Friday, August 29, 2008

SSC #75 They're not teachers, they're pushers!

I am so mad right now I can barely see straight.  So far three people have come up to me asking how to open the new Microsoft Office 2007 file formats on their current machines. 

Apparently, teachers at the local colleges have switched to MS Office 2007 and they've decided that you should to.  Some teachers are distributing assignments in the new format and their unwitting students are now forced to shell out between  $85 and $150 for the new MS Office Home and Student 2007 edition.  But wait, it gets worse.  Some are mistakenly paying more for other versions of the same software (possibly up to around $480 for the MS Office Ultimate 2007 Upgrade) when the Home and Student version isn't available at the store.  We're talking about an suite of office software that has the gall to charge $200 just for language packs. 

Does anyone still have any questions as to why I dislike Microsoft so very very much??

The one talent that Microsoft has demonstrated time and time again is not the ability to make great software, but instead the ability to make bloated locked-down drivel and make everyone pay through the nose for it!

I can understand making students buy this software if the class is called Learning Office 2007, or something like that, but no... these are just general computing classes.  General. Computing. Classes.

I've got it!  I've solved the whole national educational funding dilemma!  Teachers should start earning a commission for sales!  They're obviously doing the work of a massive sales force, they should get compensated for their hard work and treachery.

Teachers.  Listen up.  Stop it.  If you don't have to use proprietary formats, then DON'T DO IT.  OpenOffice is a full suite of software that will read and write to open formats that are not locked down from anyone.  Open office will also read and write to all of the old Microsoft formats.    And OpenOffice is just one of many free and effective solutions. 

After the big fight a little while back that Microsoft put up just to get their Office Open XML format accepted as a 2nd and unnecessary standard, you'd think they'd be a little more forthcoming with their new formats.  But no.  They're laying out the trough and we're all supposed to pony up the dough so we can lap it up.

Are you really happy with your Microsoft Windows?  About 80% of you probably just said "No".    If you're not happy, then why in the world would you want to support them financially?  If you keep feeding the monster, it will still be around next time to bite you where it hurts.

If you only teach someone how to use Microsoft software, then that is all they will ever know how to use.  This creates a mental dependency and allows a certain company to continually and unendingly put out high-priced junk.  Then three or five years later Microsoft decides to do it all over again.

People aren't buying Microsoft Office 2007 because they think it is great software, they're buying it because they have to.  This is the definition of a monopoly.  And its the teachers who are enforcing this monopoly power.

If you teach someone a wide variety of software--even if it is all for the same task--then they learn the fundamental concepts involved, not just the specific locations of options and tasks in one single solitary program.  One single solitary program that they'll just make obsolete in five years anyway for the sole reason of making more money from all of us sheep.

People go to school to learn how to make more money.  When they're going to school, they generally don't have that much of it.  If they had loads of money, they'd probably not be in school, they'd be out having fun spending it.  This practice is bordering on extortion, and its perpetrated against a group of people who are doing all they can do to better themselves.  Teachers engaging in this practice should be ashamed. 

 Teach Microsoft Office.  By all means, teach it.  But don't JUST teach that.  And do NOT expect everyone to buy it.  Do NOT treat it as gospel. Distribute assignments in an open format so that people can use whatever software they like to use at home.  If they're taking a class that is specifically centered around MS Office 2007, then its a completely understandable requirement.  But don't increase the coffers of a malignant company for no good reason other than that you upgraded to the new version because you heard they finally got rid of that stupid talking paperclip.

Stop being a pusher.  Otherwise, teachers, you need to get in touch with Microsoft Corporation at (425) 882-8080 and ask them where your check is.  Its obvious that you're working for them, you're just not getting paid.

Students, I'm not sure about the other formats, but you can use an online converter to convert the 2007 .docx format to the older .doc files.  You can find it at

There may be converters for the other ones, so you don't necessarily have to give in.  Geeks all over the world are working on your behalf, so just be patient.  Alternately, you could simply tell your teacher just how unfair these new formats are.  If enough of you ask, maybe they'll come to their senses.

For ANYONE needing a good FREE office suite, if you're not locked into Office 2007 by boneheaded practices, go to

From their site: " 2 is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages"--more than 18--"and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose."

