Migrating Your Personal Application Portfolio to Open Source

January 16, 2008

by Lee Congdon, Chief Information Officer

If you are a CIO, you may already be invested in open source applications at home. Or, like many, you may be a very busy person just using the applications that came with your personal computer, scanner, printer or camera and haven’t really considered the wealth of personal open source applications that are available and ready to use. If you fall in that second group, here are some candidates to get you started.

Browser

Firefox is an easy choice and an easy upgrade. As noted on www.mozilla.com, “The award-winning Web browser from Mozilla is now faster, even more secure, and totally customizable to your online life.” It is available for download to Linux, OS X, and Windows platforms in dozens of languages. If you haven’t already installed open source software, this is the place to start.

Another advantage is that you probably don’t have to upgrade a legacy operating system platform to install Firefox. You’ll have a better web experience, will be more secure, and will have many options to customize your browsing. You can import your current settings and data, such as bookmarks.

Email Client

Thunderbird presents another easy choice, although you will have to take the step of migrating your mail history and addresses. As with Firefox, Thunderbird also works on multiple operating systems. It provides a nice set of tools to manage mail from multiple accounts and delivers good spam and security control features.

Thunderbird also offers the option to customize through multiple add-ons and extensions. One extension to consider is Lightning, which provides solid integration of calendaring functions with your email. Thunderbird is available from www.mozilla.com and Lightning from www.mozilla.org.

Office Suite

This is a slightly bigger jump, but I am a believer in the adage that people tend to use only 5% of the functionality of their office suite. OpenOffice, available at www.openoffice.org, more than meets the needs of most users. It can read and write documents in Microsoft Office formats, so your migration can be very straightforward. OpenOffice is available for Linux, Unix, OS X and Windows.

The menus will be somewhat different and formatting may vary for your complex documents. But, you’ll find that OpenOffice is a robust, functional, and accessible open source solution. Get started with the basics and create a presentation with Impress or a spreadsheet with Calc. As a more extensive introduction to the tools available, convert that old Access data base you’ve been using for your holiday cards and generate next year’s mailing labels with Base and Writer.

Operating System

Linux is a modern, stable and appealing desktop operating system. You have multiple choices: buy your next new system with Linux pre-installed, upgrade an existing system (perhaps one you have otherwise “retired” from active use), dual boot your system to allow switching between your legacy operating system and Linux, or install virtualization software to run more than one operating system simultaneously.

Depending on the solution you choose, you may have a little work involved. However, you’ll find that your standards-based data files migrate well into the tools provided under Linux. You’ll also find that Linux tools read some common proprietary file formats very effectively.

Linux has the added benefit of adding life to older systems because of its light use of system resources. Multiple “distributions”, or versions, of Linux are available. I recommend Fedora, available at www.fedoraproject.org.

Personal Finance Manager

If you balance your checkbook electronically or use Quicken to pay bills and track a mutual fund or two, you will find the open source GnuCash (www.gnucash.org) an intriguing solution. GnuCash provides standard double entry bookkeeping in an easy to use, flexible, and powerful package.

GnuCash is available for Linux, Unix, OS X and Windows. It includes tools to import and export standard financial file formats. GnuCash supports multiple languages and multiple currencies.

Just Do It

For those of you that aren’t already using open source at work or at home, the application migrations in this post are an easy way to get started. I think you’ll be surprised at the quality and variety of open source solutions.

Choose one of the many media players available. Consider Pidgin as a chat and IM client. If you are interested in digital photography and graphics, install The GIMP to manipulate your images. Don’t ignore the great open source games that are available. Explore sourceforge.net: it’s a great place to locate open source solutions.

Once you have the basics mastered, take a look at open source solutions for digital video recording, home VoIP services, or whatever else drives your interest. If you don’t find it–get a project started!

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