Thursday, December 11, 2008

So, What's the Deal With the Penguin Anyway?

We get this question a lot. My answer is typically "Well, if you know who he is, you know what we do... Otherwise you just think he's cute". My answer is usually reciprocated with some type of chuckle and we move on to whatever technical topic the customer needs help with that day.

So who is he you ask? His name is Tux. He is the Linux mascot. Linux is an alternative operating system to Microsoft Windows. We not only sell and support Linux based systems, but we utilize it when we sell and repair Windows based systems as well. In fact, we utilize many Open Source software solutions in our company for both Linux and Windows environments for ourselves and our customers. His image was created by Larry Ewing in '96 as a submission in a mascot competition.

Open Source is a term we care a lot about in our business and our personal projects. In technical terms, Open Source refers to a particular type of licensing for software or document publishing. Software developers who publish their software using Open Source licenses make the source code (the actual readable code written by a programmer) available for public use. The public can edit this code to fix bugs, add features, or simply customize for internal use free of charge. They are limited only by being required to also publish any of those code changes if they choose to distribute the program beyond internal use.

Open Source projects, such as those found on SourceForge, encourage group or community participation. This allows unlimited developers world-wide to create, improve, and support the project. These projects grow quickly and develop a large testing environment for applications. This is a benefit to software companies because these testing environments are larger than what individual companies can do themselves. Many large corporations have begun to develop Open Source applications or have released prior application source code and changed their existing programs licensing. IBM and SUN Microsystems are two very large companies who have managed to find huge benefits from working with Open Source projects.

Why does this matter to you if you aren't a programmer? It matters if you are making software decisions for your company or care about future support for software you want to use. We don't think it is fair to small businesses to be forced to invest thousands in software to run their companies, then forced to spend thousands more in support to continue using it. When these private software companies fail or release a new product (discontinuing support for what was purchased) businesses are forced to buy new products or lose their old data, or worse. You don't get any choices once you've invested in non-open source software. You lose control over upgrade options, support choices, and your wallet.

Open Source programs are not shareware, freeware, or limited trial programs even though the programs themselves are generally free for download. How would you make money by giving away your software? Commercial Open Source projects make money through support and customization of the code for customers.

I have been heavily invested in Open Source as a community contributor and supporter for over 10 years... 13 actually now that I stop to think about it. My husband, Steven, has a few years on me though. We believe that you should have a choice in your computer hardware, software, and support. We want you to come to us because you want to, not because you have to.

Here are some Open Source programs you should check out (for Windows): 7-Zip, Audacity, Blender, Firefox, GnuCash, Gimp, OpenOffice, PDFCreator, Pidgin, Scribus, SuperTux, Thunderbird, and VideoLAN.

If you want to know more about Linux (or what Linux projects we support) come see us at the store or come to a Linux Users Group meeting the 1st Wed @ 7PM or 3rd Sat @ 4PM in our store's training facility. All users from newbie to kernel developer are welcome.