Open Source Software can save you lots of money

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The truth and applicability of this statement, obviously, depends on what you do with your PC/s and the Internet. If you run a business, especially a web-based business then, I am sure, using Open Source software and application can safe you lots of money, and this can run well into the thousands of dollars per annum. We are talking here about money that you otherwise would have to pay out on licenses for proprietary software and applications, something that you do not have to do with Open Source Software (and applications).

Using Open Source Software rather than proprietary software will enable you to keep as low of an overhead as possible. It also will keep you running legal. Legal in such a way as not to use a copy of someone else's software that your friend burned onto CD for you or even “cracked” software that some people distribute.

Let us start with the PC. What makes a (new) PC so expensive? It is not the hardware, that's for sure. The true cost behind every PC is the software that comes pre-installed. So, OK, I don't want that pre-installed Microsoft operating system and the rest. Well, with the exception of building your own and/or buying PCs that come with Linux (unless you want to go Apple Mac and then there is not much open source about and such) such as buying PCs now from DELL that come pre-installed with Linux you have no option but to buy a PC with Windows installed. But, you say, I don't want Windows. Well, folks, that's how Bill Gates makes his money; by forcing you, through the PC manufacturers, to buy his operating system.

Is there another option aside from building your own PC or having someone build one for you; the latter being an expensive option. You bet there is. It is called “buying second-hand”. The machine that I am using, on which I am running Ubunty Linux “Dapper Drake” (yes, that is an oldish version of Ubuntu but, thanks muchly, it works), is a Compaq Evo desktop that was a couple of years old when I bought it for the equivalent of around US$100 from a vendor who sells nothing but ex-government and ex-industry PCs. While it came with a version of Windows, in this case Win 2000, installed which would have its license expired by now anyway, I stuck Ubunbtu on it and, well, everything comes with Ubunbtu and works.

Aside from Ubuntu, folks, there are masses of other different distros of the Linux operating system about, one of which will sure fill your needs (I think all will but...) and especially be what you may be looking for in looks and behavior.

Every Linux user has his or her favorite or favorites and therefore I am not the one who is going to stand here and say “use this or use that”. The systems are free – most of the time you will have to download the installation CDs or the live CDs – but in some cases the developers/distributors, as in the case of Canonical for Ubuntu Linux, they are actually prepared to send you a couple of CDs free of charge. I ordered a CD and got, I believe, five. And you are always permitted to make as many copies as you wish to distribute yourself as long, I believe, this is done free or at cost. This means that, unlike with Windows, you can have as many PC run with the same – or different – versions of Linux operating system(s) as you wish and you can also install it on Aunt Hilda's and Uncle Tom's, on cousin James' one, and on the PCs of the twins. Oh, and did I forget Grandma Carol? Sorry, I could not resist this example. I know neither of them folks that I have mentioned here, so don't ask after their health or how their PCs work. I cannot help there.

For most users, even small business, Linux distros come with everything on board that you might need, such as and office suite, email client, and outlook equivalent, photo manipulation software, IM client, etc. Well, at least the Ubuntu systems do.

For writing, publishing, database, finances, and other such office tasks there is Open Office, the free office suite that is a complete replacement for Microsoft Office. This software is also available for the Windows environment, should you just wish to use Open Source software on a Windows PC rather than change over the operating system too.

For web browsing there is Mozilla Firefox, the equivalent to, though much safer and more secure than it will ever be, Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

The build-in email client in Ubuntu “Dapper Drake” is Evolution Mail but I am sure that Mozilla Thunderbird, Firefox's email client sibling, could be installed on an Ubuntu environment as well.

As Firebox Browser works with Yahoo Mail there should be nothing stopping you, for instance, to have a Yahoo Webmail account, or a Gmail account with Google.

I run a small web publishing business – obvious, I know – with, at time of writing of this article, 28 online magazines on a variety of subjects on Blogger (Blogspot) and those too can be managed nicely with Firefox. The only problem I have is with some of the older websites that I still operate for the Romani organizations that I run and those still require the use of a Windows enabled PC (so I cannot, as yet, ditch Microsoft altogether) as the website management software needs the Internet Explorer in order to work. Maybe, by the time MS withdraws support from XP Pro those site have upgraded their systems to work with Firefox and other browsers. Alternatively, all those sites will just have to be migrated to other providers.

When I last looked at the online depositories for Ubuntu Linux programs that are available to download, many of which are this or that business kind of program, there were tens of thousands of free titles there for the asking and installing.

For manipulating of photos Ubuntu, for instance, comes with the Gimp, which is, basically, a Photoshop replacement though instead of costing you around US$ 1,000 is comes free. Let me say only that it can do things I never thought I could and would.

Included in the package is also the equivalent of Adobe Acrobat, in that a PDF maker is built into the Open Office software that allows documents to be converted to PDFs with the click of a button. I have found though that those can be rather sizeable in way of bytes and find that actually using PDF maker, another piece of open source software, as a virtual printer to “print” the PDF document, though a little more tedious, in that it requires a few clicks more than one, the output file is smaller size as regards to bytes, or kilobyte/megabytes. This can be important if the file is to be sent by email to someone with, maybe, dial-up connection rather than broadband. We all know that as soon as someone is somewhat outside the main urban areas in the USA broadband just does not exist and one is lucky to get 56Kb dial-up. So, the smaller the file the more appreciated that will be by the recipient.

How are those savings I talk of possible? It is possible because of all the good people out there who believe that open source should exist. That software should be free. What is surprising to me is that many companies, especially small business/home business still continue to live in ignorance of these wonderful tools, and rather pay through the nose for software that is no more tailored to their individual needs as would be free open source software.

Without the use of free open source software and the free providers of web space – thank you Blogger – and emails – thank you Yahoo (as long as “Uncle” Bill don't buy you) – I could not do what I do and provide the news and information services to the Romani-Gypsy community specifically and the general public at large.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008