Have had a number of reassuringly high profile and successful open-source or free software sightings recently.
On Channel Five on Friday evening, there was an episode of “The Gadget Show” which had a section about “open source”. They explained that if, say, you had Windows 98 and wanted to upgrade to Windows XP and get a copy of MS Office, this would cost almost 500 GBP. They then went on to show how to save that money. First, by using OpenOffice – the compatability with MS Office was demonstrated by comparing the general interface and the printed results, the conclusion being that the difference (and there was no visible difference!) probably wasn’t worth nearly 400 GBP. Then, they showed Internet Explorer and mentioned that although Microsoft bundle this for free, it isn’t very secure and went on to show Firefox, closely followed by Thunderbird for email. There was a short discussion on graphics programs which highlighted The GIMP, and decided that it actually wasn’t quite as good as, say, Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. But they pointed out that it, like all the other products they showcased, was free; and considerably better than the free Microsoft Paint. They then showed how to use a free operating system too, and briefly demonstrated the bootable CD distro Knoppix, explaining to the audience that they could try this out with trashing their existing setup. As far as ‘real’ Linux distributions were concerned, they only looked at Suse; their opinion was that it was easy to install, and a very cheap boxed-set was probably a better choice for the general end user than a downloadable installation.
It was quite refreshing to hear a fairly balanced, zealot-free discussion of what open source and free software is about, what’s available and how the typical end user can use it.
There also seems to be a growing number of Linux and related adverts in magazines and even on TV.
In terms of personal free software promotion, three colleagues at work asked me “where’s the cheapest place to buy Microsoft Word?”; I persuaded all of them to try OpenOffice instead, and they’re all very happy. They do seem amazed that such good quality software is available for free and can read all their existing MS Office documents.