I’ve always been a vocal supporter of free and open source software (FOSS). Since migrating to a GNU/Linux platform, the things that it has allowed me to do have expanded my notion of what personal computing can, and dare I say, should be. It confounds me to this day that whereas the Android mobile OS (which is open source, if not free) is making such strides in pushing our notions of personal mobile telephony forward, we are stuck in a Microsoft ruled proprietary web when it comes to our personal computing. If, for instance, one day, sitting at your computer, you wish to learn or need to do some advanced statistical analysis or project management, it isn’t easy to do so on a Windows system.
The GNU/Linux platform I’m using – Ubuntu 12.04 LTS – has a Software Center, akin to the App Store or Google Play in mobile OSes. I need only search what tools I need, and I get a list of available FOSS solutions with ratings and reviews. Now, if I want a software to manage my personal finances, I just search ‘finance’ and bang!
This platform has served me well so far. However, (and this may sound like a confession) I have to admit that there is a problem of path dependence when it comes to GNU/Linux systems. Especially in a professional environment, where large amounts of files swap between several systems everyday, the issue of compatibility becomes acute. And while this isn’t solely the problem of FOSS (LibreOffice supports .doc and .docx formats, while MS Office does not support .odt); this is akin to arguing that your entire office should abandon QWERTY in favour of DVORAK because a few of you know it to be more efficient. The world doesn’t work that way. Things don’t get support merely on the virtue of being better.
The arrival today of a Lenovo ThinkPad E430 as my work laptop has triggered this post. Now that I simultaneously straddle the worlds of Windows and GNU/Linux, I will lose my FOSS purity. My worries about viruses, crashes, CCleaner, the ominous blue circle of waiting/processing, and the ever so notorious .exe files are back after a 2.5 year hiatus. If you’re interested in knowing what are the 10 things I did the moment I got my Windows laptop, check the first comment on this post. At the same time, I am willing to acknowledge that no FOSS alternatives exist that are even remotely as powerful as MS Office. Part of me is sad.
Another part though is quite glad. I now have a spare laptop (my 4.5 year old trusted Dell Studio) that is all mine to play with. Given how much of our lives is tied to computers, I’m a little embarrassed by how little I know about them. I’ve always wanted to experiment with different GNU/Linux distros – like CrunchBang Linux – but the fear of crashing my workhorse always loomed large. Not anymore. My computer education can now begin in earnest.