Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Money For Nothing

Well, unless you've been living in the digital equivalent of a cave for the past little while, you probably know that Windows 7 has hit the computer scene.  Essentially, this is Microsoft's "apology" for foisting Vista upon the masses.  From all reports, they did it mostly right this time (although their commercial with the "average" little girl kinda churns my stomach -- what 4 yr. old can read that well, let alone computer reviews?).

Your Latest Trick
Personally, I tend to think Apple has a better perspective on this:  Windows 7 is probably just another "Trust me, it'll be different this time" offering from Microsoft.  But what options do you really have?  Face it, Apple is expensive stuff, and whether it's easy to move your documents, photos, videos and everything else you've created over to a Mac, it's also going to get pretty costly replacing the software you've come to know on the Windows platform.

Unless, of course, you've been following a blog such as this, and trying out Open Source software that you can take along with you.  Then you've just got the headache of moving to a pricier machine and reinstalling all that Open Source goodness.

So Far Away
I'm leading you somewhere, and you know it.  Tomorrow marks another big release:  Ubuntu Linux 9.10, codenamed "Karmic Koala", and it's a viable option for Windows refugees.  In my humble opinion, it's actually better than what Microsoft or Apple can offer, and I'll list my reasons here.

  1. Ubuntu Linux 9.10 isn't plagued with legacy bugs from older versions of Windows or Mac OS.  Granted, it's got it's own bugs, but you can take a hand in actually having them fixed.  Your input to the operating system and the applications on it actually counts.
  2. Every version of Windows ever released has promised to be better than the last, yet each upgrade promises better security and more stability.  As long as you keep your antivirus and anti-spyware updated.  Who made up this definition of secure?  Wouldn't a secure computer not be prone to malware?
  3. Windows or Mac, you're still going to have to go through some kind of registration process when you install the operating system -- whether you want to or not -- just to use your computer.  This should be optional or not required at all.  Ubuntu Linux 9.10 requires no registration at all, unless you wish to use the new Ubuntu One service -- you'll have to create a login to take advantage of the free disk space they're offering.  Aside from that, you are ready to use your computer from the moment you log in.
  4. No additional software required for basic functionality.  With Ubuntu Linux 9.10,  you get a word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, audio/video players, web browser, and more just from the basic install, and most hardware works "out of the box".  Unless you've bought a new computer, all of this software needs to be loaded on the other guys.
  5. Easy software installation.  With the Ubuntu Software Centre (or Center, depending on your locale), you can find new software easily, and download it directly from the Internet.  Not preloaded trialware, but actual useful things you can install freely and use permanently.  In the future, additional paid-for options may appear, but you'll know about it up front, and the free options will always remain just that:  free.
  6. Easy security updates.  Ubuntu Linux has always updated automatically over the Internet, when security issues arise.  You can set your computer to automatically update itself as often as necessary, and most of the time, no reboot or interruption to your use of your computer is required.
  7. Ubuntu Linux 9.10 (as with all versions of Ubuntu Linux) is free.  Most of the software that runs on it is free.  Support from the community is free.  The only fees required are for optional paid support, if you want a professional to work something out for you.
  8. Install each copy of Ubuntu Linux 9.10 on as many computers as you want, without licensing restrictions, without fear of being prosecuted, without the operating system warning you that you're using illegal software, and without any hidden spyware informing Microsoft or Apple of your computer use.  You can choose to participate in a "popularity contest" through Ubuntu Linux 9.10 if you wish, but the only data collected is how often you use each program installed on your computer.  They use that data to make the next version even better.
  9. Ubuntu Linux 9.10 is faster than the previous version of Ubuntu Linux.  What other OS can you actually say that about?  Without having to buy and additional RAM or CPU upgrade?
  10. Just to make this a "top 10 reasons to try Ubuntu Linux 9.10", I have to add, if nothing else, you can install Ubuntu Linux 9.10 right alongside whatever other operating system you already have.  Use it as a backup, when that other operating system hits a snag you just can't get past.  Or install it onto your USB stick (2GB is really enough for a very usable setup), and take your operating system with you anywhere you go.  Almost all computers can boot from USB now.
Walk of Life
Well, there's my slightly-biased opinion of Ubuntu Linux 9.10, for what it's worth.  I'll admit, I've tried Windows 7 briefly, and have played around a bit with Mac OS X in it's various incarnations.  But for sheer wow factor, right from the first boot, I'll stick with Ubuntu.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Giftshop

Have you ever wondered how they make all those amazing graphics on some websites? Seems one of the most popular applications for working with pictures is Adobe Photoshop, and to give credit where it's due, Photoshop is loaded with quality features. But the price... Yikes! Enter your free and equally capable alternative: The GIMP.

