However, it is possible for motivated teenagers to be creative with Arduino on their own.

Picture of an Arduino Board
Gallery of Arduino projects.
Video which introduces the main Arduino concepts.


Audacity supports sound recording, editing, and saving in different formats. It is simple to use with its tape-style layout which offers rewind, fast forward, play, and record functions. If you save an Audacity project, you will be able to work with all tracks and edits. To play the current work in other media programs or send it to others, you can export such audio formats as ogg, wav, and mp3, amongst others. Commercial alternatives to Audacity are Apple Logic Studio (USD 499), Cubase ($599), and Garageband (free with Mac OS X).

Video of a simple tutorial.

GIMP supports picture manipulation and retouching. The program comes with several languages in addition to English. It supports the majority of picture file formats, such as jpeg, png, gif, xcf (which is the native format of GIMP) and the native format of photoshop, PSD. If two or more persons wants to work together through GIMP, they should always rely on xcf files, as they provide a richer representation. To fully benefit from GIMP, one should understand the concept of layers. GIMP offers both basic and advanced features, as well as tutorials for beginners and advanced users. It is possible to create animated GIF with GIMP. Adobe photoshop ($1000) is the commercial alternative to GIMP.

A simple tutorial video
Norwegian website for GIMP.


Inkscape is a graphics editor using vectors. The main difference between a file created with a vector based editor compared to a filecreated with pixel based editors (like GIMP), is that images can be scaled up more easily. Inkscape uses the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format, although it is possible to save in other formats as well. In the same way as GIMP, an advanced use of Inkspace may require days of study and experimentation, which is beyond the spirit of the project ArTe. However we choose to provide Inkspace for its suitability to develop scalable images for devices such as mobile telephones and other hand held devices. As far as we know there are no specific adaptations of Inkspace for children or teen agers. The alternatives to Inkscape are Sodipodi (open source), Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X.

Galleries developed with Inkspace.
Book: Inkscape – Guide to a Vector Drawing Program (Digital Short Cut), 2nd Edition.


OpenOffice offers word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, and databases. It runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows and supports both Windows formats such as doc and ppt as well as ODF (Open Document Format). Microsoft Office 2007 is the most important commercial alternative (a home and student license of which costs $149)


Processing is a text programming language designed to generate and modify images, animation, and interaction. It is so easy to use that beginners are able to write their own programs after only a few minutes of instruction. However, more advanced users are able to employ and write libraries with additional functions. The system facilitates the teaching of many computer graphics- and interaction-techniques, including vector/raster drawing, image processing, color models, mouse and keyboard events, network communication, and object-oriented programming. The use of libraries adds the possibilities of sound management, sending and receiving data in diverse formats, and importing and exporting 2D and 3D file formats. Processing operates on text files with extension .pde.
Originally, Processing was built as a domain-specific extension to Java targeting artists and designers. Processing is not intended for children nor teenagers and it can be difficult to start using it. If you are interested in learning more about processing, please let us in ArTe know.

Website download .
Basic examples. Click on CreateGraphics and look at how the program behaves when you move the mouse. Look at the code below. If it fascinates you, go ahead and look at other examples and try some more. If not, choose another tool and try processing again in a couple of years.
Music video made with Processing + Ess library.


Scratch is a programming language which makes it easy for pupils from the age of 8 to create their own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and to share their creations on the web. Scratch is developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group, at MIT Media Lab. This group wants to share both the software and the documentation behind the tool. However, the actual development process is not open. In other words, persons external to the group cannot participate to the development of Scratch. With Scratch, you can create characters that dance, sing, and interact with one another, or images that whirl, spin, and animate in response to movements of the mouse. You can also integrate images with sound effects and music clips to create an interactive birthday card for a friend, or an interactive report for school. A Scratch project creates sprites that are each associated with scripts, costumes, and sounds. Scratch files have the extension .sb, and the program accepts pictures in the format png, sound files in the format wav (which is a Windows format) and also enables you to record sound files. Once you’ve created a Scratch project, you can share it on the Scratch website, the same way you might share videos on YouTube or photos on Flickr. There are 361.483 Scratch projects available, created by more than 50.000 contributors of the more than 200.000 registered members of Scratch. The projects together consist of more than 9 millions scripts and more than 2 millions sprites.

