Better living through free technology 

Missoula attorney Monte Jewell used to spend money—a lot of money—on licensed software fees for his law office. Then, while working at Montana Legal Services, Jewell got to thinking about the culture of open-source software, realizing that “software can be free and it can help people.”

Beginning with no programming knowledge, Jewell began converting his Higgins Avenue office into a completely open-source software zone five years ago. Open-source applications, unlike proprietary programs like Microsoft Office, are free and, Jewell says, “very, very cooperative. The only cost is you’ve got to learn it.” To his knowledge, he is one of very few private offices in Montana—even in the country—to operate on Open Office. He’s aiming for the “holy grail” of open-source office computing: integrating a phone and copy system into the freeware network.

Jewell works with people who don’t have a lot of money: he handles domestic violence cases through the YWCA and holds three pro bono cases open at all times. He sees the potential of free software to help advocates and poor people alike, and he’s working on using it to offer 24-hour client access to documents filed in their cases at no cost.

“It’s what gets me up in the morning,” Jewell says. “What excites me is the vast untapped potential of this…it has enormous potential to help people without income level the playing field.”

In an effort to tap that potential, Jewell is building openmissoula.org, a nonprofit organization designed to “bring open source to the masses,” providing tech support to professionals and low-income advocates. He describes it as a “public space on the Web with information, demonstrations, tutorials and examples,” and plans to license it under Creative Commons, a flexible not-for-profit copyright.

Jewell likens his passion, and his project, to another local resource clearinghouse: Free Cycles Missoula. “If I can do it, anyone can do it,” he says. “I’m interested in sharing what I’ve got.”

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