Going open source
Jun 15, 2009, 11:35 GMT
Washington - In tough economic times, there's a good reason to start exploring open source software: it's free. But that's not the only reason.
The fact is, the open source software movement - which seeks revenue in ways other than through selling software to the general public - has resulted in so many first-quality applications that you could conceivably outfit an entire PC without ever spending any money at all. Read on for some ideas.
Q: I just bought a new PC. Rather than purchase a new license for Microsoft Office, I was wondering if there are compatible free replacements.
A: OpenOffice (http://www.openoffice.org) is certainly the most popular open source office productivity suite, and it's fully compatible with Microsoft Office, meaning it can both read and write files that are compatible with the major Office applications.
You'll spend very little time learning OpenOffice because the primary applications look very much like standard Office applications - at least those before the Office 2007 release, which radically overhauled the user interface.
OpenOffice isn't your only option, though. If you're always connected to the Internet, you may want to try out Google's Docs (http://docs.google.com), which increasingly makes more sense for those who use multiple computers. Having your documents stored online takes away the hassle of trying to keep documents synchronised among multiple computers. Students, office workers, and others who are on the go and use one computer at home and another at school or work may find Google Docs to be preferable to OpenOffice. Google Docs is also compatible with Microsoft Office files, including those produced with Office 2007.
Microsoft has also announced its intention to make the major applications in Microsoft Office available for free online. The release date for that free offering is unclear at the moment, but the effort is an indication of just how serious Microsoft views the threat from Google Docs and is a tacit acknowledgment that the future of many computer applications is probably online rather than on the desktop.
Q: I'd like to try my hand at podcasting. Is there some open source software out there that can help?
A: Yes. You need two components for a podcast: software that allows you to record audio, as well as some software that can generate an RSS feed for you. The RSS feed is used to publish your podcast.
For audio recording, there's no better application in the open source world than Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net). This tool is used by podcasters around the world because it supplies most of the audio recording and editing features that most people need, and it's easy to use.
Assuming Audacity recognises your headset and microphone out of the box, it's possible that you won't even need to consult the help file to be able to use it. Large VCR-like controls at the top of the program make recording and playing back your recordings as simple as pressing Play or Record on a real-world audio player. You'll want to save your audio as an MP3 file from Audacity, since that's the format most commonly used for podcasts.
For generating the RSS feed, you can use any of a number of free tools. Easypodcast (http://www.easypodcast.com) is an open source tool that is perfect for the job. It will allow you to create id3 tags, which contain information about the contents of your MP3 file, and it will create the RSS feed for you, and facilitate publishing.
Q: I have become pretty dependent upon Google Mail, but I miss the convenience of a dedicated e-mail program. Is there a free program out there that will allow me to send and receive my Google mail?
A: Yes. Mozilla's Thunderbird (http://www.mozillamessaging.com/en- US/thunderbird/) is a full-featured e-mail program that will work with your Gmail account. An 'account wizard' will walk you through the process of gaining access to your Gmail through Thunderbird. Essentially, you simply provide your Gmail user name and password, and you're all set.
But you can, in fact, retrieve your Gmail using just about any e- mail program, thanks to Gmail's Forwarding and POP features. Just go into your Gmail account, and click Settings. Then click the Forwarding and Pop tab or link. From there, in the POP Download section, you should configure Gmail to 'enable POP for all mail.' Now go to your e-mail program and configure a new account, making sure to choose POP as the server type. When you're asked to provide the incoming mail server (POP) name, use 'pop.gmail.com,' and for the outgoing mail server (SMTP), use 'smtp.gmail.com.'
Note that Google's outgoing mail server (SMTP) does require authentication, so you'll probably have to specify this in your e- mail application. In Microsoft Outlook, you do this by clicking the More Settings button in the e-mail account configuration dialog box, and then choosing 'My outgoing server requires authentication' and selecting 'Use same settings as my incoming mail server.'
That's all there is to it. Once configured, your e-mail program will be able to send and receive your Gmail.
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