Going All-FOSS With a New Computer

Linux bloggers’ New Year’s resolutions tend to be many and varied in any given year, but one most can surely agree upon is the desire to outfit a new PC with nothing but free software.

That sentiment, indeed, is just the one that was anticipated over at Computeractive UK, which published a compelling little story along those lines back in December.

“I want to use only free software on my new PC. Where do I start?” the piece began, before zeroing in on Ubuntu, in particular.

Of course, as any good Linux geek knows, there’s a wide world of FOSS out there, and Ubuntu is just the beginning — but certainly not the only one.

Bloggers didn’t hesitate to pick up that ball and run with it.

‘Scribus, Inkscape, and Hugin’

“I would still choose Ubuntu, and in fact I am still running it,” offered Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza. “I would start out with essentially the default set of applications, because that is the path of least resistance, but I would certainly also install some other FoSS greats like Scribus, Inkscape, and Hugin.”

For gamers, meanwhile, “I’d also install Freespace 2 Open and perhaps VRally just to give them something to do in between bouts of cursing Wine for breaking compatibility with a game that worked last week,” Espinoza added.

“My lady is running Ubuntu and is happier with it than with XP in almost every way,” he pointed out. “After a few initial questions on ‘how do I do this thing I used to do,’ there are actually less new questions coming because it doesn’t break as often.

“If only Overdrive Media Console weren’t windows-only, she’d probably never need to touch ‘doze again,” Espinoza concluded.

‘I Highly Recommend Wicd’

“I am running Fedora 16 right now and added LibreOffice and Dropbox,” chimed in Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.

“If I installed Ubuntu, it would have everything I needed even from the USB install, except for Dropbox,” Lim added.

“For a Linux-only PC I highly recommend Wicd for easy point and click wireless management,” suggested consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

‘GnuCash or LedgerSMB’

Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, had a different set of packages to suggest for the general user:1) Linux — “depending on purpose and user, Fedora, Scientific Linux, Ubuntu, or Mint”;2) LibreOffice;3) TexLive and LyX;4) Scribus;5) Chrome and Firefox;6) GnuCash (for personal finances) OR LedgerSMB (for business finances); and7) Redshift — “this program is AMAZING and and has at least doubled my productivity just by changing the colors subtly on the monitor,” Travers said.

‘Intuitive GUIs Are a Must’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet had a different perspective.

For musically inclined users, for instance, “there is Comodo Dragon, Audacity and Hydrogen,” he offered.

“If it is an older machine, AbiWord — otherwise LibreOffice,” hairyfeet added. “VLC is always there as a backup media player since it’ll play anything, Pidgin for the chatters, and that is about it.

“There is plenty more I put on that’s free but not FOSS, like Klite and Avast Free, but there seems to be a real dearth of good FOSS software for Windows — most of it has frankly just horrible GUIs, like Gimp,” he noted. “My users are ‘Suzy the checkout girl’ types, so really nice and intuitive GUIs are a must.”

‘Free as in FOSS’

There are many different ways to define “free” software, noted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“Some software costs money, some costs more in terms of time,” Hudson explained. “Some software has more restrictions attached to it. And just as previous generations wasted their time arguing about angels dancing on pin-heads, today’s pin-heads dance around shouting why their definition of ‘Free’ is the only one that matters.”

In any case, “it’s a given that the vast majority of people already have an operating system, and you’re not going to convince them to change,” Hudson asserted. “Still, there’s plenty of good ‘Free as in FOSS’ stuff out there for them” — programs that “have Windows, Linux, and OSX versions, and are all open-source-licensed, so users can freely move from one environment to another without having to switch programs.”

‘Filezilla Is Hard to Beat’

When it comes to downloading files, for example, “Filezilla is hard to beat,” Hudson opined. “There’s Thunderbird for email, and of course Firefox for surfing the web.

“Throw in LibreOffice for the office/home office or student, jEdit (gpl) for editing non-word-processing files like source code or web pages, VideoLan media player to watch pretty much every popular audio and video media format you’ll run into, and Pysol Fan Club, because more than 1,000 different versions of solitaire, mahjong, sliding tile and other puzzles beats Freecell every time,” she added.

For those running Windows “who want to get their hands dirty with a good FOSS web server stack,” meanwhile, “there’s the Uniform Server (apache, php, perl, mysql, and phpmyadmin) — just unzip it to either their hard drive or a usb key and run it,” Hudson suggested.

‘Opera Is the Better Product’

So why Firefox and not Chrome?

“Chrome has been left out because, as others have pointed out, unlike parent project Chromium, the terms of the Chrome license render Chrome as a whole non-free,” Hudson concluded. “If we were to include non-free browsers, Opera is still the better and more complete product.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.

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