Open-Source Your White Boxes into SalesBy Steven Vaughan-Nichols | Posted 2004-10-23 Email Print
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With today's open-source productivity programs, you can make your PCs much more attractive to both home and SMB users.
Great minds think alike. Last week, I told you that you could make your white box systems more attractive to buyers by adding third-party security programs. And what happened? This week, Hewlett-Packard and Dell announced that they were adding third-party security softwareto their systems.
So it is that now, it's not just a good idea to add security features to your PCs; it's a necessity to keep up with the big boys.
There are, however, other ways to make your PCs stand out from the crowd. One of the best of them is to provide your users with a suite of open-source software.
When most people think open source, they think Linux or server-based programs such as Apache for Web serving or Samba for Windows-friendly file serving. There's actually a host of open-source programs for Windows end-users.
With these programs, you can provide your home and small-business users with most of the software they need for minimal costs. Better still, these programs provide all of the functionality of their proprietary, brand-name big brothers, usually with the same ease of use and with better security.
Besides a browser, Mozilla provides an e-mail and newsgroup client, an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) client and an HTML editor. It is, in short, a full-featured, do-anything Internet program.
Personally, I favor lightweight programs that do one job extremely well, so I use Firefox 1.0 myself. Of course, just because it's a Web browser doesn't mean that it's not a very complete Web browser.
Besides the bare bones of browsing, the program comes with a pop-up blocker, tabs for easier multiple-site browsing, and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) integration. Better still, both Mozilla and Firefox are immune to many of the security problems that plague the bug-ridden Internet Explorer.
For example, even a fully patched up XP SP2 system can be hit by the currently unfixed "drag-and-drop"-related problem. Mozilla and Firefox are immune to this particular problem.
Speaking of avoiding security problems, you also can make your customers a bit safer by giving them Thunderbird .8 for an e-mail client.
This Outlook-like program is another product of the Mozilla crew. Like the others, it does an outstanding job of providing the basics while adding improved security over its Microsoft competition.
It also comes with IMAP/POP (Internet Message Access Protocol/Post Office Protocol) and HTML mail support, quick full-text search, a smart address book, message filtering, LDAP ((Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) address completion and a spell checker, and it can be used to manage multiple e-mail and newsgroup accounts.
Thunderbird , however, is still in beta. The final version is due to appear in mid-November.
The program also doesn't support Exchange Mail, so unless your customer is using IMAP/POP for its clients, it wouldn't be a good choice for offices that are committed to a Microsoft-only mail solution.
For most users, however, it's a great choice. Even in beta, it's become my e-mail client of choice.
On to instant messaging
Gaim supports the three main public IM networks, AOL, Yahoo IM and MSN Messenger, and less common IM networks such as IRC and Jabber. Gaim also has several value-added features that sets it apart from similar multinetwork programs such as Cerulean Studios' Trillian.
One that I've found useful is tabbing. With this, you can have multiple IM sessions easily available from a single window. Another useful feature is the amusingly named Buddy Pounce. Despite the name—which reminds me of Walt Disney's Tigger—it's a way to automate actions based on an IM's buddy behavior. For example, you could set up a 'Pounce' to automatically IM a co-worker to call you when they either logged on or came back to their computer.
The real meat and potatoes of most computers is basic office work, and for that, it's hard to beat Sun's OpenOffice.org 1.1.3. Word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software, what more could a home user or knowledge worker need?
I could go on and on, but a recent eWEEK review and case study said it all when it found that OpenOffice was a perfectly reasonable choice for SMBs (small to midsized businesses). With OpenOffice 2.0 due this winter, this open-source office suite will only become more attractive to users.
Unfortunately, there are some application holes that open-source programs can't fill for your Windows users.
In my experience, when it comes to photo and graphics manipulation, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is not the equal of Adobe Photoshop or Corel's (formerly Jasc) Paint Shop Pro. Besides, while you can run GIMP on Windows, it simply isn't the equal of the first-tier Windows graphics programs yet.
Another hole is a checkbook management program. There is no real open-source equivalent to Intuit's Quicken. The closest is GnuCash, but it doesn't run on Windows, and with its double-entry accounting, it's really more of a competitor for QuickBooks than Quicken.
Still, these are mere bagatelles. The bottom line is that you can roll your machines out of the shop already armed with 90 percent of the software your customers will need for day-to-day use without having to bother with licensing fees. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a heck of a deal to me, and I'll bet your customers will see it that way, too.