Open Source software – does it byte?

Apart from being an IT journalist, I am also the editor of “The Finchley Arrow”— a small web based community newspaper in North London. I have recently moved over from Windows to Linux but that wasn’t the objective in the first instance.

We are all unpaid volunteers on the newspaper. When I told a local politician that we even pay our own expenses he passed out on the spot! Voluntary organisations which rely on computers and software to run things efficiently have a problem. They are restricted when choosing someone’s replacement because of expensive programs and, in addition, data that may not be compatible with the new volunteer’s software.

We thought long and hard about this and decided to use Open Source software. Open Source software is totally free so wouldn’t put a burden on future recruits to the Arrow. It should also be available on the three main platforms (Windows, Mac and Linux) so we wouldn’t be restricted by a volunteer’s computer system.

Programs such as Open Office instead of Windows Office, Scribus instead of Adobe’s InDesign. Inkscape instead of Adobe Illustrator or Coreldraw and The Gimp instead of Photoshop to name but a few. In addition, books on all these programs are available on Amazon.

I moved over to the Linux “Open Source” operating system when a friend, who had some serious hard disk problems, had loaded his Windows program on too many times. Windows just closed down and he had to phone Microsoft to get it released. He was treated like a criminal and it took twenty minutes to persuade Microsoft to allow him to use his Windows program again. I found this very unsettling and decided to move over straight away. I chose Ubuntu, which is very well behaved, does everything I want it to, and never lets me down.

One benefit is, whilst Windows only has one desktop, Linux allows as many desktops as you like – we actually use seven! I loaded up an open source program called VirtualBox which allows me to run Windows on one of my desktops. To change from Linux to Windows now takes one click of the mouse. So I have the best of both worlds.

There must be over eighteen thousand open source programs out on the web. Ubuntu have taken a couple of thousand of the best of them and added these to their “repository”. Quite simply, this means you can open a special window, search, or browse the list, and download with a click or two and the program is ready to use on your computer. I have a free genealogical program. Another that lists all the books on my bookshelf – I just type in the ISBN number and it searches the Internet and adds all the details without me having to type them in.

Our newspaper now uses open source software for everything, so as we grow and get more volunteers on board, we never have to worry about who has what program, and how much will they have to spend to do the job.

** To be classed as “open source” the source code needs to be available to anyone who wants it. Hence “Open Source”.

  1. #1 by Ampers on Friday, 12 February 2010 - 12:25 pm

    Horses for courses I suppose, but there are good and bad software packages and usually, if the packages are in the Ubuntu repository, they are usually well behaved or well documented if they are not.For example, take Scribus the DTP program. The repository has two versions, the "stable" version and the "development" version. The former is a few versions below the development version and works very well. As I am not a software developer and not at the "bleeding edge" of technology, all I need to do is to stay away from the development software. I am not capable of fixing bugs so I do the right thing. I stick with stable versions of tried and trusted programs. I have used Open Office for years now and have not had any problems.Although I am not capable of reading and understanding the source code, I know there are thousands who can and do pour over the code to see if there are any weaknesses. This is why Firefox comes up with security plugs a hell of a lot quicker than Internet Explorer.And don't feel I am getting at your comment, I am not, and accept that your point of view is an entirely legitimate one. But think of the benefits that Linux will create for Windows users as it gets a wider following. Your commercial houses will need an USP (Unique Selling Proposition) if they (a) want to stay in business and (b) not give away their software. They are going to have to listen more to their users, give their users better support and offer more or faster features in their programs. This can only be a plus for people such as yourself.Ampers.

  2. #2 by AntiCitizenOne on Thursday, 11 February 2010 - 3:48 pm

    I tend to like to pay for everything that I use.That way when it goes wrong, I can metaphorically "bash heads".If you're not prepared to fix any bugs you find then Open-Source might not be for you.I do tend to buy commercial software components where you CAN buy the source of you want, but I'm a professional developer.

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