At some point in a former life, I lost a good dozen phone numbers of people that I had no need to ever contact again. The information was stored in a program called PhoneSync, which let me synchronize my Nokia 7120 with my desktop. Although I could have synced the PhoneSync database with Outlook as well, I did not do so as I found Outlook to be overly complex for the simple task I had in mind: backup the phone. Additionally, the PhoneSync database contained phone numbers of people that I didn't want to lose contact with, however that were not worth filling up the phone's limited memory. Details of the loss are fuzzy now, years later, but if I remember correctly I had updated PhoneSync and the new database format was incompatible with the old. There was also no way to downgrade without reinstalling the operating system to reset certain registry keys. Frustrated, I reinstalled the OS, Windows XP Home Edition, only to discover that the executable for the old version of PhoneSync would not run with a new update that Microsoft mandated in Windows. I reinstalled XP again, this time without connecting to the Internet. The old PhoneSync now installed just fine, but would not read the database that the new version had corrupted. That's what I get for backing up to a writable partition instead of a CD, I thought for a few minutes. Then I realized that that's what I get for storing my data in a proprietary format that tied me to a specific program. My life turned for the better that very moment.
As I had just recently performed a forced reinstall (two forced reinstalls!), the list of programs that I use on a regular basis was still fresh in my mind. Most important among them were the Opera web browser, BrilliantPhoto for managing my digital pictures, and The Bat for email. I started taking an interest in the file formats my data was stored in, especially the portability of those formats. Opera's bookmarks file was the only 'data' that program used that was critical to me, and as a simple HTML file it did not worry me. BrilliantPhoto stored it's data in IPTC tags in the photos themselves, easily read by dozens of other programs. The Bat was more problematic, as the only halfway decent mbox client that I could find was Eudora. Even with (most) my data now in accessible formats, I knew that I was still vulnerable to the whim and stupidity of the various software developers. It did not take me long to learn the terms 'open source', 'free software' and 'GNU'. Somewhere along the line Red Hat with KDE got installed, and for the first time I had experienced the bite of Linux's hardware support. The winmodem in my computer would not work under Linux - any distro - and my only option was to replace it with a network card and an external ADSL modem. It wasn't cheap, but I now had the most unusual computer of anyone I knew, and by far the fastest Internet connection.
I have often been called a fool for paying for software that everybody else pirates. Suddenly, I was neither paying for software nor stealing it. I was relieved: no longer a fool, and I had stood my moral ground. My data was accessible and safe. My whole computer was safe, for that matter, as months went by with neither virus nor operating system crash. I started laughing when I saw others' machines BSOD on them, or when I heard complaints of viruses and other malware. Of course, I did experience problems of my own. Like my winmodem, the PCI USB card I purchased would not work under Linux. Neither would my TV card. Some websites were designed for a web browser that was not available for Linux. My university would send emails in a proprietary format which required an office suit unavailable for Linux. I became very active, writing to webmasters, and to hardware companies. I pressed for email to be delivered in plain text. And I saw results.
Things are much easier for Linux users today than they were years ago. Almost every major website now works in Firefox or another browser available for Linux. Data can easily be imported into compatible formats while the computer is still running Windows, as many open source programs have been ported to that platform as well. And the KDE desktop actually makes the computer useful. It does not prevent the user from doing what he wants, as I've found most other desktops to do (especially the Windows desktop). Although I have a licensed copy of the latest Windows Vista (Dell was not selling Inspiron laptops without Vista at the time I purchased mine), I run Linux. Not because it's safer, which it is. Not because it's prettier, which it isn't. But because it puts me in control of the computer, not the other way around. I do not have to run three programs to babysit my operating system. No antivirus, spyware detection, nor registry cleaners run in to background taking up resources. No chasing firewall settings and anti-everything definitions every time I boot up. The computer is mine, and it does what I want. And if it ever does something that I don't agree with, then I know that my data is safely stored in a format that even a text editor could open. My only regret? Well, I'd really like to find the phone number of that redhead I lost in PhoneSync...
For those who wonder, these are the programs that I currently use:
Linux Distro: either Fedora or Kubuntu
Web Browser: Firefox or Opera
Email Client: Kmail or Thunderbird
Photo Management: Digikam
Text Editor: Kate
Office Suit: Koffice or Open Office
Movie Player: Mplayer
Music Player: Amarok
Messaging: Skype and Kopete
Other: KnowIt, Katapult, Yakuake, Google Earth
linux, firefox, support, proprietary, software, open, source, converting Why I turned to open-source software, and how I'm making the world a bit easier for open-source users like myself. linux, firefox, support, proprietary, software, open, source, converting
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