10 Excellent Open Source Alternatives

Posted by Nessa | Posted in uncategorized | Posted on 06-03-2010

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Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know that I’m a huge fan of open source software. I don’t think it’s smart for people to drop upwards to thousands of dollars on software unless they have that kind of money to waste, or have a need that isn’t being met by the open source community.  And then there are the less legal alternatives, which I’m not against, but then again I can’t promote them here, either =)

So here’s a nice list of open source alternatives for people who want to save money by using open source software.

1) Use Linux instead of Windows

The transition from Windows to Linux is not as hard as you may think it is. When people think Linux, they think of an ugly black and white command prompt. This may be true if you’re thinking of running Linux as a server, but as a desktop you have a GUI similar to Windows and Mac, in the form of KDE or Gnome.  If you have applications that require Windows, you can usually run them by installing a program called Wine.  It can take a little getting used to, but for those buying a new PC or refurbishing an old one, Linux is the route to go if you want to save money and get better performance, security, and stability than you’ll ever get with Windows.  For newbies, I’d recommend Ubuntu or Fedora.

2) Use Gimp instead of Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop will run you between $700 and $1000, maybe less if you purchase from an independent software distributor. If that’s a little steep for you, consider using Gimp instead. It has a lot of the same functionality of Photoshop, and can read files created in Photoshop (.PSD) as well.  My sister is a photographer and just when she thought she was used to Photoshop, I introduced her to Gimp so she can do her photo editing outside of school, and she said it does as good of a job as Photoshop does. Similarly, I hear that Inkscape makes an excellent alternative to Adobe Illustrator.

3) Use OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office

My Dad, who has headed the IT department of his company for years, didn’t believe me when I told him that the thousands his company was spending on Microsoft Office licenses every couple years could be a waste of money, since OpenOffice has the same kind of functionality. The base package of OpenOffice contains alternatives to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access, all of which have the same familiar interfaces and support for files created in their proprietary alternatives, but without the expensive licensing costs and resource requirements. The  software in OpenOffice also has a number of features that the other does not.

4) Use Thunderbird or Evolution instead of Outlook

Outlook sucks. I can’t tell you how many calls I got about it when I was in technical support, where email would suddenly stop working and the customer wouldn’t want to believe that their beloved Outlook was the problem. It usually comes bundled as part of the Microsoft Office suite, but you can buy it standalone. Why would you want to? Thunderbird is free, and a lot more efficient, feature-rich, stable, and secure than Outlook. Love the Outlook feel? Evolution is the Linux alternative to Outlook, only it doesn’t suck as much.

5) Use ClamAV or AVG Instead of Norton, TrendMicro, or McAfee

I’ve heard from many people that even though ClamAV is free, it’s better than its leading enterprise alternatives. It also works on Windows (Via ClamWIN) and Linux. Need a firewall too, but don’t want the steep cost of Norton Personal Firewall? Consider APF or Smoothwall.

6) Use Turbocash instead of Quickbooks or Microsoft Money

I personally haven’t used Quickbooks before, but I heard it’s comparable to Turbocash, which is perfect for smaller organizations or individuals needing software for finance management.

7) Use VirtualBox  instead of Microsoft Virtual PC, VMWare, or Parallels Desktop

I generally used Virtual PC in the past to play with other operating systems, but you may find a use for it if you’re a software developer or you have applications that work on one OS but not another. Virtual PC usually ends up being free quite some time after its initial release, but it only runs on Windows. VirtualBox is open source and runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows, and supports a large variety of guest operating systems.

8) Use OpenVZ instead of Virtuozzo

Virtualization with something like Virtuozzo isn’t the same as using something like VirtualBox in terms of mass-management of virtualized servers. If you’re offering VPS hosting or need to run multiple servers on one, you’ll want to use something like Virtuozzo.  Virtuozzo may be the best, but OpenVZ doesn’t fall far behind at all…and it doesn’t carry the multi-thousand dollar licensing costs.

9) Use OpenWorkBench instead of Microsoft Project

I’ve always found web-based software like dotProject to be more effective for project management, but if you need a more local solution for your PC, try Workbench instead of spending dough on Microsoft Project.