The GIMP (or just GIMP) is the GNU Image Manipulation Program, and over the years it has grown to be a very high quality graphics editor. They've even got an 'Adobe-compatible' version called GIMPshop that has the same menus and keystrokes as its commercial counterpart.

Ahead By A Century
GIMP is good, but as I alluded, it's not quite Photoshop. With persistence, you can achieve the same quality outputs as with Photoshop, but Adobe has put a lot of extras in that make the work that much easier. That aside, there are loads of free tutorials on the web to help you get the most out of this fantastic graphics tool. YouTube is your friend! You can find tutorials on using layers, working with special effects, retouching photos, or pretty much anything else you'd want to do with a bitmap editor.

Grace, Too
One feature that really makes the GIMP shine is its built-in support for almost any graphics format available. File formats supported include bmp, gif, jpeg, mng, pcx, png, ps, psd, svg, tiff, tga, xpm, and many others. It can even import PDF files in a graphic format so you can edit those, too. Just work in the GIMP's native format while you're composing your masterpiece, then save it in whatever format you need it. Add transparency, resize, crop and then easily convert between formats, too.

Bobcaygeon
As with many other free and open source programs, the GIMP comes in a portable version, so no matter where you are, you have access. Simply download the program and install it once to a USB thumb drive and you're ready to go anywhere. Even better, you take your settings and preferences with you, no matter what computer you're on. And no matter whether you're running Windows, Linux or Mac OS X, there's a GIMP for you!

New Orleans Is Sinking
Now you've got your web browsing, word processing and graphic editing needs taken care of, what else do you need? Don't worry, there's still more to come in the cavalcade of open source applications!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Box Set

It's bound to happen. Sooner or later, everyone needs a word processor, spreadsheet or presentation program. Take a quick look through your local computer store and you're liable to find maybe two or three options. Without doubt, Microsoft Office will be one of those options. But there is an option available for free online, and it's called OpenOffice.

If I Had $1,000,000
Sure, you can buy all kinds of variations of Microsoft Office. They even offer a downloadable version (or you can just buy a licence for the version preinstalled on your new PC). But you'll still have to pay again when everyone else upgrades to the next version. What you really get access to with Microsoft Office is a great deal of templates and clipart. If you put a little time in on Google, you can usually find free alternatives. For instance, even from within OpenOffice, you can use the Extension Manager to load additional features, like editing PDFs, or complete template and clipart packs. All free.

Get In Line
Everyone runs Microsoft Office, so you need to be compatible. Lucky you, OpenOffice is very compatible. The latest version (3.0) can read the newest Office Document standard, and save in older formats so everyone can just get along. The user interface isn't that greatly different from any other word processor, spreadsheet or presentation program, so it's all very easy to feel at home with OpenOffice. And with add-ons, you can customize how it all works. This is a suite meant for you, the user. With similar drawing features, the ability to handle all the same kinds of fonts, FontWork (to replace WordArt) and loads of other great features, anyone can afford to put together professional quality documents.

Pinch Me
The best feature of OpenOffice and its add-ons is this: it's free. Free now, free later, free. OpenOffice is used as a basis for StarOffice, a commercially-oriented derivative with proprietary additions. Often, the current version of OpenOffice is better than the current StarOffice. So, you have the option of buying a fully-supported commercial version of a slightly older OpenOffice (with extras) or you can keep up with the latest and greatest release with OpenOffice. It's win-win, really!

The Ninjas
And just in case you're worried about bogging down your computer with all kinds of software, OpenOffice (and many other fine software) is available in a portable version. Load it onto your USB thumb drive and you can take it all along with you in "stealth mode". Any questions?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Let's Get It Started In Here!


I thought a good place to start your introduction to Open Source would be with what you are using right now: the web browser. Not the web browser most Windows users are accustomed to using just because it's there, that would be Internet Explorer. The specific browser I'd like to introduce you to is Mozilla Firefox, or just Firefox as it is usually called.

Now why, you might ask, would you want to use anything but Internet Explorer? It's already there and it seems to work for everything I want to do. Well, my main answer to that is this: security! If you care about the health of your computer and about your personal data being a bit more secure, you'll use anything BUT Internet Explorer.

