The vast majority of computer users see software as an inevitable expense; a forgone conclusion that they will be locked out of new features lest they pay several hundred dollars for the upgrade. If this frustrates you, and if you feel computer software should be more egalitarian in distribution, you are not alone. Many software developers are frustrated with the high prices and crippling licensing restrictions of commercial software, so in 1984 a “GNU” (pronounced guh-new) licensing system was developed.
Have you heard of Linux? How about the web browser Firefox? I mention these because they are the most referenced examples of GNU software, also referred to as “open-source” software. Open-source projects are created through the collaborative efforts of thousands of software programmers around the world. Programmer will work on a small pieces of the overall program with only the best versions used in the final product. Software becomes vastly more secure and powerful as thousands of different eyes pour over the code, each with their own tricks for efficiency and stability. It’s akin to asking several people to read something you wrote because you know they will each notice different kinds of mistakes.
Linux is still tricky to install, and with many offices locked into Microsoft Windows-based software, it’s not easy to make the switch. I’m here to tell you about several Windows-based open source software projects that can save you money and make your computer system more secure.
|Firefox – You may have heard about this new Internet browser since it made waves in the press lately as the only software in recent years to effectively challenge Internet Explorer’s 95% share of the web browser market. This open-source project has greater security and stability that Internet Explorer, and programmers around the globe can write additional pieces of code, called “plug-ins” or “extensions”, that expand the usability. Take a look at some of the 680 different modifications you can add to Firefox. Some plug-ins are obviously more useful than others, and as long as you download them from a reputable website you can be assured of their safe operation.|
|PrimoPDF – Today’s businesses thrive on the quick exchange of documents, and possibly no other digital document format is as widespread as the PDF. Adobe gives away a free version of their program to let you view PDFs, but creating them used to require an expensive copy of Adobe Acrobat. PrimoPDF breaks down the financial barriers to printing PDFs from any application by distributing their free software under a GNU license. Simply download Primo PDF v2.0 and you can create and password protect PDFs using the standard “virtual printer” method. You will still need the free version of Acrobat Reader to view PDFs.|
|OpenOffice – Possibly the biggest money-saver for small offices will be the switch to free, open-source versions of business applications that are currently licensed from Microsoft. One major project near completion is OpenOffice, a free suite of office applications created with coordination from Sun Microsystems. OpenOffice is similar to MS Office in that its different components are broken into separate programs. There is a full-featured word editor, an Excel-like spreadsheet creator with calculations and more, a Powerpoint-style presentation creator, database creator, and more. OpenOffice runs on Microsoft Windows and can read all varieties of Microsoft documents including Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access so you don’t have to convert any of your old documents. Lastly, and perhaps most important, subsequent releases of OpenOffice won’t cost a dime, and volunteer programmers will create new industry-specific features and plug-ins daily. OpenOffice 2.0 is currently in the final stage of product testing called the “release candidate” stage. An official release is expected soon. Version 1 of OpenOffice fell short of expectations due to numerous small bugs in the software, but version 2 is very promising, even in the testing stages. You can download the program and view upcoming release information at http://www.openoffice.org/.|
Whether or not you choose to utilize open-source software in your office is mainly a function of your comfort level with technology. When you have a technical question about open-source software you have to navigate the Internet and seek out an answer yourself; there is no tech support line to call. But for the person with a modest level of computer skills and/or an in-house IT staff, open-source software can save thousands of dollars in licensing fees that can be used on additional productivity tools to keep you ahead of the competition.