Journey into Linux, Part Three

I didn’t jump into the open source environment all at once, and I certainly didn’t start with Ubuntu. I wasn’t even aware of how much free software was available until just a few years ago, although I remember my second ex-husband mentioning “share-ware” from time to time, usually referring to alternate versions of popular video games that were available at no cost if you knew where to go to download them, and were generally decent facsimiles of the originals. Saving money on software became a real  issue when I left my job in Kentucky and came home to help my brother take care of our dad in his final years. I didn’t start looking for a job when I got back, so I wasn’t in a position to spend large on computers and software. I bought a used IBM Thinkpad with Windows XP installed on it because I planned to use it for an online course. The laptop did not come with Office installed. There was a CD with the Lotus office suite, which I learned to use, but the programs were never real familiar feeling to me.

OpenOffice.org was my first introduction to an open source program that had the look and feel of the MS Office programs I had been trained to use when I worked for the State of Kentucky. I had no trouble finding my way around the word processor and spreadsheet programs. I think OpenOffice.org is the way to go for anyone who just needs a reliable set of productivity programs and doesn’t want to spend all the money to have the latest version of Word. The current version of OpenOffice Writer can open any Word document, and save a document in Word format. Same for the spreadsheet program and Excel. There is really no reason for an ordinary citizen or student to be chained to the high cost of Microsoft products.

And Microsoft is not the only replaceable product on a Windows PC — or on a Mac. If you like to edit photos but don’t like the high price of PhotoShop, check out GIMP. I’ve had all kinds of fun creating new variations on old photos, and I didn’t have to spend a penny. Of course, all of these free software providers are happy to accept donations of any size. They are well worth whatever size donation anyone can make. The developers keep on writing code for new products just because they want to make improvements on stuff that’s already “out there” but doesn’t do everything they want it to, and they are happy to make it available to everyone else so others can have that same expanded functionality. And the nice thing about such a large community of developers is that they operate like a self-regulating organism, catching and repairing bugs that get past others.

I’m completely sold on the open source enterprise. Even updates are less of a pain in the ass than they were with either the Mac or Windows machines I’ve used. I very rarely have to shut down my computer after downloading an update package and installing it. And it never, ever shuts off of its own accord, the way Windows machines are prone to do.