And if you would like to get away from Microsoft COMPLETELY, come down to the Sprint store in Russell Springs on Saturday, September 20th.  Bring your tower and you can get free installation, configuration, and customization of Ubuntu Linux, as well as free software for Windows, including OpenOffice.  Its all virus free, spyware free, and cost free folks.  Avail yourself of this chance at freedom while you can.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

SSC #74 Many different ways to use Linux

What many people at first fail to grasp about Linux is that it is all about choice.

You can choose between more than 400 different Linux distrobutions.  You can choose to create your own.  You can choose to change how your Linux works.... how it looks... how it acts.

You can make one or all of a thousand different choices to customize your Linux to your needs.  But you DON'T have to choose to give up Microsoft Windows to do it.

Linux can be installed in many different ways.  Just like Windows, it can be installed to be the only Operating System in your computer.  But, it can also be installed in a dual boot configuration which allows you to KEEP Windows installed and working just like it is.  

There are two different ways that you can choose from to accomplish this.     The easiest way is to use Wubi.  You can use the new Wubi installer that comes on the Ubuntu 8.04 discs to install Linux into a virtual harddrive, which is basically just a file in your Windows folders.

Wubi works great and its an awesome way to give Ubuntu a try.  You simply start up your computer, boot up Windows, and put in the CD.  A box will pop up giving you some options, one of which will be to install it in Windows.  All you have to put in is your user name and password, and decide how much space to give Ubuntu to use.  The installer handles the rest very easily.  It also uninstalls very easily from the Add/Remove Programs feature found in Windows Control Panel. 

The only problems with the Wubi method are that by installing from within Windows, you have essentially made Linux depend on Windows being able to keep itself working properly.  If your Windows has errors on the disk, then the Wubi Ubuntu installation can't boot up.    Another problem is that with Vista, Microsoft has apparently tried to block the usage of Wubi.  Vista kicks the Ubuntu disk out halfway through the install and messes everything up.  This seems to have been an intentional move by Microsoft since Vista only starts doing that after it receives its updates.   You can get around this by copying the wubi.exe file from the disk to your desktop and running it from there.

So while Wubi is an excellent way of trying out Ubuntu Linux, its not desirable as a permanent installation since it relies on Windows not to mess things up.   Windows is the weak link in the chain... refraining from messing things up is not something that it is known for.    An install that has its own partition doesn't have to rely on Windows.  In a partitioned install, Windows can be infected with viruses and torn to shreds, yet Ubuntu will still boot up just fine and dandy. 

If you just want to try out Linux without actually installing, you can simply put the CD in and reboot your machine.  The CD will boot up into a Live mode.  This Live mode allows you to use Ubuntu without installing anything at all... it doesn't change a single file on your computer.  You can play with the applications, you can browse the net.  You can do all sorts of stuff.  And if you reboot and take out the disk, Windows will boot right up as though nothing ever happened.

Be aware that Live mode needs a decent amount of RAM to run.  I've gotten it to run with around 390 or so MB of RAM, but generally at least 512MB is recommended, and the more you have the faster Live mode will run.  Don't base your opinion on the speed of Ubuntu by how it runs in Live mode.  It will run faster once it is installed.

Also note that changes you make in Live mode are not permanent.  You can mess with stuff and reboot into Live mode again and everything is just like it was originally.  Its a great way to get familiar with things.

If you decide you like Ubuntu enough to install it, there's an "Install" icon on the desktop where you can re-partition and put Ubuntu Linux on your computer permanently.  This installer also has the option of getting rid of Windows completely.  So do be careful to read everything as you go through it. 

Simply put, re-partitioning is re-configuring the way your harddrive is laid out.  By squishing Windows to the side a little bit, you can free up some space to make room for Linux.  Much like using room partitions to make one room into two smaller ones, your harddrive can handle many partitions, but doing so does not increase its overall size.  

Note that if your Windows drive has errors, you won't be able to re-size its partition until you've successfully shut Windows down properly.  Also, if your drive is already full, you won't be able to repartition it until you've freed up some space.

As you can see, there are many ways to use Ubuntu Linux along side Microsoft Windows.  You don't have to give up everything you are familiar with, and you can learn your way around Ubuntu at your own pace and retreat to familiar ground when you feel the need.  You can have your cake, and eat it too.

