Trillions of dollars every year are spent worldwide on software, when free (and often superior) replacements are available for everyone to use.

Joseph N. Abraham MD, University of LouisianaThe Acadiana Educational Endowment gets calls from time to time from teachers who have received a new computer-- that doesn't have Microsoft Office.

"Go to OpenOffice.org," I tell the teacher.

"What do I do then?" she asks.

"Click 'Download'."

"What then?"

"Click 'Install'."

"Then what??"

"Use it."

"But I need all the things that MS Office does."

"It will do everything MS Office does, and many, many things that MS Office won't."

"But I'll have to learn a new system."

"It's very, very similar to MS Office. Most of the operations you need have the same buttons, and the important menu commands are the same. In a couple of days you'll be very comfortable with it."

"But I have all these files I created with MS Office."

"OpenOffice can open and edit them all."

"But I have to create documents to share with people who are still using MS Office."

"OpenOffice will save any files you create in numerous formats-- not just the current version of MS Office, but in older Microsoft formats, in StarWriter, and in formats for the web, for Palm machines, and others.  And when new versions of MS Office, come out, within a few weeks of release OpenOffice will be able to open them and save to the new formats.  You can't do that with earlier versions of MS Office."

"I don't know... "

To which I ask, "It sounds to good to be true? If a product like that were out there, and it were that good, and it were free, you'd have heard about it before?

"Well, it is that good. And it is free."

And there are over 350,000 free software packages just like it-- and that number is expanding exponentially-- which will not only replace everything you pay for right now, but many, many of these packages will allow you to do things you wished you could do, or never dreamed you could do, and that the big corporations don't provide.

They are part of the Open Source movement.

Why nobody has heard about this movement or the software it provides, is an amazing story that says some concerning things about the modern world, and in particularly, modern media. We'll address those in the future.

But consider the following software packages: Proprietary Platform MSRP Open Source Equivalent Cost Download

Proprietary Platform  MSRP Open Source Equivalent  Cost Download
Microsoft Vista $399.95 Many; Fedora, Ubuntu FREE FedoraProject.org, Ubuntu.com 
Microsoft Office $499.95 Open Office FREE OpenOffice.org
Adobe Photoshop $649.00 The Gimp FREE Gimp.org
Adobe Illustrator $599.00 Inkscape FREE Inkscape.org
Adobe Dreamweaver $399.00 Kompozer FREE Kompozer.net
Blackboard $300K/year Moodle FREE Moodle.org
Oracle $15K- $40K/year  MySQL, PostGreS FREE MySQL.com, PostGreSQL.org
Microsoft IIS $469 Linux + Apache FREE Linux.org, Apache.org
Plesk/cPanel $12K/$15K Webmin FREE Webmin.com

And then there are packages like Thunderbird to replace Outlook Express, and Firefox that will replace Internet Explorer.

Why go to something new, you ask, when Microsoft will also give you OE and IE for free?

Tux, Linux, Microsoft, Redmond WA, Good evening Mr. Gates, I'll be your server today.That's where the 350K free software packages come in.  I don't like Flash animations slowing down my web browsing, and running while I'm trying to read a page.  I visit Firefox Extentions/Add Ons, find and download Flash Blocker.  No more flash animations unless I click to view them.  I want to edit bookmarks without leaving the main web browser panel. I download Flat Bookmark Editing, and I can manage bookmarks in a side panel without leaving the webpage I'm viewing. I want to use my tabs in more powerful ways: TabMix Plus. I want to be able to zoom in and out on pictures with my mouse: MouseZoom.

And then I find things I never thought about. I stumbled upon Mouse Gestures one day. By right-clicking, and moving in a side-to-side motion, I close the current webpage tab. By moving to the left, I go backward in my viewing history; to the right, forward. By stroking upward through a link, it opens in a new tab. By stroking diagonally through a picture (and particularly, an obnoxious animation), it disappears. And many others.

Every one of the packages listed above has the same options: hundreds, perhaps thousands of free add-ons that will allow you to do things you need, or even things that you never dreamed of.

ultoday.com is published using Drupal, a free, Open Source platform that can do much, much more than we're using it for here, and which has an extensive library of free add-on software for making it even more powerful.   Our servers run on Ubuntu (a Linux "flavor"), Apache, MySQL, PHP, Webmin, and many other free software packages. When my webmasters need to create a new functionality for our websites, they hit the on-line software libraries, and find free downloads.

And when we need our various websites to do something for which we can't find pre-existing software, our webmasters can get into the software and modify it at will.  (This is obviously something that won't interest the average user, but it's actually the reason that the Open Source movement got off the ground:  programmers were frustrated that Microsoft, IBM and others wouldn't let them read the proprietary, 'closed source' code so as to modify software to fit current needs.)

My computer at home, the one I use to do a lot of my writing for ultoday.com and for other office work, runs completely on OpenSource.  The operating system is Ubuntu instead of Microsoft Vista, as well as OpenOffice, Thunberbird, Firefox, and many many others (for a list of computer vendors, click here.)  For years, I shied away from Linux machines (Ubuntu is a Linux variation) because I had heard that managing took complex computer knowledge.  Not anymore.  The only drawback with the Ubuntu system is that the software that comes with my PDA won't run on it; I found an Open Source replacement, but it's not ideal.  So for now, I still use Windows XP at the office.  Other than that one complaint, Open Source easily supplies all of my computing needs.

Why these software packages exist, and how Lafayette and Acadiana can use them, not just to save money, but to develop our software industry, educate our kids, and to keep us at the cutting edge of technology, will be the focus of future essays.

For now, you might just try some of them, see what you think.  Start with Firefox, play with the extensions, then try OpenOffice.  They're so good that you might just decide to try some of the others.