BOOT CAMP 479 (05/06/07)
Freeware Top Tens. Part 5, Microsoft
There is a widely held view that Microsoft is
the only game in town when it comes to PC operating systems and software,
though the loyal army of Apple users would certainly disagree with that.
However, beyond the offerings from the two principle players there doesn’t seem
to be that much choice.
In fact nothing could be further from the truth
and this week’s foray into the wonderful world of free software we look at some
of the low and no-cost alternatives that are helping to keep the big boys on
You know the drill by now; you install these
programs at your own risk, we cannot help with technical queries and please pay
the licence fee or make a donation if you like what you find.
Windows and the Mac operating systems remain
the first choice by default for most PC users, and generally speaking they do
the job but in the past five years Linux has evolved into a safe, secure and
civilised alternative. However, it can still be a minefield for newcomers, not
least navigating the vast choice of ‘distributions’.
At the last count there were more than1000
versions of Linux, though it’s not as bad as it sounds as most of them are
designed for specialist applications, everything from controlling mobile phones
to industrial servers. Nevertheless there are still more than 50 distributions
that are suitable for desktop and laptop PCs, providing the same kind of
functionality as Windows and the Mac OS; of those around a dozen or so are
suitable for novices, and almost all of them are free or ‘Open Source’, yours
for the cost of an Internet download.
The distributions we are most interested in
share the same 32-bit architecture as Windows, in other words they will run on
any reasonably recent Windows PC. Virtually all distributions designed for
general use have a Windows like interface so there’s no steep learning curve
and most come bundled with a comprehensive range of software, including web
browser, email program, games, picture viewer and editor and a suite of MS
Office compatible applications (word processor, spreadsheet, AV presenter and
so on), suitable for home and office use.
Linux is a great way of putting a retired
Windows PC to good use and for relatively painless introduction I suggest
trying any of the following: Debian, Fedora, Mandriva, Red Hat, SuSE or Ubuntu.
You will find a brief description and links to all of them on the Linux Online website, and if you fancy giving
it a try look at Boot
Camps 446 - 449, which shows you how to install Mandriva Linux on a PC,
either on its own, or in a ‘dual-boot’ configuration with Windows. You can also
get a taste of Linux, without changing your existing setup – see this weeks’
Microsoft Word is difficult to avoid if you
need to share or exchange documents with anyone else. But it’s not impossible
and a good starting point is AbiWord.
It’s another freebie Open Source program and the key advantage is that it can
read and write Word Documents and is compatible with a host of other widely
used WP programs and document formats, including WordPerfect, Palm, OpenOffice,
RTF and HTML, to name just a few. It has a near identical layout to Word and
similar set of features with a built-in spell-checker (30 languages), word count,
mail merge, advanced layout options, tables, graphics handling, right to left
and mixed mode text, import and export to/from pdf. There’s also a huge range
of plug-ins to extend its capabilities even further, including text to speech,
translation, grammar checker, Thesaurus and many, many more.
an all-in one office suite, compatible with MS Office with a word processor,
spreadsheet, AV presenter, database and so on, try OpenOffice.org. For more details see Boot
some major improvements to Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox continues to
be the best free alternative. It has all of the features you are ever likely to
need, including tabbed browser windows, pop-up blocking, integrated search with
Google (and many other Search Engines), and a huge number of plug-ins. It’s
also faster and a lot safer too, with greater immunity to spyware and the other
Internet nasties that mostly target vulnerabilities in IE.
Thunderbird was developed
by the same people who brought us the Firefox browser. Once again its lower
profile means improved security. However, it also stands on its own merit with
lots of useful tools for managing your mail, like ‘tagging’, which lets you
flag important messages with reminders. It’s easy to navigate as well with
browser-like forward and back buttons, searching though messages is a lot more
intuitive and frequent searches can be saved. Thunderbird is compatible with
Gmail, there’s built-in phishing protection and an effective junk mail filter.
Switching to Thunderbird couldn’t be simpler and it imports all of your
messages and account settings from OE and other email programs (though, be
warned, going back to OE if you don’t like Thunderbird isn’t as easy…).
Next Week – Freeware part
6 – Odds and Ends
two or more operating systems on a PC
Computer software, usually freely available in the public domain
where users are encouraged to contribute to its development
Fraudulent attempt to obtain personal details, bank and credit
card information etc., by tricking web users into visiting bogus websites
through links in emails that mimic messages from legitimate sources
TIP OF THE WEEK
Several Linux distributions run directly from a
‘Bootable’ CD. Basically this means your PC boots from the CD (or DVD) rather
than your hard drive, so no changes are made to your operating system. These
are fully functional versions of Linux, with a built-in web browser, word
processor and so on, and they can also read the files on your PC, so they can
be a useful in an emergency, for getting at an important document etc., should
Windows fail to start. There are full details of how to create a bootable Linux
CD in Boot
Don't forget, there's a
full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at www.pctoptips.com
© R. Maybury 2007, 2905