If you're interested in getting Ubuntu but you're not sure about all this installation stuff, come on down to the Russell County Software Freedom Day event which will be located at the Sprint store next to Papa John's Pizza on September 20th and bring your computer along with you.  Volunteers will be on hand to help you and its free for everyone.

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Sunday, August 17, 2008

SSC #73 Time to face the change

Change can be a stressful thing.  And fear of change can be a big factor in whether or not a person will embrace something new.  Much in the same way that people can manage hold onto an abusive relationship for years on end, despite myriads of people telling them they should leave, people still continue to use an operating system that abuses their trust.

While Linux hasn't exactly permeated our culture, bashing Microsoft and complaining about Windows seems to be something that is so widespread that its a wonder there isn't an Olympic event.  If there were, I'm sure I'd have more medals than Michael Phelps.  Its commonly agreed upon that Windows is not all it is cracked up to be.  The Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) error screen has been integrated into pop culture to the point where people take snapshots of it in the oddest of places. Just search google images for BSOD and you'll see the most famous error screen of all time on those giant screens at Times Square, even at the Olympics torch lighting ceremony.  

We can all agree, pretty much without reservation, that Microsoft Windows is bad.  Its buggy, its full of security holes that viruses just slip right through, there are hidden "features" that compromise your computer's security and allow outside agencies to snoop on your machine.  There are a lot of problems, but still people refrain from changing.  The bruises still haven't healed from the last time Windows came in drunk, reeking of viruses, emailed all your friends to tell them about some shady stock tips and crashed on the coffee table destroying all your files.  But people just aren't brave enough to put their foot down and kick Windows to the curb.

Life with Linux IS different.  It is a change.  And I'll be honest, for many people its very uncomfortable at first.  The more you know about Windows, the more you'll feel out of place when you get rid of it.  The icons don't look the same, the menus are different, you may not be able to use your favorite programs.  You could be the most knowledgeable Windows geek in fifty miles, and when you boot into Linux for the first time, you'll feel like a complete moron.  This is natural.  This is change.

The less you know about Windows, the easier the transition is.  But if you are a Windows power user, you've likely built up some skills that deal with finding information.  While a switching from being a Windows noobie to a Linux noobie isn't that uncomfortable, they're still noobies when all is said and done.  They have simple needs and so long as these needs are met, they're happy.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  I don't subscribe to the philosophy that everyone needs to be a computer genius.  Not knowing is ok.  But it won't feel okay for a Windows power user.  Transitioning will be slower.  There's much more to relearn.  Many more skills that need to be translated.  But speaking as a Windows power user who has taken the time and effort to make the switch, it is so totally worth it.  There is help in abundance.  The internet is quite actually teeming with support.  From IRC chat channels to online forums to community LUG meetings, the answers to your questions are out there.  And you can use the informational search skills that you've built up in the Windows world to steadily increase your Linux knowlege and slowly wean yourself from Windows one application, one neat hack, one cool trick at a time.

By the time this reaches print there will be less than a month until Software Freedom Day.  On September 20th I invite anyone and everyone to come down and give Linux a try.  Whether you're a power user or not, we will customize Linux to your needs.  We will make sure you know where to get help.  Change IS frightening, but you won't be alone.  You won't have to worry about viruses or BSOD's anymore.  You'll be free from the abusive relationship you've had with Windows in the past and you can start to enjoy your computer without all of the fear and uncertainty that many of you have come to accept as just part of owning a computer.  Its a new day.  Be free and enjoy it.

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Sunday, August 10, 2008

SSC #72 About last year

Be ready! Its coming back!

No, I'm not talking about the McRib Sandwich (but if you see that THOSE are back, be sure and let me know), I'm talking about Software Freedom Day 2008! Not to be discouraged by last year's lackluster response from the community-at-large, we're signed up again to go out into the world yet again and pass out free software in an attempt to spread software freedom across the globe.

Last year, over 300 teams in over 60 countries participated worldwide in an attempt to help people to escape from the dreary world of proprietary software. No longer must you put up with serial-key codes, trial-versions or annoying "unlock-me! I only cost $199.95" messages. No more electronic guilt-trips imploring you incessantly to upgrade to the "Pro" version.

