Open Source Alternatives

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Why Should I Use Open Source?

Over Time I have come to know, appreciate, support and use Open Source software. I have nothing against paid software, however I believe the public needs to be more informed of the alternatives so that they too can reap the benefits of free computing. I’m not going to tell you how some big companies are evil or corrupt or malicious to its employees or something because that’s not my agenda. What I want to talk about is how easy most Open Source software is to use, how empowering it can be, how it is changing the world, shaping our future, and how I have more money to spend on the rest of my life and that with a little bravery and effort you can too.

Some Tasty Data:

Without open source software, it’s very likely the Internet wouldn’t be what it is today and you wouldn’t be reading this post. This is because many of the world’s Web Servers, including the one hosting this website, are running free and Open Source software known as Apache. I won’t go into detail about how this is done as it would require too much detail and I would end up off topic, but know that the Internet is mostly run off of Open Source software.

+ & – of Paid Software:

Honestly paid software has its place in the corporate world because of the need for tech support, warranties, and guarantees that the software will work 99.99% of the time. This sort of thing is an absolute necessity for any sort of corporation that deals with highly sensitive files, databases, and machinery for their clients and customers. Although there are support companies for some open source software, they are few and far between. For example, I would rather use paid software to regulate and control a nuclear power plant because the extensive testing and reliability of that VERY expensive software keeps hundreds or even thousands of people safe every day. However, I don’t deal with machinery or super sensitive files or even customer data. I am probably considered to be similar to your average “home user”. I deal with documents, photos, music, movies, and I browse the web just like the rest of the world. If I had shelled out money for each and every piece of software I use, I wouldn’t be able to afford the computer I use it on. I am not advocating the “theft” of software, but rather the use of open source alternatives.

What is Open Source?:

Open Source literally means that a software’s “sources are open” for the community to use, redistribute or rewrite free of charge. This means that: you don’t have to pay for the software to use it, you can give it to a friend for free without it being considered unlawful, you can change and manipulate it to your liking without some company coming down on your head, and you can give your manipulated version away or sell it without consequence. In other words its freedom.

The “Drawbacks” of Open Source:

Using Open Source software generally, but not always means becoming “self-sustaining”. Rather than calling some massive well paid corporation to fix problems with your software, you will turn to your community for support and knowledge to help you fix the problem yourself. This is generally considered inconvenient or scary unless you: like to fix problems yourself, are brave enough, are willing to Google for solutions to problems, and hate being on hold while on the phone . Rather than seeing it as a downfall, I generally see it as a golden opportunity to learn. It’s honestly a rather empowering experience to be able to fix your own problems without having to rely on someone else to come do it for me.

Your Mobile OS:

One very well-known piece of Open Source software of note is Google’s Android OS. If you don’t know about this mobile OS pull your head out of the sand and look around because Android OS accounted for %52.5 of smart phone sales to end users in the third quarter of 2011 as stated by gartner.com. This OS is extremely customizable, free to “root”, and easy to get a hold of. While Google provides plenty of support for their open source OS, this is not always so with other software, especially in the case of desktop operating systems.

Your Desktop Operating System:

Most of the world uses or is familiar with Microsoft Windows. You are probably also familiar with the $100++ price tag depending on what version you buy, not to mention if you need multiple licenses for multiple computers. You might also be familiar with Apple computers and Mac OSX. Although OSX is only $29.99, the price of purchasing their overpriced beauties makes up for the fact that they provide you with OS installation disks with each one “free of charge”. Because of these price tags and my need to explore new things, I discovered something in High School known as Linux Operating Systems.

Before I get to far ahead of myself I would like to explain that the term Linux is not the “brand” of some single OS that can replace OSX or Windows, but rather a conglomeration of free alternative operating systems built on a Unix-like kernel. For example, Ubuntu, Chromium OS, Mac OSX, and Android are all “Unix-like” operating systems, however OSX is not considered to be a Linux OS because it is not free and Open Source. You also need to know that Linux has many distributions or flavors. Each distribution has its own style and purpose and level of community support. Rather than bore you with the massive list of Linux distributions, I would rather tell you about my favorite Linux “distro” known as Xubuntu.

Xubuntu is an Open Source OS that is very easy to use and has TONS of community support via the Ubuntu community. I can honestly say that anyone that can use Windows or Mac OSX can use Xubuntu (or Ubuntu, which Xubuntu is derived from) with a minimal learning curve. Xubuntu has everything a “home user” could ever need from an OS. It has Office Software, a web browser, text editors, a music player, a video player, and an “App Store” filled with primarily FREE software that can be easily installed and removed with minimal effort. Also, Xubuntu is EXTREMELY customizable. You can make your system as “light or heavy” as you want with readily available tools and software. You can change the way it looks, the way it functions and make it work for YOU. With Windows and Mac OSX you can’t escape the Windows or Mac “look”. Sure you can change the wallpaper and the color of your windows but that’s about it unless you install some third party software. With Xubuntu, by default you have complete control over color, theme, wallpaper, icon type, and the behavior of everything you interact with. You can make it as pretty or minimal as you desire based on your specific wants and needs. You can even build your own theme from scratch with a little programming know how.

Whatever distribution you choose, be sure to pick one that suits your needs, and you are willing to support. Don’t go get something that has little to no support if you aren’t willing to take the time to fix any problems you come across. Balancing between what you want and what you can support is probably the most important part of deciding on a particular Linux distribution. In any case its free.

Your Software:

If you have to use Windows or Mac OSX for whatever reason, then you can still save money using Open Source software that runs on your OS. There is so much Open Source software out there on the web, I could spend the rest of my life attempting to describe the pros and cons of each particular piece of software. Instead of shelling out all that info, I will give you a quick rundown of what I use instead of paid software.

Instead of using: Microsoft Office
I use: LibreOffice, NeoOffice, or OpenOffice

Instead of using: McAfee Antivirus
I use: Clamwin Antivirus

Instead of using: Adobe Photoshop
I use: Gimp, Inkscape and Seashore

Instead of using: Microsoft Outlook
I use: Thunderbird

Instead of using: Internet explorer or Safari
I use: Chrome or Firefox

Instead of using iTunes or Windows Media Player
I use: VLC

Instead of using Adobe Dreamweaver
I use: Komodo Edit & Cyberduck

One of the best parts about using Open Source software is going out and trying out new alternatives to software you already use. There is always some new, inventive, and exciting software out there competing to be the best at what it does. I get a thrill from finding some great new free way to do something I was fighting my paid software to do before, and I think you will too.

Conclusion:

Looking back, you might come to realize that Open Source and Linux is the way of the future. Look at Android. It is dominating the mobile market and will likely continue to do so. Open Source enables thousands of people from all over the world to work together to create something more. Although Android has dominated the mobile market, people still don’t realize that there’s more to Open Source than Android.

If there is anything you should take from this is that there are Open Source alternatives out there readily available for you to use. What, how and why you use it is up to you. Whatever you do, do yourself a favor, and go out into that big internet of ours and try out an Open Source alternative to some paid software you use. You will become a member of a massive community of users, supporters and developers, and you will help our future become more Open Source. The only thing holding you back from the freedom of Open Source is yourself. Give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.

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