Monday, 19 March 2012

Going Open Source

With the worldwide economy in the toilet a lot of people are making cutbacks. But don't let your software be one of those cutbacks. Switch from the commercial software to Open Source software; and with all the money you save remember to make donations to the Open Source software authors who make it all possible.

But what is Open Source? Open Source software is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner. Open Source software is the most prominent example of open-source development and often compared to (technically defined) user-generated content or (legally defined) open content movements.

Lets start at the beginning. Windows XP came with your computer, Vista came and went, Windows 7 seems a little bit too steep at about $150. But XP is getting old and dated and even the newer versions of Windows just prove that XP is 11 years old. So first thing to change is the Operating System.

Firstly, there is no such thing as a free version of Windows. Anywhere that wants you to download such a thing is most likely a scam. But that is not to say if you want to hold on to some of your software you can't change the Operating System (I'll mention more about this later).

The obvious choice for the Operating System is Linux. Changing from Windows to Linux is going to be a big leap; but in all honesty Windows XP to Windows 7 is about the same size jump.

So a modern Operating System - three choices spring to mind. Ubuntu 11.10, Mint 12, and Fedora 16. All three use Gnome 3 which makes the desktop a breeze to work with; and if you want to step back to Gnome 2 it is possible with all three. So which one to choose? All three. Download and burn the Live CD of all three, and give them a test run before committing any changes. Hell, if you decide you'd rather stick with Windows XP (Not sure why you would) just reboot, take out the Live CD, and you are back at Windows.

There is no such thing as a perfect Linux to use. Everyone has their own preferences. And there are pros and cons for all three. The computer I'm writing this on has Windows XP, Ubuntu 11.10, and Fedora 16 all co-existing on one 120GB hard drive. At boot I just select which one (More on this later). For arguments sake I'll use Ubuntu 11.10 as the new Operating System; but it is down to preference.

Now to drop Microsoft Office. At about $150 for the 2010 version it just has to go. The alternative? LibreOffice. Now some reading this were most likely thinking I was going to choose OpenOffice. Although both draw from the same Open Source code base OpenOffice is overseen by Oracle who have started to charge for certain things. When this happened some of the developers of OpenOffice wanted to stick to their 'purer' Open Source roots and came up with LibreOffice.

LibreOffice has everything Microsoft Office has; just with different names. Word is Writer, Excel is Calc, Powerpoint is Impress, and Access is Base. Different layout but essentially the 4 main packages are the same. Some say there is no comparison to Microsoft Office because LibreOffice does not include an alternative to Outlook, OneNote or Visio; but Mozilla Thunderbird, Nevernote, and Dia (all Open Source) pick up the slack.

Photoshop CS5.5 Extended comes in at a whopping $500. As a Photoshop user I have to say, in my opinion, there is no alternative to Photoshop. But for the average user who maybe wants to remove red eye from a photo, crop a photo, add some text, or do some composition work Gimp is more than able. Gimp is not, and never will be, Photoshop. It is like comparing water to wine. But that is not to say that Gimp is not a great piece of software because is it is. I know a lot of people that have paid out for Photoshop but could have gotten away with using Gimp. There is a version of Gimp called GimpShop which gives Gimp that Photoshop feel.

I could go and on with the alternatives that Open Source has to offer for various commercial counterparts. But why re-invent the wheel? There is a website called (Open Source Alternatives which will show you the possible Open Source alternatives to many commercial software packages. Head over there if you want  to check for an alternative for a particular software title.

To finish up, I'll just cover the couple things I wanted to mention in more detail.

Firstly; running Windows software under Linux. This can be achieved in two ways. The first option is to use Wine. Wine is a compatibility layer. It duplicates functions of a Windows computer by providing alternative implementations of the DLLs that Windows programs call, and a process to substitute for the Windows NT kernel. Wine is not an emulator. Software success with Wine is hit and miss but worth a try if you cannot find an alternative to a certain Windows piece of software. The other option is virtualization; where you run a virtual Windows machine in Linux. This method means all Windows software will work in the virtual machine; with the only drawback over a 'real' Windows machine is the amount of resources taken up essentially running two machines.

The second thing I wanted to cover in a little more detail was Dual booting - or even Thrice booting. Dual booting allows you to have two Operating Systems installed on one machine; and when you  turn your computer on you choose which Operating System you want to run. So in my own case I can choose from Windows XP, Linux Mint 12, and Linux Fedora 16. This allows you to keep a Windows Operating System and have a fully Open Source Operating System on the same computer.

To think, if you use Ubuntu, LibreOffice, and Gimp instead of their commercial alternatives; and gave a $10 donation to each you would spend $60 (because of the 3 extra packages to make up Office) instead of $800.

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