Building a new media lab: advice needed

Building a new media lab: advice needed

Greetings, everyone. We’re currently in the process of planning a new media lab for our English department. We have a budget of about $50,000, though there are hints that we could get more if we could make a compelling enough case. At any rate, the lab’s purpose will be to give students the chance to produce some really outstanding new media projects. These will likely range from website production to simple digital videos and on to fully interactive media (e.g., flash movies, videogames).

I’ve had the chance lately to talk to several industry professionals and academic theorists of new media. Most have recommended Photoshop, Dreamweaver (or perhaps Fireworks), and Flash Pro 8. These sound like good choices to me as well, though I’d like to hear from others who might have other thoughts. (Naturally enough, my FS proclivities make me desperate to at least consider alternatives to these proprietary products). On the other hand, I don’t want these students to miss the chance to gain experience with “industry standards” that might help them get work. Whenever I mention the GIMP to my graphic designer friends, they cringe and insist that I’m nuts. As someone with zero experience with these tools, I really don’t know what I’m talking about.

There is also some question about the hardware. The majority seems to favor an Apple lab. To be specific: iMac 17” 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo SuperDrive 1GB 160GB. I know very little about Apple, and the idea of having this whole thing available in that flavor is somewhat intimidating for me. I have friends in graphic design who insist that Apple is the only serious choice. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and especially whether this model is ideal. I’m a bit skeptical of the 1.83GHz part; is that enough speed for 3-D rendering? A few industry insiders (including Ron Gilbert, creator of Monkey Island) insists that any “one size fits all” solution is bound to fail. He’s urged us to go for a good mix of hardware and APIs, to try to give students a well-rounded experience. Sounds reasonable to me.

All input is welcome, and will probably factor greatly in this decision. I’d love to hear “I wish I had just known X, Y, and Z” stories from folks who have been caught in similar situations. I’m also especially hoping that those of you with substantial knowledge of FOSS new media production tools will chime in here and point me towards some viable options. I’ll be sure to pass on your advice to the committee and, while I’m at it, any other profs I find asking similar questions.

Thanks in advance!



Gurdy Leete's picture

You might find my story "Switching Art Students to GNU/Linux" helpful -- it's at

Some of the comments there are quite negative, but I'm finding that everything's going really well for the students who have been using free software in my classes.

axels's picture
Submitted by axels on

Hello Matt,
I used to work in the newspaper industry (financial newspaper in Belgium (Flanders)) as a support engineer and the main focus there was on the proprietary tools like photoshop, quarxpress, Indesign dreamweaver amongst others on mostly heavy Mac machines (while mostly solaris was used as a back-end) for prepress ,graphs workflow etc...Up till now these are the main tools used in the newspaper industry (as far as the belgium situation is concerned)only the edp (IT) departement used to work with linux and some open source tools
(I must point out that I can only speak from personal experience in one situation)

Author information

Matt Barton's picture


Matt Barton is an English professor at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. He is an advocate of free software, wikis, and the Creative Commons. He also studies and writes about videogames and computing history. Matt also has blogs at Armchair Arcade, Gameology, and Kairosnews.