Software for the masses – Open Source Software to the Rescue.
(Updated March 2th 2006)
The Problem: A bloke in little brown shorts has just handed you a big cardboard box which contains your brand new Sony lappy. You unwrap it like an excited kid on Christmas morning and nervously turn it on. To your dismay you discover that the MS Office icon is no where to be seen, you didn’t want to fork over an extra $300 – $400 dollars for it (hell your lappy was only $800) and, you dare not click the little blue Internet Explorer icon as you’ve read an article that claims web surfers have lost more than $500 million due Phishing caused by security flaws in this wonderful Micro$oft program. So it appears that you’ve just forked over $800 of your hard earned lolly for jack shite!
The Solution: The good news is that all is not lost and before you launch your laptop from your second story window onto some poor unsuspecting bastard below hang on a MO! This little article will help you get back in software saddle so to speak. Come on now, blow your snotty little nose and wipe the tears away from those ruddy eyes! Take a hold of yourself will ya! Most people buy a computer to primarily perform the following simple tasks : surf the web, write a report, check email and make sure that their pride and joy hasn’t got a nasty rash (infected with a virus or spyware) Well, we’re gonna tell you how to do it with free / open source software. Yikes, you might say, free normally comes with a price – no, this stuff is truly free, no having to fill out forms, deal with annoying ads or having to promise your first born or left nad. The programs listed here will do the job just as well (better in my opinion) as the bloated software they replace. In the remainder of this article I’ll briefly describe what you need and where to get it with tip or two thrown in for good measure. I’ll also tell you the best sites to visit if you have problems. Let’s start off with the the most important task a computer can perform – surfin’ da net. (Note: for those of you poor souls still on dial-up connections, you may want to get a more evolved pal to burn you a CD of the software below as most of the stuff is pretty large with OpenOffice being a whopping 70 Megs.)
Shark proof Surfing (IE alternative)
Product: Mozilla Firefox ver 1.5
Download (9.5MB): here – (Select platform – Mac, PC or Linux and then Language)
Right now unless you’re running MS XP with service pack 2 installed you should not be using IE, period. I’m just a Linux zealot you might reply – NO, numerous main stream tech jockeys have written articles in the most popular computer magazines about the security flaws in IE. See Cnets article entitled Why you should switch to Firefox now, Wall street Journal article on August 30, 2004 on IE flaws and the article in Forbes: Better than Internet Explorer by leaps and bounds and USA today article. Firefox will work with most website and it has features that IE doesn’t like tabbed browsing, a pop up blocker and a great text search feature (hint – press f3 once you’ve installed it and look at the bottom of the browser window) Tip: (1) Once you got it installed you can press ctrl-t (on a PC) and it’ll open up a new browser tab – this is one of the most valuable features.(2) Check back for updates regularly as Firefox is updated every couple of months.
Resources:Reasons to switch from Mozilla website. FireFox Help website.
Writing and Spreadsheets (MS Office alternative)
Product: OpenOffice ver 2.0
Download (70MB): here
$300 to $400 is a lot of lolly and why fork over the cash if you can get something that does the job just as well, can read and write MS word and excel files (.doc and .xls) and is free. There is even a mac version, NeoOffice, – see this link!
Tip: Turn off the annoying help agent! Go to Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org > General and un-check the Activate box under the Help Agent section.
Resources:Documentation can be found here. Forums – post a question and get an answer here. Free intro flash tutorials – from digitaldistribution.
Email – An Outlook alternative
Product: Thunderbird ver 1.5
Download (10.7MB): here – (Windows users you’ll want the Installer) Mac and linux versions too
Web mail is convenient but it’s nice to have a copy of all your emails on your lappy, hell you can even write emails when you’re not on line to be sent later. I recommend Thunderbird, also from the Mozilla Project. Some of it’s goodies include spam filtering, spell checking and the ability to make custom folders and filter mail based on anything. See this article for details on “Why You Should Use the Mozilla Thunderbird E-mail Program” You can even import your email address and email from webmail programs and MS OutLook too.
Tip: Create a filter to put all emails from your pals in a folder other than the inbox.
Tip2: Windows users, want to back up all your emails, email addresses, filters and email account data? – just save C:Documents and Settings[User Name]Application DataThunderbirdProfiles
Resources: Thunderbird help site – Click here
Spyware and Adware Protection
Product: Spybot – Search & Destroy 1.4
Download (4.15MB): Click here (Windows only)
So you’re a naughty boy or girl and you’ve been using IE on the sly. You now wonder why ever time you close it down you get a ton of new popup windows, just like the time you visited that free Shanghai donkey porn site! SPYware – you’ve got spyware ( definition) – oh the shame of it all! Spyware and Adware can slow down your computer by up to 50% or more. You can even get a nasty case of spyware infection after installing some legit trial programs on your computer without you even realizing it – (they do tell you but it’s normally on page 100 of the terms of service – the ones you never read) Search and Destroy can also be updated and gets a list of new spyware every time you click the update button. (Note: Spybot – Search & Destroy is not open source but free to download and use)
Tip: Click the update button before you run it each time and it’ll add new spyware to its list of gremlins to look for and delete.
Product: AVG Free Edition
Download (7.6MB): Click here (Windows only – link is at bottom of page and you want the AVG Free Edition installation files -Version 7.1.375 – NOT the trial version – )
Gremlins can come to you many ways and this program does a good job at detecting email viruses. Email viruses normally come to you as email attachments in email messages. Once you’ve clicked or opened the attachments the little blighter’s go to work doing anything from the less serious such as popping up ads in your web browser to the more drastic like wiping our the entire contents of your hard driver or using your machine to send out thousands of spam emails to all your pals and business associates. It’s best never to open attachment unless they are photos. The most clever viruses, once they infect your computer, will get hold of your email address book and email itself to all your pals or even worse, business associates – so if you think attachments from your buds are safe forget it. Most of the time you won’t even know that you’ve been infected. Your computer may seem slower than normal – perhaps you’ll just blame it on her old age. Nonsense! computers don’t slow down over night and unless you’ve installed new versions of programs or have an unusually large number of windows/programs open your pride and joy should not slow down.
Tip: Make sure you update the virus defintions (database) for this program on a regular basis. If a new virus comes out, this program may not catch it if you have not updated the list of viruses it can detect.
For most computer users the above software will do just fine and when a problem or security flaw is found there will be an update of fix out within days, not months or years like with Micro$oft. Do your mates a favor and pass on this URL to em – they could also do with saving a few Rubels or two! If you feel like it you can even donate to any of these projects – Come on now, a couple of bucks isn’t gonna break the bank – you’ve just saved hundreds!
(Contact me email)