Saturday, January 31, 2009

Free Software Foundation - A Worthy Cause

Free software is not all about saving money. I certainly do not mind paying for the applications and games that I have purchased if they are good, but once I purchase them I believe they should actually be mine. I think it would be quite silly if I purchased a movie and was only allowed to use it on one DVD player, but no one seems to find it silly when I can only install a program or game on one computer or run it on only one operating system. Championing Open Source software is not just something I do to save money, rather it is a way to exercise my rights to use what belongs to me. If I pay good money for a product, I should be able to use it however I want. Open Source is about giving the user freedom to share, study, and modify what they own.

Since it is not all about the money my husband and I have decided to increase our financial support to more of the Open Source projects that we believe in. Once a month we will pick a project we think is worthy and give them our financial support. I will then highlight them here so that others can learn about what they are doing. Since I am just really beginning to seriously explore Open Source we thought we would start the year off by highlighting and donating to the Free Software Foundation. The main goal of the FSF to is fight for the freedoms of computer users like myself. Here are some excerpts from their website that explain exactly what they do.

"The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a 501(c)3 donor supported charity founded in 1985 and based in Boston, MA, USA. The FSF has a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom and to defend the rights of all free software users.

"The FSF maintains the Free Software Definition - to show clearly what must be true about a particular software program for it to be considered free software."

"The FSF sponsors the GNU project the ongoing effort to provide a complete operating system licensed as free software. "

"The FSF holds copyright on a large proportion of the GNU operating system, and other free software. We hold these assets to defend free software from efforts to turn free software proprietary... We do this to ensure that free software distributors respect their obligations to pass on the freedom to all users..."

"The FSF publishes the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL), the worlds most popular free software license, and the only license written with the express purpose of promoting and preserving software freedom."

There are several ways you can support the Free Software Foundation, and of course financial support is always a great way to start. The FSF receives the bulk of their income from individual donors just like you and me. You can make a donation online or in the mail, or even become a member. Your membership can be paid in full or split up into monthly installments.

At the FSF website you can see this video from Stephen Fry as he announces the birthday of the GNU project. In it he explains the concept of "free" software in a manner in which I think you will understand and enjoy. I hope this will at least explain to you why I am so passionate about the Open Source movement.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Installing and Removing Programs on Ubuntu Linux

Since this guide is geared towards average users like myself who are used to Windows, I will not be addressing command line applications or how to use the console just yet. Instead this is an explanation of how to install programs inside your Gnome desktop.

In the top panel bar under the heading "Applications" you will find a list of headings for various categories of applications.

Under each one you will see that many programs have already been installed for you. You might want to take some time to see just what you have. Under "Accessories" you will find a text editor, calculator and various helpful tools like that. There are also "Educational" apps as well as many "Games." Under "Graphics" you will find that Gimp has already been installed and under "Office" you will find that you Open Office is ready for use.

Once you are familiar with the programs you already have on Linux you will see at the bottom of that list is the Add/Remove option which is where you will need to go to install and remove programs.

When you click on the list you will find there are many applications available for you to install. The first one I suggest you get is Wine for it will help you install programs that require Windows compatibility. (Please note that while Wine is an excellent resource for helping you run your software on Linux it is not able to make every program work successfully. Thankfully there are programmers that are constantly at work and if something does not run now, chances are it will work in the future.)

So to install Wine, or any other application that you find available in the add/remove programs manager, you first need to find the program you wish to install. If you know the name of it, as with Wine, you can simply type that into the search bar and it will bring up all programs with that name in it. Each entry gives a brief description of what the program does. To select a program for installation click on the box beside it so that you see a check mark next to the name. (If the program already has a check mark it means that app is already installed on your computer.)

If you do not know the name or even what you wish to install, just browse through the various categories to see what is available.

You can check as many applications as you want and it will install them all at once. In fact it will install some while un-installing others if that is what you want it to do. When you are ready to install the programs you have selected, click the "apply changes" button at the bottom. (To remove a program simply uncheck the box and then click "apply changes") It will then begin installing your new programs (or uninstalling your old ones). You will be prompted to type in your user password first. Do not let that worry you, this is just to ensure you are authorizing the installation. Once it has finished it will have a window stating that the application (or applications) has been installed (or uninstalled) successfully. Simply click close and you are done.

