Abandon All Fear

What nobody else seems to be saying…

[Free At Last] Going Open Source

Posted by Lex Fear on April 28, 2007

So I finally found the nerve to uninstall MS Office 2000, which I have faithfully relied upon for 5 years for my letters, spreadsheets and database needs. I’ve never really had the money to keep current with MS Office versions, and never really had the need either, but Office has now moved on a bit, it was crunch time.

Lately I’ve been on a sharp Unix learning curve, for work, which inspired me to install Linux on my ‘puter duel booted with Windows XP. Later I decided to revamp an old laptop with Linux and it’s worked quite well. It was during this I discovered the beauty that is Open Source (free). I also came across OpenOffice.org.

I have now decided to become an Open Source Evangelist and broadcast the deep joy in my heart that it has brought. For almost every copy of proprietary software out there, there is an open source alternative, so I’ve decided to list a few that I have been using for a couple of months now. I can say, with the exception of being on a Vista operating system, I am probably using 60% Open Source software. I encourage you to join the revolution:

Product: Microsft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, Outlook)
Open Source Alternative: OpenOffice.org (Writer, Math, Calc, Impress + Draw and Math)
Opens most MS Office documents without problems, doesn’t include an email/organiser but that can be solved with Thunderbird. Also allows you to create PDF files. The only thing I find problematic is converting my MS Access DB’, I may have to re-install Access 2000 or invest in the latest one, however I have not needed to use mdb files in my latest job.

Product: Internet Explorer
Open Source Alternative: Firefox
Think this one does probably doesn’t need explaining but for those of you still using IE, all I have to ask is… why? Firefox beats IE hands down and not just with its themes. Firefox allows you to add extensions that can perform any of IEs functions and more. Currently the extensions that I recommend are: PDF Download, Save as Image (allows you to capture part of the page you are viewing), Web Developer, Firebug (detailed source view), Adblock Plus and Tabmix plus (undo/list closed tabs) to name a few. I also find as a blogger/web developer Firefox shows you the page as your HTML is written (mistakes are shown), whereas IE is really good at reading the HTML and then correcting small mistakes, so unless you read through your code, you don’t notice them or realise you’ve done it wrong.

Product: MS Outlook/Outlook Express
Open Source Alternative: Thunderbird/Sunbird
At first I had reservations switching from Outlook. This is a difficult one to beat. I had it syncing with my Orange SPV mobile, as well as my contacts, emails and calendar in one place. When I first installed Thunderbird last year, it didn’t have a calendar function, I have no idea if it syncs with mobiles and when I tried to import my Outlook emails (I have kept most since 1999), it crashed about halfway (solved by importing seperate folders and smaller sets). Nevertheless I really wanted to move to Thunderbird for the uber-coolness. A few months later they solved the callender problem with Sunbird, and after that, a plug-in extension for calender functions in Thunderbird, brilliant!

Product: Paint (installed with Windows)
Open Source Alternative: Paint.net
A great alternative to Windows standard bitmap editing program. This allows you to do much more editing functions, check out the banner for Dark Side of the Light, which I did using Paint.net and Photo Impact (not open source).

Product: Winzip
Open Source Alternative: 7zip
I downloaded this last week before I installed Vista. Winzip have now stopped allowing their software to work after the ‘trial period’, so you can no longer abuse their trust. 7zip has more functions than Winzip, including the ability to split volumes, allowing you to move the volumes to CD or DVD later.

Product: Windows Media Player
Open Source Alternatives: DivX/VLC/Winamp
I started to find that Media Player is a huge CPU junkie and was slowing down my other ‘puter tasks to a grinding halt on some occasions. Not only that, it seems to always want to connect to the internet for a licence here, a codec there. I found a great no-nonsense, no thrills, just-play-the-damn-thing player to be DivX. It does basically what it says on the can, plays your AVI and MPG files. In the even that DivX can’t play a file or sound, you can try downloading additional codecs, or use VLC, which will play absolutely anything. It’s not as glamerous, and has lot’s of little tweaks and settings that you probably won’t need to use. For music, it has to be Winamp, which will just play your music, allows you to sort and rate as well has having visualizations which don’t judder.

Product: Frontpage
Open Source Alternative: Nvu
This is a great lightweight web developer for those who know a bit of html, xml or css, but find themselves either too lazy or short on time. I used it to put together some of the pages on this website (which still looks a bit lame, I know but I intend to make further changes). If you want a straight up text editor try PSPad, which allows you to write/edit documents in a variety of languages with usefull editing tools and even a preview function for webpages.

Those are just some of the software replacements I have installed, I do have some semi-open source or free software (as part of other hardware/software bought), but from now on, it’s Open Source all the way. There are not always going to be appropriate or as versatile alternatives to what you can buy off the shelf, but for most general computer and office tasks there is are many that will do as good as, or better, and there’s usually a community or good support behind it.

It’s just a case of googling “open source”.

One Response to “[Free At Last] Going Open Source”

  1. Get GIMP for graphics — superb. I installed Ubuntu recently and I’m so far pleasantly surprised how far Linux has come since I last tried Red Hat…

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