Book Review: Moving to Free Software

Marcel Gagn�’s book for Windows users entitled: Moving to Free Software is an introduction to useful Free and Open Source (FOSS) licensed software that runs on the proprietary Windows operating system. Each chapter covers a major application with an introduction of what the application does, how to use it and helpful configuration tips. Each chapter ends with a number of useful links to resources. Applications include Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, Gimp and more. Included is an Ubuntu live DVD that contains all the applications listed in the book. While a good introduction containing much useful information, the book has some misnomers and missing parts.

Gagn� is a columnist and author of books on Linux and Open Source software as well as having ‘frequent appearances on television and radio pushing all things Linux and open source’. The focus of the book is what he calls ‘transitional applications’: ‘…Firefox and Thunderbird represent what I call transitional applications, open source programs that run on Linux and Windows (and in some cases, Apple Macintosh), thereby offering an equivalent for users who haven’t yet switched to Linux, but would like to keep their options open…’

A complete list of the applications covered by the book are: Firefox (Web Browser), Thunderbird (e-mail client), Gaim (Instant messaging), Skype (telephony) covered because of its free calling but this is a proprietary program, OpenOffice (Office/Productivity Suite) which includes: Writer, Calc, Impress and Base, CDex (CD Ripper and Audio Converter), Audacity (audio editing), Juice (Podcast aggregator), Nvu (Web site design editor), Inkscape (vector drawing program), GIMP (graphics editing), 7-Zip (file compression/decompression), Spybot (spyware removal), ClamWin (free antivirus), Scribus (desktop publishing), Games and finally Linux.

The book makes compelling arguments for using these applications such as reduced cost often with better quality for organizations and government who use these applications. Beyond cost, however, it discusses improved security and less spam by using Firefox web browser and Thunderbird e-mail client then moves beyond to suites of FOSS applications for many common computing tasks that even intermediate users of FOSS applications may not know exist.

While the author is certainly not a novice at Linux or Free and Open Source software, he makes a frequent, error by calling proprietary software ‘commercial’ inferring that Free and Open Source software is not ‘commercial.’ The FOSS applications in the book are at least comparable in quality to ‘commercial’ grade proprietary counterparts. This is a common mistake, but not one that an author of his experience should make. This error is not fatal or a show-stopper for the book.

Noticeably missing from the book is how to download and install the applications covered in the book. However, the end of each chapter has useful links that include (but do not emphasize) the website to download each application. Therefore, a beginning user may only be able to use the included Ubuntu Live DVD to actually use the applications. Anyone using an older, non-DVD enabled PC may have a difficult time actually using these applications.

Another somewhat missing piece of this book is how these applications compare to their Windows counterparts as well as what parts might be missing. This is partially covered with Audacity such as how to get around the mp3 patent restriction by downloading and installing Lame. A comparison of features for Photoshop versus GIMP is not included. Then again, this book is clearly not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on each application.

Overall this book is a useful and worthwhile compendium written for any Windows user who wants to save money or those who cannot move to Linux for business or other reasons as well as novice and intermediate level users of FOSS. Those curious about using Free and Open Source Software or who already use a few FOSS applications should get and read this book. Those who already have knowledge of Free and Open Source Software but may not be using it to its fullest extent should find this book broadens their horizons and provides a helpful reference. Final analysis of Marcel Gagn�’s book entitled: Moving to Free Software: Recommended.

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