To try out your new program go back to the Applications list on your panel bar and look for that program in the appropriate category, unless it is configured to to be it's own category, as is the case with wine. Any programs that you install using Wine will be found under its heading.

Now you are ready to install and run your programs on Linux. I have found that some of the programs available were really great, and that others were not. You just have to give them a try to find out. The great part is that you are free to try as many of them as you like because you are now running an operating system that allows you the freedom to choose the applications you want.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Installing Ubuntu Linux Step by Step

Well, I did it! I installed Ubuntu onto a separate hard drive on my computer, so now I can either boot to my Windows drive, or my Linux drive. Right now, I am actually blogging from Linux for the first time ever!

I was actually amazed at how easy the installation process was. I installed the Cd and just followed the commands (though my husband did help me to insure that I chose to install it on the proper drive rather than accidentally losing all my data).

I had originally planned to post instructions on the actual process of installing, but it really was as easy as reading the commands and clicking the appropriate response. Besides, Ubuntu already has done an excellent job of documenting the step-by-step instructions for us. To see exactly what I did, go to their website and read their Graphic Walk-through Installation of Ubuntu.

So I will just take up where they left off. As with any installation of an OS, including Windows, the first things you should always do is update it. To do this you need to click on the updates icon (a red arrow) on your main panelbar. Now, unlike Windows, the main panel menubar in our Gnome desktop interface is at the top. On the right side of that top panel menubar you should see the updates icon. When you click on that it will install all the important updates you will need. This will take some time, but it is a very important step. Once you have completed your updates be sure to keep an eye out for that icon in the future, for just like in WIndows, it will appear anytime there are updates that you need.

Next to that arrow there might be another icon called "restricted drivers." Do not let this title scare you. All that means is that you have hardware that requires drivers that are not open source and therefore can not be supported by open source developers. It does not mean you are restricted from using the driver. To install restricted drivers just click on the icon and select the drivers you want installed and Ubuntu will take care of the rest. For more info on restricted drivers visit the Ubuntu Restriced Drivers page.

Now that we have the system installed and updated it is time to see what Linux can and can't do. That will hopefully be the topic of my next blog. In the meantime I am off to play around in Linux!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How To Install The Ubuntu Linux OS

I am about ready to install a Linux Operating System (OS) onto my machine. After much research I have decided to install Ubuntu. Not only is it the OS my husband prefers but in my research I have heard that it is one of the easiest to both use and install. It is very user friendly and their website has very easy step-by-step instructions on how to download and install it.

I found a pretty good video which instructs the average user on how to install and run Linux. In it you will notice that he mentions instructions on downloading and burning the Cd. For those who do do not have the ability or desire to burn a copy of Ubuntu (or any other distribution) they do offer to send you the Ubuntu CD free of charge, but it can take up to 10 weeks to receive it so make sure you are prepared to wait if you do that. The video also shows how to install Ubuntu but he then actually runs the Mepis distribution. I will be installing and running only Ubuntu.

I found out some great information for those of you who are still not sure you are ready or willing to commit to a full Linux OS. When you boot to the Ubuntu Cd for the first time it gives you an option to run the OS straight from the CD. This requires absolutely no installation onto your machine. You can play around in the Linux environment and get a feel for it without the risk of messing anything up and without any commitment to keep it. I did that last night and played around with it for awhile. It really did have a similar feel to Windows and it was not long before I was able to figure out how things worked. I really looked into everything on my menu and even read through some help files to learn about some aspects that were new to me. Do realize that it does run slower running it off the Cd than it would if you actually installed it though, so don't let that make you think running Ubuntu is slow. Just use it to get a feel for the environment.

Another option for those either unwilling to commit to full Linux or who simply want to run both Operating Systems is to install it inside Windows using Wubi. The Wubi installer is already part of the Cd you have either downloaded or ordered from Ubuntu. When you run the disk while in Windows it will give you an option to install inside Windows. If you do this you will be able to boot to either Windows or Linux on startup and if you decide you do not like it you can uninstall it inside Windows without having done any damage.

