Filling up at the software buffet

Franke: Did somebody say "free software?"
Franke: Did somebody say "free software?"

CIO adds free software offerings, streamlines distribution

By Mark Shainblum

Forget all the familiar food courts, cafeterias and cafés: If you’re looking to fill up at McGill’s most sumptuous buffet, talk to Sylvia Franke. Just keep in mind that her menu is written entirely in ones and zeroes.

Franke, McGill’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), is steadily expanding and streamlining her office’s site-licensed software distribution program, while making efforts to raise its profile. Recent feedback has indicated that many people on campus – faculty, staff and students alike – don’t know that software is available free through McGill, or they don’t know who is in charge of software distribution.

“There’s a new wave of students and professors every year,” Franke said. “And every year there are changes in the selection of software that’s available, so we do have a continuing challenge to get our story out.”

The purchase of bulk site licenses from vendors allows Franke’s office to offer software applications to the entire McGill community at substantially reduced cost or even free. Products available include general interest applications like Symantec Anti-Virus, Microsoft Office, SnagIt screen capture software and Adobe Acrobat, along with specialized products targeted at different disciplines – well over 50 applications in all.

The big news this year is the addition of several products from two major academic software makers, MathWorks and SPSS, all available free. MathWorks powerhouse MATLAB applications perform a wide variety of computational tasks in mathematics, science, engineering and finance, while SPSS products are used for advanced statistical and regression analysis. Needless to say, high-end software like this normally doesn’t come cheap, let alone free.

“What we’re really after from vendors these days is all-you-can-eat licenses, where the product can be made available campus-wide and priced, ideally, so we can offer it free to faculty, staff and students,” Franke said.

“However, where price is an issue, at the very least we want it to be available to faculty and staff and in labs where students can access it.”

To that end, Franke’s office and the McGill Computer Store are co-operating to complement one another and avoid sometimes confusing service overlaps.

“Some vendors simply don’t make their software available to us on a site-licensed basis, so the right place to get their products at educational pricing is the McGill Computer Store,” she explained. “We’re really trying to get out of the business of purchasing licenses five or 10 at a time and reselling them.”

Franke credits the software program’s successful expansion to the recently formed Software Licensing Advisory Committee, made up of representatives from all faculties, the library and other university departments.

“The committee has been tremendously helpful in guiding our decisions on which software to purchase, what to offer free and what to charge back for.”

The Office of the CIO has multiple responsibilities, Franke said, and offering software to the community often serves several agendas at the same time.

“Part of our role is to ensure that the University works in an appropriate, businesslike way,” she said. “Every time we purchase a site license, it’s possible for us to reduce the occurrence of software piracy. We also want to encourage good practices. For example, the libraries fund site licenses for reference and citation software, which is a really important component of promoting academic integrity.”

McGill software FAQ

Q: Where can I find software offered by the Office of the CIO?

Search for it at or browse through the offerings directly at the download site at

Q: How can I tell if the software I want is available for free?

The search results will indicate its cost or if it’s available for free to students, faculty and staff.

Q: How do I download and install the software?

The instructions are at

Q: What if the software application I’m looking for is not available through the Office of the CIO?

Speak to the McGill Computer Store about purchasing it at an educational discount. Their website is

Q: Where can I find more information about the Office of the CIO?

At and in the FYI newsletter at