Software Freedom Day 2008 will be celebrated on Saturday, September 20th and I'll be stepping out of the newspaper pages and into the street to meet with YOU, dear reader. I will be passing out free CD's of Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron as well as The Open Disk project (a disk full of Free Open Source Software or "FOSS" for Windows), Linux Mint 5, and Inferno Linux (an offshoot Fire Hydrant Linux, which is an offshoot of Puppy Linux 2.17). I will also have copies of the very handy BoothCD, aka the Firefox Kiosk disk. And I might possibly even have some copies of the Linux Gamer DVD on hand at request which is a great disk pre-loaded with great Linux compatible games that you can just boot and play.

I will be doing my best to have a computer available for people to see Linux in action so they know that just because something is free, doesn't mean it's worthless. Sometimes you get what you pay for... but this isn't one of those times.

Right now, though, I need your help. In the Open Source community, there is a saying... "Everyone can help in some way." If you are already a Linux user and want to help spread the word by handing out CD's and flyers, drop me a line or give me a call and come and help directly. More hands means more stuff being handed out. And if flagging down passers-by is not your cup of tea, you can help by telling someone else about what we're doing.

Last year, the biggest problem we had was that people are afraid of the word "Free." At least ten different people accused us of trying to sell something. They insisted that there was a catch somewhere, no matter how fervently we assured them that there wasn't. Apparently, people have gotten to the sad state where not only will they not stand up and shout for what they believe in, but apparently they don't think that anyone else will either. When the word "Free" can't be trusted, what does that have to say about "The land of the Free"? Anyway, I digress.

Software Freedom is not about Freedom in the sense that it costs nothing, (it does cost nothing, but that isn't the point) its about Freedom in the sense that it is used to describe "Free Speech". Geeks across the world have banded together to fight what they believe to be an unfairly closed system of political and economic oppression. Microsoft is just one company that partakes of this, but it is not the only one. And if there are any Apple/Mac lovers out there, don't think that Apple is any better. In fact, when it comes to proprietary closed systems, Apple is worse than Microsoft ever thought about being. You can't even get a Mac unless you buy it from Apple. If you try to build one yourself, you're breaking the law.

In the early dawn of computers, the software was always free. It was a means to sell more machines. But somewhere along the line, things went sour. Now we live in a world where software is installed via virus embedded in a pop-up ad, which then relentlessly hounds you to send in money to "Unlock" its full features. Software that lies to you and tells you that your computer has hundreds of errors and/or viruses which conveniently it can fix, if you'll just type in your credit card number. Aren't you sick of not being able to trust your own computer?

It goes beyond freedom and such esoteric ideals. This is also about security. According to Symantec, the makers of Norton Antivirus, there are now over 1 million windows viruses. Thats one million viruses designed to cause havoc with your machine. Thats one million viruses that Linux is not vulnerable to.

If you take a freshly installed Windows XP machine and put it on the net, without installing protections first, the average time before it is compromised is about 18 minutes. Only eighteen minutes before your computer is a spam-slinging member of a botnet. Eighteen minutes until your machine, that you paid good money for, is now working for someone else.

While Vista has made some great inroads to correcting these problems, recent discoveries are putting Microsoft's new operating system under the same light. Viruses are already showing up for Vista and more are undoubtedly on the way as hackers across the world deconstruct it and figure out how it ticks. Every mistake that Microsoft makes is another hole in your security. Every typo or poorly designed function is an opportunity for your machine to be compromised.

With all of the mistakes and hidden agenda's Microsoft has had in the past, are they really the kind of company that you want to support?

Its time to be done with all of that. Its time for something better.

Essentially, Software Freedom is about the belief that all of us together can make better software than what comes from all of us paying a few people to do it. By the people, for the people. That sort of thing.

I'll be covering this topic for the next few weeks, outlining the plans in motion for the event. I've already received a couple of offers from volunteers in Lexington, but as of yet, I don't think it is enough for the job at hand. So if you'd like to help, either by donating your time, money for needed supplies, or by allowing us to set up at your business location, or even if it is just by telling a few friends that there really isn't a catch to this whole Free Software thing, as they say, everyone can help in some way. Take control of your computer. Before someone else does.

For more information, go to
If you'd like to see a map of all of the SFD teams, go to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Vote for my Ubuntu Brainstorm Idea!!!

Do you think it would be a great idea to have a specific version of Ubuntu designed for kids and parents? Filled with fun games and parental control features to keep your little ones safe? Join Ubuntu Brainstorm and vote!