With all that in mind I wanted to share the videos I found. The Videos below are part of a four part series from DottoTech on installing Linux fully onto a machine. No matter which option you choose, he does a pretty good job at explaining all that is involved in a way that is easy for any user to understand. If you find them helpful and want more info you can check out his Youtube page and look for the other videos in the series. I think these two cover most of the basics. If you have any doubt about it at all I really suggest playing around in the demo first and then using the Wubi to install it (although I will not be nor have I used Wubi, I have heard it works pretty reliably). This is the safest way to get some experience with Linux.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

You Don't Have To Be a Techie

I want to start this blog by specifying what my goal actually is. I am not a computer programmer, techie or even interested in the field. I am a work at home mother who uses the computer regularly, mostly to surf the net, do office work, play games, make photos and cards, and try organize my life. I am the type of person who is targeted in marketing by both Microsoft and Apple to use their products. If it were not for being married to a computer programmer I would probably have gone broke buying all the products I felt I needed to have in order to perform all the functions necessary on my computer. I would have Windows Vista on my PC, or even gotten a more expensive Mac thinking those were my best options. I would have purchased Microsoft Office not knowing that there was a free and compatible alternative program available. I would have also had to buy Adobe Photoshop (or other such product) to make my graphics and I would be using a slower, more vulnerable browser to surf the web. I am amazed at how much free software is out there and even more amazed that so few people know about it.

My goal is simply to help the average user begin to understand that "Open Source Software" is available to them and why it is in their best interest to use it. One very appealing reason to use it is the amount of money it will save you. Why would anyone want to pay $100+ for an office suite when you get one just as good (or even better) for FREE? It makes no sense to me. Yet still people either are not aware that they have the option or they are too afraid to try something new. If a person already knows how to use MSOffice they generally want to stick with what they know (that was my initial response), yet for the most part the Open Source products are not generally all that different from their expensive counterparts. They may appear to be different at first, but once you get used to the new product you often find that it is not only as good as what you were used to, but it is often superior in many ways.

Of course, my goal is not simply to save people money, I do have some ulterior motives as well. It is my personal desire to leave Windows all together. I wish I never had to use it, yet at this time it is all I have ever used. Not because it is the best system for my needs and not because it is the best value for my money or even because I just like it. I only use Windows because it is the only systems that some of my favorite games and programs will run on. The sad part is, it does not have to be that way. It really is not all that difficult for them to make games compatible with Linux or certain browser functions to work in Firefox. Companies simply choose not to do so. Since not very many people are using the Open Source projects they just do not bother taking the time to market to that small segment of the population. For the most part they know that most people will give in and did like I do and fork over the extra money for Windows because we really want that game, or service bad enough. Well, I am done giving in.

There are actually some positive changes going on. The market shares are starting to shift. Just last Month Microsoft's Internet Explorer dropped to 68% of the market while Firefox climbed to over 21%. If that trend keeps up more websites will be forced to make all of their applications compatible with Firefox. The trend for a change in Operating Systems is moving much slower. While Linux is the third leading operating system, it still has less than 1% of the market share. Remember, that is not because Linux is not as good as Windows, but because it requires the user to have more skill and knowledge (which can be easily obtained) and because most programs are not currently made to be compatible in it. These are obstacles that can be overcome, in time, and you can help us do it.

So that is why I am here. To prove to you that you can and should support the Open Source movement. Not only will Open Source save you money, but it will give you power too. See, Open Source is not just free in terms of money, but in terms of knowledge as well. With Open Source products you actually have control of your own computer in how it runs and operates. Once you experience that freedom you will never want to turn to back to anything else. I am here to prove to you that you have what it takes to do it. You do not have to be a techie, a geek or even go to class to learn how to use this stuff. With the sources of these products being open to the public, that also means that you can generally find help, advice and support for them too. You just have to know where and how to look.

That is what I plan to do, help you find and discover Open Source Software. I will share info about each program I use and either write my own or share other user guides for these products. I also plan on installing and running Linux, all by myself and I will be keeping you posted about my experience along the way. So please join me as I venture off into the world of Open Source Software and share with you just how literally free and easy it can be for all of us!