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1. Living Well with Open Source handout
Published Blog entry by pnijjar
[ http://kwlug.org/node/657 ]
Living Well Using Open Source
Are you sick of cleaning viruses and spyware off your computer? Are you
tired of nagware, time-limited trials, and sketchy download sites with
lots of pop-up ads?
Would you like to use software in a way that suits your needs and
avoids treating you like a criminal?
Does the cost of computing deter you from developing new skills and
exploring new interests on the computer?
If so, you should know about open source software. It gives you access
to a wide variety of applications that are cheap but work well. Here
are a few examples.
Firefox lets you surf the web. (You may be using it already.)
OpenOffice.org is an office suite. PDFCreator lets you create PDF files
from any application.
The GIMP lets you edit photos, and Inkscape can be used to create
beautiful logos and graphics. Scribus lets you create brochures and
newsletters, and can even typeset books.
Audacity is a sound editor. Tuxguitar lets you compose music.
This handout explains what open source software is, the pros and cons
of using it, how to get started, and where to get more information.
What is Open Source Software?
Open source software are computer programs licenced so that you can
legally use them and share them with others. In addition, you are
allowed to study how the programs work and change them to better suit
Computer programs that are not open source are known as proprietary
Open source is also known as liberated software, software libre, free
software, or by the acronyms OSS, FOSS or FLOSS. The terms "liberated"
or "free" refer to the philosophy of "software freedom". By allowing
people to use, improve and redistribute software freely, this
aims to treat computer users less like consumers and more like
participants. This is one reason open source software is available so
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. You might choose to install open source
applications, open source operating systems, or both.
One option is to install open source software on a computer that
already runs Windows. This is a good option if you already use a legal
copy of Windows. Many good open source applications for Windows are
collected in the OpenEducationDisc 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
of the most popular for desktop computers is called Ubuntu. Today we
have the 8.04 release of Ubuntu available, also known as Hardy Heron.
Installing Linux can be a good option if you have a spare computer that
needs software, if your current computer does not have a legal version
of Windows on it, or if you are adventurous and will not aggravate the
other people who also use your computer.
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
There are many reasons to consider using open source software. Here are
some of them:
You can use open source software legally and at low cost. This is
especially important because illegal software (especially illegal
of Windows) do not qualify for security updates, leaving your computer
more vulnerable to viruses, worms and other computer nasties.
Good quality open source projects take software security seriously.
Ubuntu releases security updates for its software automatically and for
free. Open source software -- in particular open source operating
systems -- tends to be much less vulnerable to viruses and spyware than
Windows. (Open source software does not eliminate security issues,
Lots of open source software exists, including good-quality
alternatives to many popular applications. Software for niche
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 try different software packages cheaply, and uninstall them 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. (Interestingly,
this is only possible because open source software can be repackaged
With open source software, you usually get full versions of products --
not trial versions, ad-laden nagware urging you to upgrade to a paid
product, or "home" versions with reduced functionality.
Open source software exists in a culture of sharing and collaboration.
Users help each other with technical support. Open source software is
freely given; you can use it without feeling slimy or dishonest. You
also copy installation discs and give them to others legally.
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 you a lot of 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. Many projects also accept financial
Open Source Annoyances
Every decision has benefits and costs, and the decision to try open
source software is no different. Here are some of the most common
frustrations people encounter when using open source software, along
with some ways people get around these issues.
Conversion between open source data files and their proprietary
counterparts is not always perfect. For example, a resume created in
OpenOffice.org might look different when opened in Microsoft Word. 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. Sometimes features are
missing or incomplete in the software, or you have to use the software
in a different way to achieve the same result.
Getting help for open source software can be difficult. If your local
computer shop (or the wizardly friend or relative you turn to with your
questions) does not use or support open source software, you will need
to look elsewhere for help.
Some online forums (such as the Linux Questions or Ubuntu Help forums)
can offer good support. Mailing lists and forums devoted to specific
applications also exist.
You can participate in a local user group like KWLUG, where people meet
and discuss open source issues. The folks at Computer Recycling can
answer some of your questions.
None of these groups will do all your computer maintenance for you, but
they can help you with specific questions and direct you to places
you can get additional help.
It can take additional work to get movies and music files to play under
Linux (this tends to be easier in Windows). In some countries, open
source software to play DVDs and MP3s is restricted or legally unclear,
so Ubuntu and other distributions do not release such software
Not all hardware is supported well in open source operating systems.
For example, 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. Sometimes you can cheaply
components that do not work under Linux with others that do.
Open source exists in a "do it yourself" culture. If features don't
exist in software that you are using, the program developers will often
give you 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. Sometimes a different open source project
supports the feature you need. Sometimes there are ways to work around
the limitation until the feature you need is implemented.
Like other software, many open source projects assume you have internet
access when installing and using their products. It is certainly
possible to install and use most of this software without internet
access, but it can be tricky. This is especially true for Linux
distributions, which break up applications into packages that depend on
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, a foundation or a
corporation) tends to work better and be more featureful than software
written by lone individuals in their spare time.
Computer Recycling will be holding
Introduction to Linux workshops later this year. If you are interested,
you can sign up at the booth or contact Charles.
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
The Kitchener-Waterloo Internet Users Group (KWIUG) is a
general-purpose education group that deals with a wide variety of
relating to computers. They hold occasional meetings and also have a
mailing list. See http://www.kwiug.org  for more information.
The OpenDisc and OpenEducationDisc projects collect high-quality open
source software for Windows. http://www.theopendisc.com 
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.
The Open Source Alternatives website http://www.osalt.com  lists
open source alternatives to common proprietary software products.
About This Document
This document was prepared for a day of workshops called "Living With
Less Money" held on May 2, 2009.
The event was organized by The Working Centre  in Kitchener,
Ontario, Canada. Much of the content reflects the setup of the day (we
distributed CDs of software) and local resources (such as KWLUG and
KWIUG). However, this version of the document is "forked" from the
original, and thus are mine and not the official views of the Working
This document is licenced such that you can customize and redistribute
it for your own use. In doing so you will want to reflect the local
resources in your own community.
This document's "source code" consists of a textfile formatted using
Markdown syntax. http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/ 
Thanks to members of the kwlug-disc mailing list for their constructive
criticism and suggestions for improvement. KWLUG members Khalid
Baheyeldin, Darcy Casselman, Robert P.J. Day, Chris Frey, Adam Glauser,
Oksana Goertzen, Bob Jonkman, John Kerr, Andrew Kohlsmith, Jason
Locklin, Charles McColm, Lori Paniak, Kyle Spaans, Raul Suarez, Bill
Switzer, John van Ostrand, Richard Weait all contributed to the
Thanks to Working Centre members Michael Bernhard, Paul Harvey,
Sergiane Nascimento and Rodrigo Salinas for their edits and
Living Well with Open Source by Paul Nijjar is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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