Monday, November 24, 2008

Software as a Subversive Activity, Part 2: Ticket Splitting

Software as a Subversive Activity, Part 2: Open-Source Ticket Splitting

The votes are in and people want more Linux posts. That's mostly because the first post got linked on first one Linux site, then another, and the ballot box got stuffed.

Since I like the political metaphors, let's look at how to split your ticket. You can vote for open source software without making The Big Switch to Linux (yet).

Microsoft dominates three big branches of the computing experience: the operating system, the browser, and the office suite. At the top of the ticket, the operating system race, Microsoft wins in a landslide with about 90 percent. The Mac is at around 8 and Linux is pushing toward 1. That looks a lot like Obama's margin in the District of Columbia.

From how can they handle the cognitive dissonance of marxist and dot com?

On the other hand, the open source party is competitive in the next race down the ballot, the browser contest. I checked my site stats right before the inbound Linux link skewed them and only a little more than half of my visitors are still using Internet Explorer. Nearly 40 percent are using Firefox. That's a comfortable first step into the world of open source that you may have taken without even knowing it. You can leave IE on your Windows system while you try it—in fact, you don't have much choice. IE is almost impossible to remove from a Windows installation.

Firefox is cross-platform compatible, meaning you can use it on a Mac, in Windows, or in Linux. When I made The Big Switch, I was already working in a comfortable browser while I learned the new operating system, like being in a new apartment sitting in your favorite old comfy chair. And if you're browser-based with your email, it'll be that much easier.

If you're using a stand-alone email program, that's a little more of a commitment but there's options. I used Outlook Express for years, but Mozilla's Thunderbird was able to import all my messages, folders and contacts, and I switched to that full-time months before The Big Switch.

The other leg of Microsoft's dominance is Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, Power Point, and Access. Here, too, there's open source options you can try alongside Microsoft. Open Office is a complete suite that will open Microsoft formats like .xls Excel sheets, .doc Word documents and .ppt PowerPoints. It will also let you save in those formats, and I'm still in the habit of doing that. I swap my checkbook spreadsheet back and forth between Open Office and Excel constantly, saving it in Excel format, and barely notice the difference. (In contrast, Microsoft Office won't let you save in Open Office formats.)

The stickiest part of my transition was Microsoft Access. Open Office has a database program, and while it will link to an Access database, you can't just import one in and convert it. If you were starting from scratch, the Open Office format might work, but since I was already in so deep I stayed in Access. One of the ways Microsoft maintains market control is the principle of addiction: you're in, you're hooked, can't get out of the endless cycle of expensive upgrades and limited compatibility. If you commit to the Big Switch, and you're not an ideological purist, you'll do what I have and find the ways to look back to Gates world occasionally.

If you're curious but not yet committed you can also, like many third party people, have it both ways. With a bootable CD, you can try Linux without wiping out Windows. You can also install some versions of Linux as an application within Windows. (I'd already made The Big Switch by the time that came along, so I haven't tried it.) And if you're serious enough and have a decent-sized modern hard drive, you can do what I did: choose between Linux and Windows at each startup with a dual-boot system.

In Part 3: Terms to help you talk like a Linux geek.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the internet, Windows and just about any program that run on it, are free. Therefore i have one tower running
Windows XP Prof Sp3 along with much video editing software for which i did not pay
a penny.
Of course i spend the vast majority of my computer time on my other tower which runs
PClinuxOS 2007,Mint linux, and Mac OS X
Tiger.Never going to get infected using any of those operating systems.
Personally i hope the linux world stays the size that it is now, not big like Microsoft.

Lightrider in southern New Jersey