Results of The Free Software Experiment


Over one year ago, I decided to buy a new notebook computer for use with ham radio and other personal projects. In the past, I’ve been a typical user of Microsoft products, including Windows, MS Office, Internet Explorer, etc. The Open Source movement has been interesting to me and I often wondered about using some of these free software programs.

I bought an HP/Compaq Presario 2200 computer and proceeded to load it with “free” software. I was on a quest to determine how far I could go without paying a cent for software. My basic rules were:

  • Don’t pay anything for software
  • Avoid free braindead software that forces you to upgrade to the premium ver$ion
  • Don’t cheat the system by using hacked software

The first decision I encountered was whether to use Linux or Windows XP. The computer came loaded with Windows XP, so I considered that “free”. I have used technical computers with the Unix operating system at work, so I am still tempted to bring up a Linux system here at home. For now, I decided to stick with Windows since there is quite a bit of freeware available on that OS and it was already installed.

For the main software applications, I quickly zero’d in on OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird. These apps seem to be the real leaders in their respective areas.

OpenOffice

From the OpenOffice.org web page:
OpenOffice.org is a
multiplatform and multilingual office suite and an open-source project. Compatible with all other major office suites, the product is free to download, use, and distribute.

I had high hopes for OpenOffice and it is a reasonably good piece of software. I had used MS Word for many years (currently using Word 2003) and was pretty much a power user of that software. The word processor portion of OpenOffice (OpenOffice Writer) has enough features to compete with Word and even has a few advantages such as outputting in pdf format. I lived without Word on my new PC for about 7 months and only used OpenOffice. Ultimately, I had to give in and install Word. There were just too many places where OpenOffice was not quite compatible with the industry standard. Graphics inserted into documents would mysteriously get mangled or would print incorrectly when transferred to Word. Word is the defacto standard so OpenOffice is, by definition, incompatible. Frankly, my life got much simpler after installing Word. For users that don’t care about Word compatibility, I can highly recommend OpenOffice.

While the compatibility issues of the OpenOffice word processor are kind of a problem, the OpenOffice spreadsheet is a real mess. The feature set and user interface is quite different from Excel and is a distant second in terms of overall functionality. Fortunately, my spreadsheet usage is very basic, so I have been able to just live with OpenOffice.

Overall, I give OpenOffice a “B-” grade.

Firefox
My experience with Firefox, the web browser, has been excellent. I am very happy with version 1.5 and look forward to 2.0. The tabbed interface and the extensions that are available are a real plus. Also, there have been fewer security problems with Firefox compared to Internet Explorer.

Overall, I give Firefox an “A” grade.

Thunderbird
I am on version 1.5 of Thunderbird and continue to be very impressed. This email client is quite flexible in handling multiple pop accounts and supports extensions and themes. See Why You Should Use the Mozilla Thunderbird E-Mail Program. My only complaint on Thunderbird is that its spam filtering could be better. I don’t know that this is a ding on Thunderbird in that spam is a continuing challenge for everyone. Still, I’d say having a stronger spam filter is the best thing they could do to improve the email client.

Overall, I give Thunderbird an “A” grade.

Other Software
What other free software do I have on my PC? There are quite a few ham radio software packages out there, many of them free: EchoLink (ham radio voice-over-IP), Morse Runner (CW contest simulator), MorseGen (generate Morse code on your PC), WinMorse (converts text to Morse code audio file), SatScape (satellite tracking software) and UI-View (APRS software).

What are your favorite free software packages?

73, Bob K0NR

  1. #1 by Al on 31 October 2006 - 7:37 pm

    A lot of software can now be replaced by online offerings like http://online.thinkfree.com or http://docs.google.com, for example.

    CDBurnerXP Pro (great CD burning software)

    Audacity – Sound editing

    The GIMP – Imaging

    Scribus – DTP

    FoxIt PDF

    Dia – Diagramming (also some on the Web)

    LTCSpice – Best free Spice (circuit simulator)

    TinyCAD

    SciLab – Free; sort of like MATLAB

    I have quite a few posts about Web-based software on my blog at http://www.hotsolder.com.

    73 de WD5GNR

  2. #2 by bobw k0nr on 31 October 2006 - 8:39 pm

    Al,
    Thanks for the great comments. For high-usage software such as document creation, I tend to stay away from the online versions. There are too many times that I need to work offline.

    I have used Audacity and have found it to be one of the best freeware programs out there. I need to check out some of the others you mention.

    73, Bob

  3. #3 by f6gia on 1 April 2007 - 2:07 am

    Hello Bob
    Scuse me for my bad english in first!
    I search always free softwares for my computers and activities but Firefox is’nt the good choice, ist correct but with 1001 plug-ins; I prefer Opera, free and most complete (browser, email client, irc client, news RSS client, ftp client and other…)
    For imaging I use Photofiltre, Paint.NET
    for texts I use NotePad++
    For PCB Kicad
    For sat tracking; Orbitron
    For washed my PCs, I use CCleaner
    For file management and plus ist FileCommander, its great!
    For hearing and viewing media files its VLC media player and IrfanView
    With opera emailer I use DreamMail too, a vy big software…
    For uploaded my files on my site, I use Web Site Publisher or DropUpload…
    Many other solutions for all just searching, hi!!!
    All softs describes here are free
    All the best to you and readers from f6gia, Jean Marie

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