The Linux version.
An example. If you click on it you can look and listen to the story. If you have installed scratch you will probably have “Bowl of memories” available under “stories”. You can download the project and open it with Scratch. This project, called “Bowl of memories” has 4 sprites (Stage, Earrings, Keys, and Instructions). The scratch file will have the extension .sb.
Picture The Scratch project “Bowl of Memories”

Tux Paint

Tux Paint is a free drawing program for children ages 3 to 12, which combines an easy-to-use interface with fun sound effects. It is ideal for those who want a basic drawing tool with which one can be creative from the first minute. Tux paint is suitable for small children, but it can also be used by more advanced users who want to extend it by creating their own brushes and stamps (both images and sound). A stamp is a picture (png), with a sound (ogg and .wav), and an explanation text. Tux Paint is a basic tool, and does not offer layers (like GIMP) nor advanced color or filter management.
Scalable stamps in svg format for use in Tux Paint can be created by using Inkscape. There are more than 100 stamps available. There is a gallery with hundreds of projects where children can submit and share their projects.
Tux Paint allows you to save files and open them again. However, without reading the instructions, it is not easy to predict where the files are stored or in which format they are saved. Depending on the operating system, Tux Paint will save files in different places.
An alternative to Tux Paint is Microsoft Paint.
Web site with instructions and hundreds of projects.
Video introduction.

Summary and discussion

We have now presented eight tools chosen with the ArTe goals in mind. Below we summarize how the different tools relate to the ArTe goals. We should mention that we have also looked at tools which did not make the list. For example, we have discarded Alice [32], because it is similar to Scratch but more difficult to comprehend and use.

  1. Openness
    The source code of all eight tools is open and available for inspection. All of the tools except Scratch are developed according to a process that is open to newcomers. GIMP, Audacity, Inkspace,, and Tux Paint support open formats. Arduino and Processing are programming languages which operate on text files. Scratch saves files in its own proprietary format – sb.
  2. Support for teenagers
    Scratch is specifically designed for children from the age 8 and for teenagers. Tux Paint is designed for children between the ages of 3 to 12. All the other tools are not specifically designed for teenagers.
  3. New media art
    Arduino can be used to develop and program installations. Processing has been developed by artists to be used by artists who wants to program artistic pictures and animations. Audacity is designed to manage music files. GIMP, Inkspace, and Tux Paint are picture manipulation programs. Scratch is designed for digital storytelling, while enables the user to develop powerpoint-style animations and text files.
  4. Cooperation and sharing
    All of the eight tools come equipped with a web sites that provides manuals, examples, and forums for discussion. Scratch and Tuxpaint provides mechanisms for sharing and remixing media. Scratch has more than 300.000 projects available created by 50.000 contributors.
  5. Information Technology
    Arduino and Processing are programming languages in the traditional sense, while Scratch has been designed with the specific goal of making programming attractive to teenagers and children. The other tools do not require programming.

Technology that we may study in the future

for live performances and interactive installations


Pure Data


for multitouch devices



for creating networks visualizations


Other technology

  1. OpenStreetMap and other tools for free map management. See page Resources for a complete list.
  2. Alice is a 3D programming environment that makes possible to create animations which can take part in a digital story, an interactive game, or simply make a video to share on the web. Alice is very good for students who want to learn serious programming, but it is not suited for this project as it is designed for High School and College students. Storytelling Alice, on the other hand, is designed for Middle School students. Unfortunately, Storytelling Alice is only compatible with Windows in addition to being poorly maintained.
  3. Pure Data (Pd) is a real-time graphical programming environment for audio, video, and graphical processing. It supports .pd and .pat (MAX format). Max/MSP is the important commercial alternative ($495).
    Beginner’s Puredata video tutorial.
  4. Concerning video editing, we have installed and tried VideoCut, Avidemux, and Cinelerra on Linux Ubuntu. In addition we use the tools provided by youtube for simple video editing. For video conversion we use the VLC media player. Project ArTe does not wish to suggest a specific tool for video editing as we believe this choice is dependent on the operating system of your computer. We are of course available for questions and advice regarding this issue.

One response to “Openness

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