Years ago, there was a vigorous debate about whether open source software (also known as Free (as in speech) Software, software libre and freedomware) could ever compete with proprietary software. The debate is largely over, with millions of end-users having switched to open source software; even the business operations of many major companies and corporations depend on it. And usability, the traditional handicap of open source, is a problem that is gradually being solved.

Migrating to open source is not difficult; much open source software is available on Windows, so you won’t have to switch to Linux if you don’t want to. If you want to save money and free yourself from vendor lock-in, then start making the switch yourself.

Steps

  1. Try out OpenOffice.org which is an open source office suite, available for many platforms (including Windows). It ships with a word processor, spreadsheet, a presenter (akin to PowerPoint), an illustrator, and a database manager. Alternatively, if you only need a word processor and spreadsheet application, AbiWord is a fast and lightweight wordprocessor and Gnumeric is its counterpart spreadsheet program.
  2. Use the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) which is a free alternative to costly raster image processing programs. It is available for Windows as well as Unix-like systems. There are many GIMP tutorials available on the Web; we have a category devoted to this.
  3. Install Inkscape if you want a full-featured and easy-to-use alternative to the likes of CorelDraw.
  4. Make use of the VLC media player, which plays almost all common types of videos without the need for downloading additional codecs.
  5. Install CDex if you need an excellent and easy-to-use, although Windows-only, CD ripping program.
  6. Start surfing with Firefox. Firefox is a free, cross-platform web browser that offers greater privacy and prevents pop-ups, spyware and viruses. It is also customizable to insane degrees. If you are after an FTP client, FireFTP (a Firefox add-on) will do the trick within your browser; FileZilla is a cross-platform FTP client with many features.
  7. Use Content Management Systems like Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress for starting your own web sites. You don’t need to know any HTML, PHP, or any other language to manage your own websites. There are plenty of free themes and add-ons available on the Web for these, too.
  8. Install some open source games. This is one area in which open source still has not beaten the proprietary software world. Nevertheless, there are still some excellent and fun projects out there. Sauerbraten is an incredibly fast-paced, fun and compact first person shooter (and AssaultCube is a genetically-related, slower-paced version with more “realistic” weapons), and Freeciv is an empire-building strategy game. The Linux Game Tome tracks games for Linux, most of which are open source, and a good many of which work on Windows as well. BZFlag, a multi-player tank game, is one of the most downloaded games on SourceForge.net with a very active community.
  9. If you’re ready to take the plunge, you might want to check out the world’s most famous open source product: the Linux operating system. These days, it is a very viable alternative to Windows and runs on almost all hardware out there (including obsolete hardware that current versions of Windows will not touch). There are also several other open source Unix clones, such as OpenSolaris (derived from AT&T; System V) and the various open source BSD projects.

Tips

  • If you are nervous about making the switch, try some portable applications (portable apps for short), which are software programs that do not require any kind of formal installation to be executed. They can be stored on a removable storage device such as a USB flash drive, flash card, CD-ROM, or even a floppy disk, enabling them to be used on multiple computers.
  • If you are running Linux, you can install some of your Windows applications (setup files) with WINE.
  • Avoid services such as Zune and iTunes that use copy protection on the music you download

    . This is not just awkward; this makes it impossible (and in some jurisdictions, illegal) to play the music that you paid for in anything but the software that the music service sees fit to support—which excludes open source software altogether. Services such as eMusic and Amazon, which allow you to legally buy and download music in the universally-supported and DRM-free MP3 format, will not lock you into a single vendor.

  • Consider contributing to open source projects. You don’t have to be a software developer to do this. If you are a good writer, consider writing documentation (which many, if not most, open source projects need badly). If you are good at game artwork or 3D modeling, consider contributing your work to an open source game project. Even if you’re only good at telling whether software is working properly or not, start filing useful bug reports with the authors.
  • On the other hand, if you are a developer and want to do the most you can for the open source and free software world, you might want to look at the Free Software Foundation’s list of high-priority projects.
  • Most distributions are shipped in many languages and you can customize your desktop with your local language. Check if your language is available in GNOME translation project. Knoppix, a distribution of Linux that boots from CD ROM without using the hard disk drive (a “LiveCD”), was developed by Klaus Knopper originally in German.
  • A popular and user-friendly Linux distribution is Ubuntu. Boot from the LiveCD to see a full working version, with no install needed!
  • Join a user forum like LinuxQuestions.org or a forum for the respective application or Linux distribution. There are a lot of people out there willing to help beginners. When asking for a solution to the problem, always try to be concise and informative. Give as much information that you know about the problem and about your computer configuration. Be polite and patient and someone will surely help you. When you notice someone with the problem you are sure that you know how to solve help him out.
  • Choosing to run as much open source software as possible is a political choice for some. People may choose to use such software as a protest against software with very restrictive licensing; these people usually prefer and use the term “free [as in freedom] software”, and align themselves with the likes of the Free Software Foundation. These people prefer to run free software because of the principles and ideals involved, regardless of its technical merits as compared to closed source software. Bear this in mind when participating in open source communities. This is a divisive issue in the free software/open source community; raising it (for example, by advocating proprietary software) will be seen as impertinence and tactlessness at best, and trolling at worst.

Warnings

  • While open source software has made massive progress in usability in the last decade, some of it can still be difficult to use and have unintuitive, inconsistent, poorly organized, or no documentation.
  • When you want to deploy Linux for your small or mid-sized company, make use of the help and support from the respective distribution officially by paying them. You need some experience to configure and setup networking servers.

Things You’ll Need

  • A computer.
  • An Internet connection. The faster the better; nearly all open source software is primarily available online.

Related wikiHows

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