10) Use Partimage instead of Norton Ghost

Norton Ghost will generally cost around $70, but Partimate is free and essentially does the same thing. I’ll mention though that Norton Ghost only works on Windows, and Partimage only works on Linux. So Partimage is something you’d consider using if you’re switching from Windows to Linux and can’t use Norton Ghost anymore.

The Super-Duper Way to Run Backups

Posted by Nessa | Posted in uncategorized | Posted on 15-06-2008

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I often worry about my PC at work — it’s about 3 or 4 years old now and I’ve already crashed it twice by running Ubuntu updates and not letting them finish. Luckily I have my home drive mounted as a separate partition so reinstalling the OS isn’t a huge inconvenience aside from having to reinstall all my apps.

After doing some googling I came across SBackup, which is a simple backup program to back up whatever on your system to wherever you want to keep your backups — without having to configure a script.

First, install sbackup via apt-get, yum, or whatever other package manager you use:

$ sudo apt-get install sbackup

Then open the backup manager under System > Administration > Simple Backup Config

Now, I used the custom backup settings because I didn’t want to back up everything on my system — all I’m concerned about is everything in my home directory, such as my Documents, email, and porn browser settings. To select what you want backed up, go to the Include tab and Add Directory or Add File to include files and folders in your backups.

Naturally there are some files within your selected folders that you don’t want to back up, like your trash and cache. You can add those under the Exclude tab.

Next set your timing — I did ‘precisely’ every day at 5pm when I won’t be here to experience the extreme lag of my 14G home directory being tarred up. As for the Purging options, I chose Logarithmic so that I don’t have old backups that I don’t need — I only need the backups in case my PC crashes and I lose everything, so I don’t care about backups from two weeks ago.

The destination part is where you want your backups to go. The default is /var/backup, but if your PC crashes, that isn’t going to be very convenient for you. Therefore one of the two options should be the one you go with:

- Custom local directory: If you have a floppy disk (which I pray you do not) or a USB drive, you can usually find those in the /media directory and have those mounted to copy your backups

- Remote directory: If you have FTP or SSH access to a remote server, you can have your backups uploaded. The syntax is simple:

ssh://user:password@serverip:/remote/dir

After you have everything configured, save your settings and hit Backup Now! to run a test and make sure everything is working.

Dual Monitor Setup in Ubuntu 7.10, ATI Radeon

Posted by Nessa | Posted in uncategorized | Posted on 12-06-2008

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The company just bought our department brand hooked up PC’s that include ATI Radeon dual output graphics cards with massive monitors.  This is probably the only time I’d willingly admit that Windows came out ahead, as I spent a good 2 days trying to get my dual monitors to work with Ubuntu.  I finally got it figured out and I’m embarrassed to say that the answer was in front of my the whole time — a fucking GUI!  Anywho, those of you who are having trouble with this as well, here’s what I did to make it work:

My setup:

  • Dell Vostro 200, Dual Core Intel CPUs, 2 Gb RAM
  • ATI Radeon HD 2400 dual output graphics card (both monitors plugged into card)
  • Two Dell 17” monitors

So first, shimmy over to http://ati.amd.com/support/driver.html and select your distro and card model, and download the file to your desktop.

In Terminal, chmod +x ati-driver-installer-<version>.run

Select Linux x86 installation, automatic

After the installation is complete, run:

sudo aticonfig –initial

Reboot.

After reboot, run fglrxinfo and you should get something like this describing your card:

OpenGL vendor string: ATI Technologies Inc.
OpenGL renderer string: ATI Radeon HD 2400 PRO
OpenGL version string: 2.1.7537 Release

At this point you probably see that both monitors are enabled, but are mirroring each other.  If you don’t, you might need to manually active the second:

sudo aticonfig –query-monitor

Use the output of that command and run:

sudo ati-config –enable-monitor=<result1>,<result2>

Replace result1 and result2 with the output of the first command.  Possible results are: none, crt1, crt2, lvds, tv, fmds1, tmds2

If the enable works, make it permanent:

sudo aticonfig –force-monitor=<result1>,<result2>

When both your monitors are up (whether they look how you want or not), in your GNOME gui, go to Applications > ATI Catalyst Control Center. This is where you configure how you want your dual monitors to act.