Where Is The Love?
I'll digress for a moment here just to mention that there are other Open Source browsers out there: Chrome, Konqueror and Dillo are just a few that come to mind. There are also other proprietary browsers, such as Opera and Safari. This introduction isn't about them, but feel free to compare what they have to offer with Firefox. All of the aforementioned browsers are free at least to some degree and are generally considered more secure than Internet Explorer.

Firefox aims to be a secure, standards-compliant browser, and it follows the Open Source development model. That is to say, anyone that wants to help make a better browser can take part in making Firefox work better, whether through using it and reporting bugs, writing documentation, testing against known standard sites or actually getting into the program code.

For you, kind reader, I'd suggest just enjoying a fast, secure browser, and if any problems do crop up, report them to the best of your ability and keep enjoying the benefits of Open Source. There are a couple of caveats to make it a bit of a challenge, even on Windows, but the benefits far outweigh the hassles!

My Humps
For starters, Firefox 3.0 (the current version as of this writing) has many handy features. Right from installation, Firefox has settings that can block unwanted content to speed up loading the things you want to see. Firefox also isn't integrated directly into your operating system, so automatically loading software (like spyware and adware that slow down your computer) doesn't happen without your knowledge.

Add-ons in Firefox let you extend the functionality of Firefox as much or as little as you like. Continuing in the vein of blocking things you don't care to see, AdBlock Plus is an excellent add-on you can easily install -- and virtually never see a banner or pop-up ad again! To install any add-on in Firefox, just click Tools, Add-ons and search for what you want. Practically everything you can imagine a browser doing is right at the click of your mouse.

Now, go get a copy of Firefox (from www.mozilla.org/firefox) and see what it can do for yourself! If you get stuck, visit the Firefox Support pages to find the answer to all your questions.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Welcome to Good Computing! For anyone returning after any of the earlier articles, welcome back. To those of you just discovering this blog, thanks for stopping by!

Up to now, this blog has covered a miscellany of topics, from rants about the deficiencies of operating systems to ingenious Linux installations to the foibles of the OLPC project. Time for a bit of focus. I'll try not to get distracted, and stick to this latest theme: helping you, the user, get acquainted with Open Source.

Do You Want To Know A Secret?
For those of you that are already Linux and FOSS-savvy, feel free to jump in and lend a hand; please keep any posts positive and "newbie friendly"; the newbies are the ones I'm aiming to entice and help here. If you are reading the word "newbie" for the first time, this posting is for you, and so will the coming postings be. In fact, feel free to comment on what you'd like to see here, what you need to know more about.

I want any new users to be at ease with this informal introduction to all things free software, so even the least informed of questions is welcome; there are no "dumb questions" here.

Now, let's begin our journey into the realm of Open Source...

Can't Buy Me Love
Let's start with the whole question of what Open Source means. For some people, it's a weird concept to wrap your head around. For others, it's a way of life, and they follow it religiously! You don't have to get all wrapped up in philosophical discussions to be a user of Open Source software. Simply put, Open Source is software that comes with rights for you, the user. You can get it for free, or you can pay for it, but either way you're welcome -- and encouraged -- to make as many copies as you want, install it where you want and use it how you want, as long as you respect the basic rules of copyright. This flies in the face of typical proprietary software: the company you bought a licence from owns it; you can only install it where they have licensed you to do so; and if you are in violation of their terms they can disable the software or even sue you.

Okay, so where do I get this Open Source software? Well, if you Google "open source", you'll get a few good starting points. For instance, SourceForge is a massive host of Open Source software, where you can download all kinds of applications for virtually any purpose. Word processors, web browsers, games, geneology tools and utilities of all kinds simply await you. All you need to do is search them out. Most Open Source software is generated by either small companies or individuals, and so may lack some of the "polish" of their commercial counterparts. Some of the more popular Open Source projects, however, attract the attention of a lot of programmers, artists, documentation writers and various other individuals that help a piece of software "grow" -- and they often become better than proprietary offerings.

Magical Mystery Tour
When you go looking, you're bound to run into this thing called Linux, and that's a whole blog (and more) to itself. Linux is generally an alternative operating system for computers that we'll work up to introducing; for now, just keep an eye our for how much is available for Linux as compared to Windows and make yourself at home with Open Source. Keep what you like, share it with friends, and offer positive feedback for things you don't like -- this will help the programmers out there in designing useful software for the masses.

I'm going to let you go here; go explore, find some of the free and Open Source software available on the Internet and come on back with your questions. You're about to embark on a journey to "get back to where you once belonged" -- in control of your computer!