Should You Use Open-Source Software?

Open Source Software

To answer that question I need to explain what open-source software is. According to Wikipedia open-source software is “computer software with its source code made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose”. So what does that actually mean? In practical terms it means that you can legally use open-source software for personal or business use for no monetary payment. You can install it on as many computers as you want and use it for any purpose that you like. All for no fee.

I use open-source software every day. Well, that’s not quite true. There is the rare day when I don’t use a computer at all. The open source software that I use all the time is the web browser Firefox. I use Firefox not because it is open-source, but because I find it to be faster and more reliable than other web browsers for the way I use it. That last part of the sentence is important. Software is complex, but not as complex as people. Everybody has different requirements, likes and dislikes, work habits – the list is endless. I do like the free aspect of open-source software, but more for the freedom that it offers rather than the dollars and cents considerations. You can try open-source software for as long as you like. If you decide a particular package doesn’t work for you, or you simply don’t like it there is no penalty apart from the time you have invested in coming to that decision.

So my answer to the question is go ahead, but use it because it’s the best tool for the job not because it saves a few dollars.

Which Software Should I Try?

There are lots of different types of software. I’ll look at three categories only that you are likely to use for business and/or personal use.

Productivity software abounds, but the undisputed king in this category is Microsoft Office. I have to say that I have not found an adequate replacement for MS Office. Outlook is the best business email client by far and (almost) mandatory if you use Office 365. Some businesses use Open Office or Libre Office, but I find them clunky in comparison to MS Office.

I’ve already talked about the web browser Firefox. Many people like Chrome, though it’s not open-source. Many people use Internet Explorer or the newer Edge from Microsoft.

If you use a computer for long enough you will sooner or later need to deal with an archive file (think zip file). Archives actually come in many different formats but the one you will most commonly encounter is the zip format. Windows does have a built in way of accessing the contents of zip files which works well enough, though I find it inflexible. If you need a more powerful archive manipulation program have a look at 7-zip, a very powerful and fast archiving program.

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