Unless you’ve been living under a rock on Mars, with your fingers in your ears and humming loudly, you can’t have failed to have heard of “Joe the Plumber.” Depending on who you believe, the outcome of November’s election is either going to be a jackpot win or a crushing blow for ol’ Joe. But I have a tip for Joe the Plumber that’ll help him save money over the next few years no matter who’s in the White House.
Joe, I can call you Joe, right? Here’s what you, along with tens of thousands of small businesses all across America, need to be doing over the next few months: You need to be taking a look at your computer setup and look to see how open source could help you save money.
First off, you need to find out what open source is. Put into its simplest terms, open source software is software that you are free to download and use in whatever way you see fit.
It’s important to note that open source has absolutely nothing to do with downloading bootleg software from the Internet (that’s illegal and can end up costing you both money and your freedom). It’s also important to note that you won’t find open source shrink-wrapped and for sale at your local computer store. When it comes to open source, the Internet and Google are your friends.
Open source projects come in various shapes and sizes, and starting to use open source is nowhere near as complicated as many people think it is. In fact, you could be using open source software right now and not realize it. For example, if you’re using a browser such as Firefox, you’re already using the fruits of an open source project. It really is that simple.
Ask a geek about open source and they’ll usually jump right into talking about the operating system. True, you need never pay for an OS again. There are some very decent Linux-based open source operating systems available that are more than capable of doing what at least 90 per cent of PC users out there want.
If you’re not “Joe the Plumber” and instead you’re “Joe the Programmer who uses Visual Basic,” then a Linux-based distro isn’t for you. But if your PC spends a lot of its time browsing the Web, answering emails, generating invoices and so on, Linux might be just the thing for you.
I’m not going to kid you though, switch OSes is a big deal, and unless you’re a major geek, the time investment in making the switch might outweigh the short-term gains you make in savings. If you’re really interested in switching operating systems, then my advice to you, Joe, is this – find people who are already into Linux.
There are plenty of forums and online communities ready to help. If you can, find someone local who’s also into Linux. These days you’re bound to know someone whose son or daughter is a Linux user. Ask around. Offer to pay them for their time – a few bucks spent on getting good advice could save you a lot of money and hassles down the line.
Not interested in switch OS yet? OK then, here’s another way you can save money. Instead of buying the Microsoft Office software suite, why not take Open Office for a test drive.
It’s free and will cater for some 90 – 95 percent of users out there (for example, if your entire life is inside a Microsoft Outlook .PST file, then switching away from Microsoft Office isn’t going to be so easy).
Also, if you handle some very large Office files (large Word documents or complex Excel spreadsheets) then you might find that Open Office will be a bit slower. For most users out there however, this is a moot point because they handle small documents and won’t notice any difference in performance.
There are other ways that you can make savings through turning to open source. For example, do you pay for a commercial Zip/Unzip tool such as WinZip? Yes! Then why not give 7-zip a go.
Using Adobe Premiere Elements for video editing? Try VirtualDub instead.
I’m not kidding you when I say that there are open source alternatives to pretty much any commercial package you can think of. The free alternative might not be as sexy or as well-known as the commercial package, and some aspects of the program might not be as polished, but it will get the job done.
I guarantee you that if Obama or McCain can’t put more money in your pocket, going open source can. So, come November 4th, vote open source!