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Whats in your computer?

Published: November 4, 2005
Section: Opinions


On my computer, youll find OpenOffice.org, Firefox, the GIMP and a variety of other programs that are free. But these programs arent free like that pirated version of office you got from youre uncle, nor are these programs free like those spyware-infested doodads you installed. These programs are actually free.

While there has been a lot of publicity around students getting sued over sharing music, there hasnt been nearly as much lately about students pirating software. The integrity sketch, shown to first-years during orientation, made a big deal about music piracy, but didnt even mention software during this discourse. At the beginning of the semester Elliott Kendall, UNET systems administrator, did make a policy decision to disallow pirated versions of Windows from the network since Microsoft wasnt letting users get the much needed security patches unless they verified that they had a genuine installation from the network, but other than that, it hasnt been brought up.

But the problem is rampant and not without bad reason to an extent. Microsoft Office 2003 Professional costs a whopping $500 to purchase more than double the cost of my shiny new desktop computer/monitor/printer/keyboard/mouse/speakers package. But when Steven Karel asked on the myBrandeis forums what people used as a cheap photo editor and asked Or has everyone bought or pirated Photoshop? it gave me a bit of pause. Piracy has become such a casual thing probably a form of protest against what we see as unreasonable fees.

But there are truly free programs that can be as good and sometimes even better than these commercial giants. Most of the school has become accustomed to the Firefox web browser (http://getfirefox.com) as it is the recommended browser of LTS, but there are plenty of other programs that can cut your software budget too. OpenOffice.org, a program sponsored by Sun Microsystems, can replace Microsoft Office for most, if not all, purposes. It even has features that Microsoft Office doesnt have such as the ability to export a document in the near-universal PDF format. It can even read and write to Microsoft Office formats.

The GIMP (http://gimp.org), aka GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a free Photoshop-like program that can save you the $600 that Adobe charges. You can find these kinds of programs for almost anything youre looking to do now-a-days from audio editors such as Audacity (http://audacity.sf.net) to whole operating systems such as Ubuntu (http://ubuntu.com) and SUSE (http://opensuse.org).

And it isnt just the cheap and the hippies who are using this kind of software. In fact, the Massachusetts State Government just finalized a proposal to phase out all Microsoft Office installations in state agencies in favor of office suites that support the OpenDocument and PDF formats (like OpenOffice.org). Even LTS at Brandeis uses such free software for many of its systems. While sage was not free, the system that powers myBrandeis, ACS, is free software (and for those who think that you get what you pay for, compare Sage with myBrandeis and I think youll find my arguments all the more credible).

While little of this free software is officially supported by LTS (currently only Firefox is), I would urge them to consider supporting some of these other programs. OpenOffice.org would be a great way to start as every student needs a word processor sometime and we cant all spend the money for Microsoft Office. LTS should encorage students to make responsible decisions when they pick their software and encourage them to use free alternatives when they are unable to afford the expensive proprietary programs.