[kwlug-disc] Open Source intro handout
paul_nijjar at yahoo.ca
Wed Apr 29 10:58:17 EDT 2009
I am preparing a handout for an event this Saturday. The event is
called "Living With Less Money", and is aimed towards those who are
trying to live well on smaller budgets. Thus the audience for the
handout is (potentially) less experienced computer users who are
highly concerned about cost. My aim is to introduce open source to
these people (in the context of "Computing with Less Money") and give
them a realistic overview of the area with both benefits and warts.
This is a first draft that will eventually make its way to PDF format.
It is written in Markdown for now.
Suggestions and comments are welcome. If you know of other
groups/resources/etc that I should mention feel free to send them along.
Open Source Software
**Open source software** is licenced so that you can legally use it and
share it with others. If you want, you are also permitted to study the
program's code, and change the software to better suit your needs.
Open source is also known as liberated software, software libre, free
software, or by the acronyms OSS, FOSS or FLOSS. Software that is not
open source is known as **proprietary software**.
Open Source Options
Software includes both **applications** (such as web browsers and word
processors) and **operating systems** (such as Windows, Mac OS or Linux)
that run on your computer.
One option is to install open source software on a computer that
already runs Windows. You may already be running some open source
software such as the **Firefox** web browser. You can also install the
**OpenOffice.org** office suite, the **GIMP** photo editing program,
**GnuCash** personal finance software, or the **Audacity** sound
editor. These applications and more are collected in the
**OpenEducationDisc** that we are distributing today.
Another option is to install an open source operating system instead
of Windows. One popular open source operating system is **Linux** (also
known as GNU/Linux). Linux is often packaged together with
applications into **distributions**. There are many different
distributions available, but one of the most popular for desktop
computers is called **Ubuntu**. Today we have the 8.10 release of Ubuntu
available, also known as Hardy Heron.
Running Linux can be a good option if you have a spare computer that
needs software, or if your current computer does not have a legal
version of Windows on it.
There is also lots of open source software available for Mac OS X and
other operating systems. We are not distributing such software today,
but feel free to contact us for resources.
Open Source Advantages
You can use open source software **legally and at low cost**. This is
important because illegal software often does not qualify for security
updates, thus leaving your computer more vulnerable to viruses, worms
and other computer nasties. In contrast, updates to open source
software are usually available for free. In general, open source
software -- in particular open source operating systems -- tend to be
much **less vulnerable to viruses and spyware** than Windows. (This does
not mean that computers running open source software are entirely
safe from threats, however.)
**Lots of open source software exists**, including good-quality
alternatives to many popular applications. Software for niche
interests varies in quality but is often available. Depending on your
interest there may already be a community of people who use and
develop open source software for that need. You can also try different
software packages cheaply, and usually uninstall them cleanly if you
don't like them. Linux distributions like Ubuntu collect a wide
variety of software into **repositories**, which makes discovering,
installing and upgrading new software especially easy.
Open source software exists in a **culture of sharing and
Users help each other with technical support. Most open source
software is free of nag screens and demands to upgrade to a paid
product. Open source software is freely given; you can use it without
feeling slimy or dishonest.
If you are interested in jobs in the computer industry, open source is
invaluable because it gives you **access to the same software tools**
that are used to power mail servers, webservers, supercomputers, and
smart phones. Developing proficiency in these technologies can make
you more employable without costing much money.
There are many opportunities to **contribute to open source software**,
and you are encouraged to do so. You might support other users, write
documentation, file bug reports, or contribute a plugin to make the
software you use better. Contributing something back can do a lot to
boost your self-esteem.
Open Source Annoyances
**Conversion between open source data files and their proprietary
counterparts is not always perfect.** For example, the OpenOffice.org
office suite can read and write Microsoft Office documents, but the
results may not look identical in OpenOffice Writer and Microsoft
Word. This can be an issue for things like resumes. One option is to
distribute documents in PDF format, which is easy to generate and
looks the same everywhere.
You may find that open source software **looks and behaves
differently** than proprietary alternatives you are used to. You may
find that features are missing or incomplete in the software. (This
works the other way as well, however: sometimes the open source
alternatives offer better functionality than their proprietary
**Getting help** for open source software can be difficult. Many of us
have a geeky friend or relative whom we turn to for unofficial
technical support. If those people do not use open source software,
you may have to turn to other places for help. Sometimes online forums
(such as the Linux Questions forum or the Ubuntu help forums) can
be good resources. Locally, groups like KWLUG
exist where people meet and discuss open source software issues.
Generally members of these groups will not serve as your personal
unpaid computer mechanics, but they can be good resources for specific
For licencing reasons, certain programs are difficult to write as open
source software. It can be **tricky to get movies and music files to
play under Linux** (it tends to be easier in Windows). Open source
software for playing media like DVDs and MP3s exist in a legal grey
area, so Linux distributions tend to avoid including such software
in their official releases.
Not all hardware is supported well in open source operating systems.
In particular, **Linux support for printers, wireless cards and video
cards can be spotty.** It is best to check that your hardware is
supported in Linux before attempting to install it. (People running
open source software on Windows tend to avoid this particular
**Open source exists in a "do it yourself" culture.** A lot of
information about programs exist (most of it on the Internet) but you
have to find it. If features don't exist in software that you are
using, you are given the options of waiting patiently, paying somebody
to develop the features you want, or developing those features
yourself. This attitude can be frustrating, especially to those of us
who are less technologically-savvy.
Although it is possible to install new software on your computer
**without Internet access**, it can be tricky. This is especially true
for Linux distributions, which break up applications into packages
that depend on each other.
Because it is so easy and cheap to release open source software, the
**software quality varies dramatically**.
The health and quality of open source software depends on its support.
Applications that are well-supported (by a strong community user base,
or by a foundation or corporation) tends to work better and be more
featureful than software written by lone individuals in their spare
- As the name suggests, the Kitchener-Waterloo Linux Users Group (KWLUG)
consists of people interested in Linux in particular and open source
in general. The group runs monthly presentation meetings at the
Working Centre, and hosts a lively e-mail discussion list. The group
is free to join, and people of all skill and interest levels are
welcome to participate in KWLUG activities. See
for more information.
- The Kitchener-Waterloo Internet Users Group (KWIUG) is a
general-purpose education group that deals with a wide variety of
topics relating to computers. They hold occasional meetings and also
have a mailing list. See [WHERE?] for more information, or contact
Sandy (alexanderh at rogers.com) or Bob (bjonkman at sobac.com) for more
- The OpenDisc and OpenEducationDisc projects collect high-quality
open source software for Windows. [LINK]
- Ubuntu is a popular Linux distribution for desktop computers.
See <http://www.ubuntu.com> for more information.
- The Linux Questions forum at <http://www.linuxquestions.org> is a web
forum which helps Linux users troubleshoot computer issues. It
contains a lot of good information in its archives, and the members
tend to be friendlier than on many other internet sites.
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