Article ID20001108A
Subject(Almost) Microsoft Free and Loving It! A guide to evading the Microsoft Tax
ConceptA simple guide showing the Linux alternatives to Windows Apps
OSLinux, or any other *nix

Required Parts:
Patience, lots of it :) Seriously... think about the first time you sat in front of a computer, I mean the very first time. Some of us (Early days, before Windows 3.x) were just faced with a c:>prompt and nothing more. Some of you were lucky enough to have a nicer interface (Win95), but the mystery of how it worked still existed. This article aims to show you that alternatives to your favorite windows apps do exist that are 100% free and just as functional. Not to mention, the ability to have a computer that will probably never crash and will even run faster than before.

** Note **

This article is not a primer on Linux or Unix. There are numerous sites and literature that could do a lot better job of it than myself and I will not pretend to be the *nix Master of the Universe. I also want to state that depending on your skill or situation, you would probably not want to go cold turkey like I had to at work (I say this typing this article on a Win98 home computer, doh!) so I would suggest a dual boot config.


For those who do not know, I work for a small ISP. We have a small staff of Admins (I'm one!) and Web developers, etc. At some point, we let go one of the employees (for good reason) and that person decided to report us to the BSA (Business Software Alliance - The BSA's sole purpose is to make sure that all companies have licenses for all the software they are using. They do not just pick numbers out of the phone book, they audit peticular areas of the nation/world every four weeks, and the month of December is our local area. For the record, I would like to state that 100% of the ISP Server software is GPL and opensource (FreeBSD Rules!) and the majority of the software in-house is fully licensed. But I also have to admit that like other companies, someone will come into work with that brand new software that everyone wants and it spreads like the next plague. The BSA was nice enough to give us (and everyone else in the area being audited) a month to get licenses for everything that needed them. This is the time I had realized a fact... We run a complete ISP for 14,000+ customers and not use a single piece of Microsoft Software. All of the MS software was being used at my desk for mundane reasons (email, word Processing, shell access, surfing, etc). This is when I made the big plunge and determined when the BSA came in (if they did at least) I could look at them, laugh and say.... My computer is 100% GPL opensource Software!

The System

The computer is a 500mhz Celeron with 128mb RAM, Adaptec 2940U2W, SCSI 9g Drive, IDE 10g Drive, 24x IDE CD-ROM, and a Yamaha CRW6416SX CD Writer. The computer has three video cards for multihead under Win98 and a ESS1638 soundcard.

The new OS is Slackware Linux 7.1. I know there are other distros out there, but I found Slackware forced me back to unix roots as opposed to RedHats RPM or Debians Package system. I prefer to compile everything my self from source instead of precompiled binaries. I think in general things run better this way as there are no preconceptions of little quirks every system has.

Application Comparison Chart

Product under Windows
Unix/Linux Alternative
MS Office 97 StarOffice5.2
MS Internet Explorer Mozilla M18
Eudora Lite 3.0 Eudora Lite 3.0
Adaptec Easy CD Creator 4.0 mkisofs &cdrecord
Adobe GoLive Mozilla M18

StarOffice 52

The StarOffice suite from Sun that is now GPL'd contains all of the applications that can be found with the MS Office suites. Even better is the ability to open the MS documents without any fear of lost formatting. This suite is also available for MS Windows. The only problem I had with the StarOffice suite was figuring out the print setup, but once it was configured it works like a dream.

Mozilla M18

While at first I was using Linux Netscape 4.72, I was really having a hard time adjusting from IE to Netscape. While I know that Mozilla and Netscape are pretty much the same thing as Netscape is based on Mozilla, I found that Mozilla acted more like IE in a lot of respects. I could for one, actually use the scroll wheel on my mouse, and the interface was just more user friendly. I still think IE is the best browser around, but at least this one doesnt crash. The composer part (WYSIWYG HTML editor) is a whole bunches more functional than Netscape Composer, but lacks the more advance features that GoLive had (Java Scripting, etc). This part of the article was actually done with Mozilla Composer.

Eudora Lite 3.0

This is the part were I actually cheated. Like I said above, I work for an ISP, so I accumulated a large amount of email. Back when I used windows here, I started with Outlook Express. That lasted until I needed to upgrade to a newer version and found that my previous mail was incompatible. At that point, I pulled my old trusted copy of Eudora Lite. Easily moved around, works like a dream and no need to upgrade, not to mention absolutely NO registry entries. When I decided the move to linux, this was the only hurdle. I could live without IE, Office, and GoLive, but I could not live without Eudora. I found a package for linux called WINE (WINE Is Not an Emulator). What this package does is allow linux users to run (quite well) windows applications under linux. While I could not get it to run Adobe's GoLive, I was able to run Eudora and keep my beloved cache of email. I have not tried to newer versions of Eudora (no real need to), so I would like some feedback. As a side note, Qualcomm (Eudora Makers) have Unix mail server programs, but no clients. Do your part and petition Qualcomm to port Eudora to Linux!

This is the reason why I can say that I am 99% MS free and not 100%. In order to run Eudora, WINE needs to use some MS DLL's for them to work (kernel32, commctl, etc). While the DLL's are opensource products based on MS DLLs, they still have the MS functionality that enables the windows apps to work, thus being technically a MS product. But I can still say that I am still 100% GPL.

mkisofs and cdrecord

While cdrecord is included with most Linux distributions, I found that mkisofs is not. These are both command line utils to create CD's. I find that they run a lot quicker than Easy CD, but it takes a little more work to create them. I will document the actual creation of a CD with these utils in another artitcle. One side note, these utils are for creating DATA only CD's.. At this point I have no need to burn music CD's at work. If I do, I will update this section to let you know what programs I use to master music and creat mixed mode CD's.

Wrap Up

As I finish this article and using this new setup for almost a week now (still new). I have a general feeling of relief knowing that I am doing my part to show people that you can use a computer and it is usable with Microsoft. I hope this article helps people realize that there is an alternative to your favorite Windows Apps.


Screen 1 - Eudora on Linux!

Left Screen showing Eudora, some WindowMaker Apps, and XMMS MP3 player


Middle Screen showing off eterm


Right Screen showing Sun's StarOffice 5.2

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