foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

Becoming Windows-free - Part 2

, posted: 19-Sep-2007 11:17

This is the second article in my little series about how to become Windows-free. As I outlined in the first article, this is actually not only about Windows, but in general about the use of open software and open data formats.

Open software, open data

Open data formats are an important consideration. Not only for the typically low price of the open source/data solutions ($0), but also for the longevity of data and the avoidance of vendor lock-in. Proprietary software that uses proprietary data formats is a great benefit for the vendor: Customers have a high cost of switching to competing solutions, thus they are more inclined to stick with the vendor.

Open software with open data formats, on the other hand, benefits the user: The data is 'portable', and thus the user typically retains the choice of which software packages to run. The vendor cannot compete via data lock-in and instead is forced to compete with superior service and features. Vendors of open solutions (free or not) cannot rest on their laurels, but continually have to work to retain the customer. This again benefits the user.

You don't have to leave Windows

One commonly held misconception is that running open source software also requires a change to the Linux (or other open source) operating system. However, this is not so. In fact, the most painless route to open software for the average Windows user is to see if individual applications can be replaced with a suitable open source alternative, but otherwise stay with Windows as their day-to-day platform.

In fact, this is also where it will end for many people. There are some applications, which regrettably are simply not properly supported under Linux. Many games, for example. If you occasionally like to play games on your PC, then Linux is not the best OS for you. While technically, nothing would prevent great games from being able to run on Linux as well, most game vendors simply do not produce Linux versions of their software. Some games can be run with Wine (a Windows emulator) under Linux, but not all.

On the other hand, if there are open source equivalents for some of your proprietary software then I would suggest you should take a look at those and see if they can work for you. Even if not all of your data is completely open, some is better than none. The less dependent one is on a particular vendor the better. You will be able to choose the software, which provides you with the right mix of openness and features. And if you can find low-cost or no-cost replacements for your current proprietary software along the way then this is a nice benefit as well.

Lists of good stuff

There are plenty of lists out on the Internet, which showcase good open source replacements for the most common proprietary software packages. You can find some of them here, here and here. A good site is also, even though some of the suggested replacements there are for Linux only, and are not available for Windows. The New Zealand Open Source Society also has a pretty decent introduction, even though they only cover some of the most basic applications (browser, e-mail, office) in their list. Another very good site, which is organised in handy categories, is here.

Importing what you currently have

Many open source software packages have reverse engineered various proprietary data formats. This allows them to deal with the proprietary data usually reasonably well. It also allows them to import your settings. For example, Firefox will be able to import your IE bookmarks. The Thunderbird e-mail client will be able to import your Outlook e-mail and contacts, and so on.

Such imports often work very well, but it's not always perfect. Your mileage may vary. The best is to give it a try and see what happens. Trying is fortunately very easy: The dowload for something like Thunderbird, for example, is relatively small. It comes with a wizard to guide you through the import process.

I'm aware that the Outlook replacement for many is the most critical aspect here. People rely on their e-mail, the integrated calendaring and address books. Personally, I am actually using the open source Evolution mail client, since it provides all aspects of this integration, even more so than Thunderbird, which otherwise is very good. A Windows version of Evolution is available here. I only run the Linux version, so I don't know how well the Windows version works. Supposedly, it does so quite well.

The best advise is to download and run the software and see which one works best for you.

Other related posts:
PC World: Move your business to Linux, not Vista
And you thought your computer would do what YOU wanted...
The great 'Windows collapse' of 2011?

Comment by tonyhughes, on 19-Sep-2007 13:57

last time I tried Windows port of Evolution was about 6 months ago, and it was a truly awful looking app, with less functionality than the Linux package.

Evolution on Linux is a *very* good suite...

Author's note by foobar, on 19-Sep-2007 15:05

tonyhughes: Interesting. I never had a chance to try Evolution on Windows. I wonder if some progress has been made in the meantime, because the screenshots I can find now after some googeling certainly look quite good...

