Open Source/Free Software

For many people, particularly those living in developing countries, the cost of computer software--from operating systems, to work/office applications, to games-- is prohibitively high. One common solution has been to use pirated or copied commercial software-- which can often be downloaded from the Internet or purchased locally on DVDs for small sums of money. The downside, in addition to the fact that using pirated software is illegal in most countries, is that this pirated software cannot be upgraded or protected adequately from viruses or may even be blocked from working by the product manufacturers. Offices or individuals using pirated software often have to deal with large numbers of computers which don't function properly or don't even work at all because of virus infections or other malicious software.

One solution is to use fee software which which provides solutions to most of an average computer user's many needs. There is free software available to replace familiar commercial operating systems for almost all a computer user's requirements, including operating systems, home and work applications, scientific software and major database engines. This software is called open source and is developed and distributed by groups of people or individuals who believe that software should be made available free. Open source software can be used to replace both the operating system and the applications on a computer. In addition to operating on open source operating systems, much of the open source software also has versions which run on Windows or the Apple operating system. Users have the option of using a commercial operating system like Windows and replacing some or all of their applications with open source software. There is also a category of free software provided by commercial firms.

What is the difference between open source and free software? Open source software is provided at no cost by the copyright holder under an open-source license which permits the user to use, modify and distribute the software. Free software is provided at no cost by a commercial software or hardware producer--these are often a driver for hardware or a reduced function version of commercial software. Some open source software "purists" object to the use of "free" software in conjunction with open source software-- these pages will distinguish between open source and free software, mainly because many of the free software applications run only under the Windows operating system.

The pages in this section will examine the some of the choices available between commercial and open source software for operating systems-- in this case the choice between Windows or Apple and an operating system called Linux--as  well as the choices to be made when choosing between commercial and open source applications like spreadsheets, word processors, and drawing software. They will also identify some of the software products available in the different categories. Links will be provided to online training on installing and using the different types of software. In the Using Data section of this web site, examples will be given of how to use the software to manage and analyze data downloaded from some of the common online databases identified in the Data Sources section.

The paragraphs below give a brief introduction to both open source operating systems and applications. The menu on the left-hand side of this page can  be used to navigate between the different topics in this section.

Software can be divided crudely into two main categories, operating systems and applications. Note that many open source operating systems and applications have interfaces and documentation available in many languages.

Operating Systems (Ubuntu/Linux): The best known commercially-sold operating system is probably Microsoft Windows. Apple also produces operating systems for it's computers. The Microsoft and Apple operating systems come in many versions. The principal open source operating system is known as Linux. Because it can be freely modified there are scores of different versions of Linux available both for servers and for personal computers (desktop, laptop and netbooks). There are also versions for tablets, smart phones, etc. This web site will consider only software designed for individual use on laptop, netbook or desktop computers. Two of the most popular Linux distributions (distros) are Ubuntu and Mint but there are dozens of options available, many of them designed to deal with specific issues -- the need to run on older or under powered machines for example. Distrowatch at http://distrowatch.com lists and briefly describes 10 of the most popular distributions.(These pages are all about average users--"techies" will already know about the thousands of web-sites devoted to various implementations of Linux and the applications that run on it.). While Linux is an extremely powerful and reliable operating system, and does not require the most modern hardware to run well, it is not without problems-- various versions may not run on some computers and it  lacks suitable (easily installed) drivers for some printers and wifi devices. This section will argue that using Linux is for many reasons better than using a pirated copy of Windows, but will also present the for an against arguments for using Linux if legal and anti-virus protected copies of Windows are available. These issues to be considered include cost, hardware requirements, procuring and loading the software, and links to training. To link to the main page on operating systems click here.

Applications--Open Source: Linux comes with a menu application which gives access to hundreds of applications which can be easily installed, unfortunately, for low bandwidth areas access to many of these applications requires a relatively fast Internet connection. However, a few key applications are installed at the same time as Linux . Three groups of open source software will be discussed 1) the applications which load with Linux; 2) applications which can be installed using the Linux Software Center; 3) applications which have to be installed manually or using other software.  Many of the open source software applications have versions for Linux, Windows and Apple (a few run only on Windows). Each link will identify which operating systems the software is available for. The listings will concentrate on a basic package of work-place related applications. (Many open source games are also available--these web pages will not provide information on games). To link to the software application pages click here .

==>See the side menu for links to information on getting and installing open source operating systems and applications software.

Copyright 1998/2015 GRI Updated 15 April 2015