[kwlug-disc] Open Source intro handout

L.D. Paniak ldpaniak at fourpisolutions.com
Wed Apr 29 11:50:38 EDT 2009


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Great idea Paul!

Given the challenging business environment these days, I wonder if there
would be an audience for something like "Doing Business with Less Money"
where the advantages of the Open Source office are very compelling.

For the current draft, I think you are a little pessimistic about a
couple of aspects of current FLOSS:

1) Support is hard to find.  How do Windows people get support?  Call
Dell/Microsoft?  Stay on hold for hours?  I think most knowledgeable
Windows users get primary support from Google - same as ubuntu users.
If anything, I think quick FLOSS support is as easy to find as
proprietary support and a lot less expensive.

2) Hardware support is spotty.  I do not think this is a real concern
with up-to-date mainline distributions like ubuntu.  At least not any
more of an issue than with current versions of Microsoft operating
systems.  If the hardware is more than a year old, it is almost
certainly supported out of the box in the latest kernel - even wireless.
 The only counterexamples I can think of are dirt-cheap printers which
are completely driven by their Windows drivers and some (&^#*#@!)
Realtek network interfaces on very specialized motherboards.

I think Open Source support for everyday computing system hardware has
made great strides in recent years and we do not need to be apologetic
and self-conscious any longer when recommending a FLOSS OS to others for
mail-web-personal word processing.

There are still real issues with other applications though, which you
have addressed.

Paul Nijjar wrote:
> 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. 
> 
> - Paul
> 
> 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
> collaboration**.
> 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
> counterparts.) 
> 
> **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
> problems. 
> 
> 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
> problem.) 
> 
> **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
> time. 
> 
> 
> Resources
> ---------
> 
> - 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
>   <http://www.kwlug.org>
>   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
>   information. 
> 
> - 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. 
> 
> 
> - Paul 
> 
> 
> 
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