Comment by chakkaradeep, on 19-Sep-2007 16:05

The problem with the open source applications are - they are never built in keeping the Business side of the mind. Try to make a Business Firm to use these alternatives and they will be struggling a lot. Even in my previous company, users were given Evolution and Managers were using Outlook Express becoz of several reasons and they were reluctant to use Evolution. I have never seen a open source product comply with business so well as Microsoft products do (Microsoft's Key Strength). Taken the other hand, for personal use, all the open source applications are good and they are a good alternative too. And dont forget about Windows Live Mail which is getting improved day by day. Have you tried the Outlook 2007 as well Windows Live Mail ? If not , do try. Windows Live Mail is really good and ITS FREE.

This article might interest you a lot

Comment by chakkaradeep, on 19-Sep-2007 16:33

If in Linux, Gnome and Evolution rocks ! For KDE, I have never seen an integration as seen in Gnome and Evolution

Gnome has lots of goodies than KDE and especially Linux Mint and Ubuntu distros have lots of things !

Comment by paradoxsm, on 19-Sep-2007 18:32

GREAT article and thanks for assisting a linux Newbie like myself in getting started, Time to WIPE that vista partition!

Chakradeep, Outlook sucks.. majorly. I cannot think of one good thing to say about it having worked as a user and admin for a number of years.. horrible unreliable application.
Openoffice and other simple application s like RTF editors are awesome, Excel is the only one I can think which is hard to replace.

I run Knoppix currently as a "training ground" which i paid 25c for at DSE and while it's awesome and runs off a CD, it's also very old.

Author's note by foobar, on 20-Sep-2007 06:08


Is it really Microsoft that complies with business, or is it not the other way around: Businesses have started to work in ways that comply with the way Microsoft products make them work?

About MS Live Mail. It's free? Looks like you get what you pay for it. I just wanted to check the Live Mail account that I have here with Geekzone, and it tells me "site maintenance in progress"...

So much for that. Seriously, though: Live Mail (and most other Software-as-a-Service offerings) may have a free option, but they are certainly not open. What if MS starts to charge for that service tomorrow? Would you pay? What if you didn't want to pay? How do you get your mailbox downloaded and then used with another mail client? Or do you have to say bye-bye to your mail archives if you would ever want to move on? That's not a nice choice you might have to make. So, the vendor (MS in this case, Google or Yahoo or others in case of their web-mail) successfully has locked you in. If they choose to show ads on their site, which makes it not-free anymore, then you have to put up with it or block ads or some such thing. If they choose to charge for it, you will have to put up with it.

That's what I mean when I talk about open sources and open data. Both are important. In the end, the open data is probably even more important than the open sources. However, open sources pretty much guarantee open data, because access to any 'proprietary' data formats can easily be had via the available source code.

The article to which you were linking - Walter Mossberg's review of Ubuntu - has been widely discussed over the last few days. Many people have pointed to perceived shortcomings in his review, because there are a couple of easy to use programs available which 'fix' many of the issues he has encountered. However, many people also believe that his review is right on: The average person will not even have heard about those programs, and thus will be faced with a few things that 'do not work'. This is also pretty widely acknowledged that issues remain to be ironed out in the Linux desktop.

However, my article was about using open source software on Windows. I will talk about the move to Linux more in the last instalment of this series. Let's wait until then...

Author's note by foobar, on 20-Sep-2007 12:08

paradoxsm: Knoppix is a very good distro with a lot of features. Yet, if you want to get a taste of the latest in desktop Linux, you might want to check out Ubuntu. It's been the most popular distro for quite some time now, with a lot of support, attention and a good community behind it.

You can run it from a live CD as well. You won't get 3D graphics acceleration that way or be able to install new software, but it still gives you a good idea of how things can look and feel. Of course, running from a CD it is not as responsive as a real installation.

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New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
  • Where I have been: Here and there, all over the place.

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