Monday, February 11, 2008

Welcome to Linuxville, here's the lay of the land

It is like the scene in the movie Tron where Tron contacts the girl, Yori, embraces her and she responds with statistical codes while looking him intently in the eyes. Then he shakes her, she awakens and engages in normal conversation. We MS programmed users think and speak Microsoft until slapped around a little. We all do it, when we want to write a document and instinctively reach for Word. Then when Linux is presented we ask will Word run on it? In your mind, write doc = use Word. This is entirely understandable as popular usage causes some leakage into the common vocabulary. The real truth is that we want the familiarity of Word and the ability to produce a Word compatible document. Well, let's examine that a little bit. If a product was exactly like MS Word, Microsoft wouldn't stand for that so it has to be a little different. Then it can't be a whole new thing because it won't be familiar to us. Then the document format must be consistent and compatible with Word because that is what is in popular use. So what does MS do? They change the user interface so the product appears to be new (we must have the new stuff!) but they also change the file formats just enough to be incompatible with the older formats. They call it an improvement but they intend to control the file formats and make their product indispensable. Now other document application developers must lease the rights to use the new formats making them subject to the wiles and whims of Microsoft. This is just business to MS and we too must sign a users agreement so we are not exempt from their influence. We don't care about these things, all we really want is to make the document. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) comes to the rescue. Open Office Writer is what I am talking about or Abiword or Kwrite. They each have a similar interface as MS Word, that is point and click, drop down menus and tool tips. They each can read and write the current MS Word file formats (until MS changes them again) and they each can be acquired off the internet for free. The only reason we don't use them is because we are convinced that MS Word is the only one that can do the job. I sort of advocate that certain file formats should be public domain for free and open computing. Then if you want a vendor's propriety format to use, that is your choice, not your obligation to use a certain vendor's product. Free and open computing, what a concept!! You don't have a business, yet you must have MS Word because that's what businesses use. It's not your fault, businesses ask if you are experienced in using MS Word instead of if you have word processor experience. They too have assumed MS Word is the acceptable standard. I am pointing out that the use of Linux and open source software is a challenge to the concept of using MS compatible products.
If you are like me, can't always justify the cost of upgrading both hardware and software to do the same things I do on my old computer, then Linux and open source software is a viable option well worth looking into. "Take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes"(The Matrix movie). Go to if you are curious. Then I also ask that you new computer buyers getting ready to jump into MS hyperspace to look here, for FOSS stuff to run on your MS system. Consider it like clipping coupons to save money, and if you must spend something, donate to the software projects, they could use the funding, it will be appreciated. Yeah, I know, Linux and FOSS seem to skirt the normal economics of doing business but when times are tight and cost matters, the way of doing business as usual must be adjusted. You must bite the hand that feeds you once in a while to keep it real. I am also here to tell you home users that there is no reason on earth to go into debt in order to compute. If you need commercial stuff for your survival, that is OK, but if not, there is no threat to the economy or national interest to use free and open source software. Me, I'm just here to shake you a little, you might awaken to engage in a normal conversation. Then we can once again gain access and control over our computing experience.

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