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!