In Display Manager, set the dropdown to two monitors and change the Display Mode to “Big Desktop” — this will enable both monitors as one long desktop that you can drag your mouse and windows between.  You can also go ahead and set your resolution.

And there you go — easy dual monitor setup for Ubuntu 7.10!

UPDATE: Major issues with graphics after I upgraded to 8.10 – I found these instructions which worked:

http://wiki.cchtml.com/index.php/Ubuntu_Intrepid_Installation_Guide#Installing_the_restricted_drivers_manually

Installing Firefox on Ubuntu 7.x

Posted by Nessa | Posted in uncategorized | Posted on 02-06-2008

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I still haven’t upgraded my PC to Ubuntu 8, so I was really depressed to find out that Ubuntu 7.10 stopped at Firefox 2 and wasn’t going to be offering version 3.  I’m the laziest person on the face of the earth so I wasn’t looking forward to doing this manually, but here’s how I installed Firefox 3:

Download the Linux tarball from http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/

sudo tar -C /opt -jxvf firefox-3.0.1.tar.bz2

sudo cp -R ~/.mozilla ~/.mozillabackup

sudo apt-get install libstdc++5

cd /opt/firefox/plugins/

sudo ln -s /usr/lib/mozilla-firefox/plugins/* .

sudo dpkg-divert –divert /usr/bin/firefox.ubuntu –rename /usr/bin/firefox

sudo ln -s /opt/firefox/firefox /usr/bin/firefox

sudo dpkg-divert –divert /usr/bin/mozilla-firefox.ubuntu –rename /usr/bin/mozilla-firefox

sudo ln -s /opt/firefox/firefox /usr/bin/mozilla-firefox

How to Rearrange Your Package

Posted by Nessa | Posted in uncategorized | Posted on 20-12-2007

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For some odd reason, Ubuntu and other Debian-based distros don’t like the standard x86 RPMs that most vendors package their software in. If you want to install a third-party RPM, you have to use alien to repackage the RPM into a .deb file before you can install it:

sudo apt-get install alien
alien -k your-rpm-file.rpm

This will convert the RPM to a .deb file. From here you can use dpkg to install it:

sudo dpkg -i your-rpm-file.deb

GRUB Errors on Windows Dual Boot

Posted by Nessa | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 30-11-2007

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I don’t want to admit that I still have PC’s that dual boot Windows XP and Vista, but given the occasional problems I have after Ubuntu and Fedora updates I’m not ready to give them up yet. Some time in the middle of the night last night my laptop, which used to dual boot Ubuntu and Vista (before I deleted the Ubuntu partition), rebooted and left me with a ginormous GRUB loader error:

GRUB Loading stage 1.5

GRUB loading, please wait...
Error 15

The issue is that the boot loader probably went apeshit and doesn’t know what to do.  Since Windows is the MBR nazi, it’s best to use Windows to fix it.

Luckily with all the luck I’ve had with Vista I still had the install CD and was able to recover quickly. For those of you at home, if you don’t have the original install CD you need to create a boot disk and slide it in <insert giggle here>. From the CD, when the menu comes up hit ‘R’ for recovery console which will bring you into the Windows command line. If you’re using the boot disk, you should already be there.

From the command line type ‘fixmbr‘ (or fdisk /mbr for versions < XP) and then you should be able to successfully boot into Windows XP (or Linux).

If you’re still running Linux on dual boot, another option is to run the recovery from the Ubuntu CD.  However, this can take a lot of time and if you don’t know what you’re doing you may end up deleting your OS.

Switching from Windows to Ubuntu

Posted by Nessa | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 18-11-2007

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I was doing some checking and I found a few websites that have really good tutorials on how to switch from Windows to Ubuntu:

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/SwitchingToUbuntu/FromWindows

http://monkeyblog.org/ubuntu/installing/

http://www.buildyourown.org.uk/pc-installing/ubuntu/

One thing I should mention from personal experience is that the Migration Assistance really sucks sometimes. When I first installed Ubuntu it was quick and painless, but upon a re-install on a dual boot machine the installer would infinitely stick on the account migration. If this happens to you, you’ll need to reboot from the CD, log into the terminal, then run the installer without the Migration Assistant:

user@localhost:~$ ubiquity –migration-assistant