Free Open Source Software
By Guest Contributor – SZ
TheComputerBoy asked me a while ago to contribute some articles, but I was undecided since there are so many topics out there. While trying to figure out what to talk about, an opportunity presented itself. A family member, who doesn’t need full-blown office software like Microsoft Office, recently had to open a Microsoft Word document. Rather than pay for software that would only be used on occasion, there is another solution: free open source software. What is open source? It is simply software that allows users access to the source code. Not only does this allow the public to inspect the code to make sure it is free of viruses and is not doing something you are not aware of, but also to modify the code into something better. The end product can be as good as paid or proprietary software and in some cases, better. And free is better, right?
Operating System – Ubuntu (www.ubuntu.com)
Ubuntu is a free open source version of Linux, an operating system like Microsoft Windows. Since Ubuntu has a huge community of users and enthusiasts, Ubuntu has risen to become the most popular and widely used version of Linux. The desktop experience is similar to Windows, but there is a slight learning curve due to different names for programs, folders, and settings. Besides being free, there are other reasons you may want to stray from Microsoft: (1) Linux programs are also free; (2) You don’t need antivirus software – the risk of infection is very minimal; (3) You can try before you commit – when Ubuntu is burned to a CD, you can run the operating system from the CD rather than installing it, and; (4) Compared to Windows, Ubuntu is very lightweight and is a perfect choice for running on older, slower systems.
Office Suite – OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org)
OpenOffice is a full-feature office suite that includes alternate versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access in the form of Write, Calc, Impress, and Base. Since I run multiple systems at work and only have a limited number of Office licenses, I use OpenOffice half the time. I have found it renders Office 2003 and earlier document types (.doc, .xls, and .ppt) without any issues, but formatting in later Office document types (.docx, .xlsx, and .pptx) is hit or miss. That is not to say the file will not display, just that it may not appear exactly the same when viewed in Office. OpenOffice was purchased by Oracle Corporation and is free, at least for the meantime. Some former OpenOffice developers struck out on their own and created LibreOffice (www.libreoffice.org), which shares the same program names, similar functionality, and similar issues. Given that Office can be expensive, especially for any version higher than Home and Student, OpenOffice is a viable alternative for home use.
Web Browser – Mozilla Firefox (www.mozilla.com)
Firefox used to be the go-to browser for geeks that were fed up with the security flaws of Internet Explorer. Although Microsoft has done some excellent work with securing Internet Explorer in the more recent versions, Firefox is still my go-to browser. You should give Firefox a shot if only for the available add-on extensions Firefox offers, including the ever-useful Adblock Plus.
Web Browser – Google Chrome (www.google.com/chrome)
Google seems to have their hand in everything tech these days, and web browsing is just one of the things they continue to do well. Many of the useful features found in Firefox can also be found in Chrome. If you have an Android smartphone, check out Chrome to Phone, an Android application and Chrome extension that allows you to send web pages, maps, and phone numbers from your Chrome browser directly to your phone.
Media Player – VLC (www.videolan.org)
VLC is a robust media player that goes well beyond the media player that came installed on your computer. While it is not as polished looking as Windows Media Player, it is rare to find an audio or video file VLC cannot play.
Looking for more? Sourceforge (http://sourceforge.net) is a good starting point to look for other open source software to fit your needs.
SZ is a computer forensic expert by day and ‘all things computer’ tinkerer by night. We look forward to reading future SZ articles. If you have any experience with the programs listed above or any other suggestions, let us know in the comments.