Frankly the best software on the planet is free.

Free Open Source Software, also known as FOSS, not only provides the basis for the majority of the Internet Servers in the world, it also provides home and office software that can reduce your software expenditures to zero, $0.00, nada, nothing.

Define “Free”

Free has multiple meanings when applied to FOSS. Here are three I think are important. FOSS is not only free as in beer but free as in speech and free from worry.

Free Beer

I have to believe that everyone understands “free as in beer.” But just in case — it means that there is never any charge of any kind for the software. There are no up front charges, no license charges, no upgrade fees, no subscription fees; you simply never have to pay anything, ever. How great is that!

Would you refuse a free beer if someone offered it to you? And if you don’t imbibe alcohol, would you refuse a free Starbucks? Why would you refuse free software?

Worry Free

Because you never have to pay for licenses, you never have to spend money to monitor and audit your licenses. This frees you from the worry that the “Software Police” will come and require an expensive audit. Audits can be doubly expensive because they not only take time and money to perform but they also can cost money in penalties if it is discovered that you are using licenses for which you did not pay.

Make no mistake about it; the software police do come around. Microsoft can be very aggressive about that as can some other proprietary software companies.

Worry free also means that you never have to worry about the security or quality of the software. There are hundreds and even thousands of contributors to Open Source Software around the world who verify the usability and safety of the software. many of these people actively contribute code to various projects while others simply do quality control by checking the code directly or using it and reporting bugs.

Although all software has bugs, Open Source Software gets fixed much more quickly than proprietary software and the fixes are distributed much more quickly. Let’s face it; I have worked at companies that depend on closed source, proprietary software and their first reaction when you report a bug — despite paying thousands or even millions of dollars — is to do an analysis of Return On Investment, or ROI, to determine whether it is profitable for them to fix the bug. Most of the time they came back to us saying that they had known for some time that there was a bug but that it did not affect many customers and so they were not going to fix it. Best case I ever got was that it would be fixed in some unspecified future release, probably multiple years from now.

And of course that never did us any good as we needed the software fixed now. So in at least one place I worked we actually paid over $250,000 to have the software company fix bugs that were their fault and that should have been corrected for free. At another place we paid over $500,000 to have the software vendor add features that should have been in the software in the first place.

With FOSS simply make a request and the feature gets added. Report a bug and it gets fixed and is usually available within days or weeks at most. Or you can do it yourself if you have the skills — most of us don’t so we depend upon the programmers to deal with adding features or fixing bugs.

And finally I never have to worry about viruses, Trojan horses, worms, spyware and other nasties. Linux and FOSS is not immune to those things, but it is far more resistant than Windows and in the very unlikely event that it does get infected, the damage will be very limited. In fact, if you are really paranoid — and you should be if you run a web site, email server or other Internet connected service — you can activate the SELinux feature which was developed by the NSA to make it impossible for a cracker to damage a Linux computer even if he does break in. SELinux is sort of like bolting down the furniture and storing your valuables in a tungsten steel vault just in case someone breaks into the concrete bunker through the quadruple-locked steel door. Way overkill for most of us, though.

Free Speech

Free speech means that I can give you my opinion; which is exactly what I do on this blog and specifically in this post. Whether you want it or not. ;-)

It also means that I, or you, can give away copies of FOSS to anyone and everyone; it means that the software is freely available and unencumbered by restrictions of any type. In fact, the primary Open Source licenses, Gnu Public License, or GPL, and its derivatives all encourage us to give away copies of the programs. And most FOSS can be downloaded quite easily from the Internet.

So if I like a certain program, or an entire operating system, I can give you a copy and you can install it on as many computers as you want. You can turn around and give it to other people if you want to.

Software For Every Task

There is Free Open Source Software available for nearly every task you might want to do at home or in a business. I don’t intend to list them all here, but I run my business and my household on FOSS. This includes OpenOffice which does things like spreadsheets, math formulae,  drawing, database, and just plain old word processing and which includes the ability to use Microsoft Office documents and spreadsheets. I use GNUCash for my home and business finances. I use Thunderbird for email and Firefox for browsing the Internet.

I use VirtualBox for virtualizing multiple computers on a single hardware system. I use Tellico to keep collections of things such as books and the Gramps Genealogy System to research and keep track of my family. There is GIMP for complex image manipulation, Skype for Internet telephony, and multiple image viewers, photo management programs and media players.

And of course I use Linux as my operating system. Always free, secure and stable.

The best part is that all of this software is both free of cost and free as in speech. You can even try Linux and many FOSS programs using “live” spins that allow you to boot from a DVD or CD and try it out without changing or doing anything to your hard drive.

Getting Started

If you are ready to get started, or you simply want to learn more about FOSS, please go to my Millennium Technology Consulting LLC web site to learn more.

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