Well it’s nearly time for Aussie kids to head back to school and begin their study for 2005. With that, a lot of students rush out and update to Norton 2005, buy the latest version of windows, upgrade their computer, buy the latest Microsoft office suite, and that is just for their computer. So what do you do if you don’t have a bazillion dollars to spend? It’s called Open Source baby and it works just as well! Josh is beginning his first year of University so for Christmas I gave him my second laptop and I am helping him get it all set up for the new year. Here is how we did it.
The first thing you need is an operating system. Ideally I would recommend a nice simple Linux distribution such as Fedora Core 3 if you were trying to save bucks, but luckily Josh and I had a spare copy of windows laying around and we shall use that. Josh really doesn’t have enough time to learn Linux, as much as I know he wants to, but maybe that will come later in the year. Luckily, almost all of the applications I have chosen are cross-platform compliant, so whether you are using Windows or Linux, it really won’t matter.
Next you need some virus protection. A good browser and email client as well as a decent firewall will go a long way, but frankly you just need something more. Sure you could fork out a few hundred bucks for a copy of Norton Antivirus, but why do that when Grisoft are prepared to give you AVG for free? While the AVG Free Edition does not get the priority updates as quick as paying users do, this is definitely adequate for an average user, so download it and give it a run. I’ve been using it since Mik suggested it at our last LAN party and I’ve been more than satisfied.
As Microsoft grows in many areas, one place it hasn’t grown substantially in a very long time is it’s office suite. OpenOffice however has had several updates (all free) this year alone and now currently supports almost 100% of Microsoft files, which is an added bonus. This was the second thing to go on Josh’s laptop after AVG, it includes word processing, spreadsheets, slideshows and even a drawing program. The only thing that Microsoft has in this area that OpenOffice lacks is an e-mail application, but personally no email application compares to Thunderbird, which I shall get to later.
OpenOffice installs like a dream and the only thing you might need extra to it is an install of Java from Sun. Again, this is just as easy to install, so throw it on there first just so that your install of OpenOffice is more complete. All in all the totally download and install time should take around 30 minutes to an hour on broadband, dialup users may wish to buy a copy of APC or another reputable computer magazine that has OpenOffice on the cover CD to make it a little easier.
We all know that Browse Happy has been around for a while and tells us not to use Internet Explorer. The last thing you want is an inferior browser downloading and running some viruses without your permission, so for your browsing you definitely want Firefox from Mozilla. Firefox is just as easy (if not easier once you get used to it) to use as Internet explorer, but comes with loads of features that Internet explorer lacks such as tabbed browsing and extensible features. I recently converted Liam from Lik-Wid and his exact words after he downloaded Firefox were, “I can’t believe I haven’t been using this all along!” and he then vowed to convert Mik too. Liam had a lot of hassles with spyware before using Firefox and as I understand it now, he is flying high now.
How do you download your email, if you download it? Outlook Express right? Sure, it’s easy and it becomes pre-installed on most Windows installations, but it’s about as safe as it’s counterpart Internet Explorer. It has a habit of trying to read your mind and running scripts it is sent. Obviously some security updates have been made, but this should just never have been a problem in the first place. Solution? Mozilla Thunderbird. It’s just like Firefox in that it is very secure and comes with a lot of extensions such as a Calendar, RSS readers and loads more. Download it, get used to it and make your email just a little safer. It also ties in nicely with AVG and your email will be automatically scanned when incoming, which is just beautiful.
How do you keep organized? I have a nice little calendar on my website which some of you may have noticed. This is a combination of having my own website, a free program called Mozilla Calendar and a free script called PHP iCalendar. All of these are readily available to the average user and easy enough to use. Of course not everyone wants to publish their calendar like me, but my point is that it is all free. If you need to keep track of assignments, download Calendar for Firefox or Calendar for Thunderbird. It’s a simple add-on and takes around 1 minute on broadband to download and it will keep you in check. You can even download it for both Firefox and Thunderbird at the same time, then tell both applications to use the same data source and share the files it creates!
Gmail is beautiful. Most people have a Gmail address, those who don’t most likely know someone who does and that someone just might have some invites to get you an address. I know that I have several invites in my account so if you are reading this, know me and want an account let me know. The biggest advantage of a Gmail account is that you don’t have to delete any important emails, as well as you can access your account as an extra hard drive on your computer to store your assignments and files you might want to use elsewhere, such as at a friends house.
Last, but certainly not least, everyone who travels or uses multiple computers needs a thumbdrive. These guys come in various sizes ranging from 32, 64, 128, 256, and 512 Megabytes to 1GB and soon bigger, and are made by a lot of different companies giving you a lot of choices. Most of the sizes from 128MB or less are pretty cheap to most people and should hold everything you need it to. Buy one, put all your program installs (so you can install them anywhere you might be) and put your assignments on them and you are set to study anywhere. Another useful idea might be to download an Offline Browsing add-on for Firefox, store your study material on the disk and take them anywhere you like with you.
Well this started as a small “how to” and ended up being somewhat of an essay, so I hope this isn’t too hard for anyone to follow. I am more than happy to help out with anything I have describe here, so feel free to comment if anything gives you trouble, but most of it should be easy to solve via a quick search on Google. Have fun with it and good luck with your study!