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GNU/LINUX, FREE & OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE

Dancing Penguin

Are you sick and tired of battling with viruses, spyware, e-mail worms and other assorted computer security problems?   Are you tired of having to defrag your hard drive all the time?  Are you tired of being locked into proprietary file formats?   Are you tired of having to buy a brand new computer just to run Micro$oft's latest operating system?

If your computer was made before 2006 you'll probably need a new one to run Microsoft Windows Vista!  How's the cash supply?   Not that good?

And if you're a Mac user, are you getting tired of being locked into expensive proprietary hardware?

Well there really is another way to do computing!   It's  called Linux or more accurately "GNU/Linux" and free and open source software!

The GNU/Linux operating system evolved out of the work of Richard Stallman and the "GNU Project" which was designing a free computer operating system in the late 1980's.  Independently of the GNU Project, a Finnish computer science student named Linus Torvalds developed the "kernel" or core of a free operating system in 1991.  The two projects got together and "GNU/Linux" was born.  The rest as they say is history!  

Most folks find the term "GNU/Linux" a bit of a mouthful and therefore the operating system tends to be called "Linux".   But the "politically correct" term is GNU/Linux because the operating system is really more "GNU" then "Linux".   Also when we mention "GNU" we remember the ideas of user freedom that are central to the free software movement.

USER RIGHTS

The most important thing about the Free Software Movement is that instead of software having licenses that restrict the rights of users, user rights are the most important principal!   Software licensed under the GNU General Public License or "GPL" (the most widely used free software license) gives you the following rights:

  1. The right to use the software for any purpose you like.
  2. The right to study the programme and adapt it to your needs
  3. The right to copy the programme so that you can help your neighbour
  4. The right to improve the programme and release your improvements to the public.
The Free Software Movement recognizes that in order for these rights to have any meaning, the "source code" of free software has to be made publicly available.

If you're not a computer programmer, you probably won't be studying and changing a programme.    However, as a computer user, the fact that programmers can do this directly benefits you.

You gain the improvements in software that computer programmers have made.   In turn, you can copy and redistribute that software to your family, friends and neighbours.

OPEN SOURCE

The term "open source" was coined around 1998 by a group of free software advocates who wanted to encourage the use of free software by business.   These folks wanted to use a term other than "free software" as they thought that some business types would find all of the ideas about user rights "scary" and maybe "radical".sounding.   They wrote the "Open Source Definition" which accepts some software licenses as being "open source" that may not give you as a user quite as many rights as the GPL..

To "bridge the gap" between the two ideas many people speak of "Free and Open Source Software" or "FOSS" for short.   You'll also sometimes see the term "FLOSS" (Free Libre and Open Source Software).

LINUX IN GOVERNMENT

Nowadays many governments in Latin America, Asia and Africa are moving their computers over to Linux because the cost of proprietary software licenses is just prohibitive!   Not to mention the cost of constantly having to upgrade hardware just to run Microsoft's latest offerings.  Free software also allows people in developing countries to adapt software to local needs.

In the impoverished Spanish province of Extremadura, the provincial government computerized the entire educational system using Linux.  This would have been impossible using proprietary software.

In the state of Indiana, educational officials have an ambitious plan to achieve a 1:1 student to computer ratio.    How will they do this?   With free software!

LINUX IS NOT JUST FOR GEEKS

You might have heard that Linux is complicated.   That was true maybe four or five years ago but that's  certainly not the case today!  In fact in the spring of 2007 Dell Computers announced that it would be starting to offer desktop and notebook PC's with Linux pre-installed.


If you have the skills to install Window$ on a computer, then you certainly have the skills to install Linux!


FREE AS IN FREEDOM, FREE AS IN "FREE BEER"

In most cases, Linux is free!   In those situations where Linux does cost money its a whole lot cheaper than Window$.

When you install Window$ on a computer what do you get?   You get the operating system, a media player, an e-mail programme and a web browser.    You don't really "get" much else.

With today's GNU/Linux distributions you don't just "get" the operating system, but depending on which distro you use, dozens of applications for everything under the sun (including office software) comes pre-installed!    Your computer is ready to use in under an hour in most cases.

If you need something that didn't come pre-installed, in most cases you just "point and click" with a "package management system" (software installation system for the uninitiated).    The package management programme goes out to a software "repositiory", grabs the files you need, downloads and installs them.     And it isn't necessary as it is in Window$ to do them "one at a time" often with numerous "reboots" in between.

You can download and install dozens of software applications all at the same time, usually with no "user intervention" required and a reboot is a very rare thing!     Often GNU/Linux computers will run months if not years without any requirement for a reboot!

LINUX IS READY FOR PRIME TIME!

Are you ready for Linux?   If you don't play alot of computer games, the answer is a definite yes!  If your're a ham radio operator, Linux is a natural "fit" because hams love to "fiddle" with things!


If you aren't quite ready to install Linux on a computer, there are plenty of free and open source software programmes that will run on your Windows$ computer.   Try them out!   You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

If you'd like to learn a little more about using free and open source software (FOSS) you can also visit Make the Move.net.

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