BTS INFORMATIQUE DE GESTION
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E1.2 Langue anglaise appliquée à l'informatique de gestion
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IS OPEN SOURCE TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?
1 Is there such a thing as a free lunch? WeIl, that's what the open source movement would have you believe. It offers programs for any task at no cost beyond getting hold of the installation files (effectively free with broadband), and even complete replacements for Windows or Mac Os x.
2 The open source movement promotes software without the restrictions placed by proprietary vendors, such as product activation that have become part of normal computing. In fact, sharing software is actively encouraged. We decided to see whether it is aIl too good to be true, what is available and whether it is still the preserve of techies.
3 Long before Windows was created, the open source movement was founded by Richard Stallman with a project called GNU. He decided there should be four essential freedoms for anyone using software: the freedom to run the program for any purpose, to study how it works, to share it with anyone, and to make modifications.
4 The other significant event in the history of open source was when a Finnish student called Linus Torvalds decided to write his own kernel (the kerne1 is the most basic part of all 15 operating systems). The combination of Torvalds' kernel with the software already available from the GNU project, resulted in Linux, a complete operating system that anyone could use and modify. There are now all kinds of variations (called distributions) that have been created by companies or for specific purposes.
5 The most compelling reason for using open source is that it doesn't cost any money to use. The Open Office suite can replace Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access, saving a significant amount of money. Another good reason for using open source is educational. If you want to learn how software works there is nothing to stop you from studying the actual code of the software.
6 Sometimes open source programs are considered better than the commercial ones. The Firefox Web browser has earned a lot of respect for performing better than Internet Explorer while offering greater security. Other software includes an impressive email program called Thunderbird, Turbocash for managing finances and The Gimp image editor.
7 There are even more possibilities with the complete operating systems based on Linux. Distributions can be optimised for a particular task or for older computers. Take our current favourite, Ubuntu. There are versions designed for recording music (Ubuntu studio), older computers (Xubuntu) and even religious audiences (Ubuntu Christian and Muslim editions). There are versions of Linux that can run on very old 486 based computers, so it is a good way of making use of old computers that can no longer run supported versions ofWindows.
8 Most distributions of Linux have a Live CD version where you can simply run the operating system from a CD instead of the hard disk. It will be a little slower than normal but it means you do not have to make any changes to the computer. Many distributions are quite happy to co-exist with Windows XP or Vista on the same hard disk.
9 What's the catch? There are a few but not many. Open source does not always mean it is free, although the times when parting with cash are few and far between. Neither is all free software open source. For example, while Xandros is open source, its Desktop Home Edition costs £27 ($40).
10 Open source software should also fully comply with Stallman's vision that it is free from proprietary restrictions. So while the Opera browser is free it is not open source. Also, with open source, a fee is normally required to get immediate support either by email or phone. But it is rare to get to that point as most projects have active forums where experts are happy to share advice and hints. Security and bug fixes are also released without charge by publishers.
Tim Smith, PC Magazine, Oct. 2008 (abridged and adapted)
© Christian Lassure - English For Techies