I just set up a Linux computer for my young fellow so he could access Literacy Planet, a requirement of his curriculum. The install went well on an old Athlon 1900+ box of Slackware 14.1 with XFCE as the window manager. For those of you who don’t know Linux (or GNU/LINUX) is an alternative operating system for computers, usually replacing Microsoft Windows or Apple OSX and is generally considered free software. Linux comes in many flavours, called distributions; for example Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, Arch and Slackware are all Linux distributions. They all vary in certain ways due to the individuality of their respective maintainers but they all have one thing in common; The Linux kernel.
Free software isn’t just free as in gratis. The user is free to modify and redistribute the programs as they see fit under the terms of the appropriate licence. Free software is often referred to as Open Source. While free software is all open source, not necessarily is all open source software free software.
Of course Linux is not for everyone. People buy a computer so that it “just works” out of the box. Linux requires re-installation in most cases but there are some hardware venders that do offer Linux out of the box, the most famous being Dell. Still, most consumers will be used to either Windows or Mac and purchase accordingly.
Free software is also available for Windows and Mac computers. For example, an alternative to Microsoft Office is LibreOffice; an alternative to Internet Explorer is Firefox (disclaimer: Firefox is not entirely free software as it does contain some non-free parts, however there are 100% free spin offs of Firefox). There are many more examples covering all types of software. You don’t need to be a geek to use these program, you just need to have the desire to take back your computing power.
One of the key advantages to free software is that many eyes can look over the source code and when bugs are found they are fixed almost instantly. This also improves your security as back doors are not put in place by design. With closed source proprietary software, no body apart from the programmer and his boss know what is in the software and they decide if and when security holes and bugs are fixed.
Back to the recently formatted Slackware box.
After I set it up the login, network and a nice wallpaper and icons, I browsed to Literacy Planet and proceeded to log in to my young bloke’s pre configured account. I was greeted with a splash screen..
Looks like you don’t have the latest version of Flash Player installed.
Not to worry, you can click here to download it (it’s free!)
I could not believe my eyes. An “educational” site, endorsed by the school curriculum, telling me to install Flash Player because “it’s free!”… and “not to worry”. Flash Player would have to be the single most insecure, buggy piece of software in existence yet we all use it daily. What makes it worse is that there is a free (as in beer, as in speech) alternative that has been around for years now, and it is cross platform; HTML5.
Yes, I do use flash out of necessity, but it is permanently blocked and only invoked if absolutely needed. But why do programmers and their employers still insist on using it? This is lunacy. Especially when education is involved. Flash no longer supports my old Athlon 1900+ processor now anyway so I can’t install it even if I wanted to. Html5 works perfectly on that old box.
I can’t help but think that this is a political decision by the powers that be to continue supporting their “mates”. Surely educators are aware that not everybody can afford the latest and greatest and especially in this time of increased security awareness that not everybody is as gullible as to accept “she’ll be right mate! It’s free!”