Cheap proprietary software still costs too much.

The following is part of an open letter I wrote to an university committee that was surveying students and faculty on the feasibility and desirability of providing discounts to students for popular and expensive software packages. This discount would have been provided by basically sharing the cost among all students by purchasing a large number of licenses and then reselling them at a lower price to interested students. Obviously, I thought there was a better alternative.

To Software License Group members:

I agree that it is a noble cause to provide students with access to software at a cost that is commensurate with the resources of the average university student. However, with full-priced office suites and programs running as much as $300 to $700, even discounted software can be prohibitively expensive for this university’s students who are most in need of the discount. In the interest of accessibility, this program should be expanded beyond simple discounts.

This committee should task itself with locating and increasing awareness of Open Source and Closed-source free software. Through the use of Open Source Software, the university will promote the continued development of programs that work independently of proprietary systems and encourage the development of software that does not require a discount to be use-able by the vast majority of students.

For nearly every proprietary software packages, there is a free alternative. The following list is just a small selection of the many open source and free applications that are equivalent if not superior to their closed-source, proprietary and often expensive counterparts.

Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access) -> OpenOffice.org
Photoshop -> TheGimp
Adobe Illustrator -> Inkscape
3D Studio Max -> Blender

There are many equivalent software packages, so the following site is one of many that may be of use to the Committee. http://www.osalt.com/

Many school districts, universities, businesses and even governments are switching to open source projects because not only do they save money, but often the open source applications are more secure because of their transparency.

I am a Linux user, so I do not specifically use most of the closed-source applications that the university promotes; however, I am able to design programs, write documents, and create movies as easily as any user of the proprietary systems. My .doc and .xls files created in OpenOffice.org (a platform independent program) transfer into Microsoft Word and Excel, but do not require that I spend what is for some, a weeks pay. All of my work, both academic and personal, is done with free and open-source software which is available for nearly every operating system.

I urge the committee to look beyond its admirable but basic goal and to work expand this university’s students ability to access the tools they need to succeed in their educational endeavors. It is our responsibility as employees of this university to encourage students to learn — regardless of whether they are learning quantum mechanics or a better program on which they may write an essay.

Sincerely,
Aaron Harun

fin

Changing the hosts file in Vista

In Vista, normal users are not allowed to save the hosts file, so the easiest way to edit it is to run notepad as an administrator.

  1. Go to start and either search for “notepad” or go to All Programs > Accessories
  2. Right click “notepad” and select the “Run as Administrator Option.”
  3. Once Notepad opens go to File > Open and browse to “C:\Windows\System32\Drivers\etc”
  4. Set the file filter to “All Files”
  5. Select and Open “hosts”
  6. Edit it and save it.

If you get an error about it being read only:

  1. Go to File > Open, right click the “hosts” file and select properties
  2. Uncheck read-only at the bottom and click OK.
  3. Click Cancel to go back to notepad”
  4. Save it

The Linux Blogging Vacuum

I’m considering splitting this blog into multiple blogs, but before I do that I want to find a good desktop blog publishing program to ease the transition on my end.However, I use Linux almost exclusively and from what I’m seeing and reading "good desktop blog publishing" and "Linux" are mutually exclusive.

It isn’t often that Linux fails me, but all I can find are complaints about how Linux Blogging Sucks. I have a few more programs to test but for right now I agree. I am right now testing Bleezer. Although it looked like one of the most promising, I’m not impressed. I’m able to download my last 15 posts, but not my draft posts nor posts older than 15. In the WYSIWYG interface inserting links is rather irritating and I’ve had to come up with "tricks" just to be able to comfortable add links — sort of a non-issue because I’d never use it.

I’m also getting a few weird display bugs and the spellcheck doesn’t actually spellcheck, but I’ll assume that they are just local issues.

I get a new checkbox every time I change the options.

I have a few more programs that I’m going to try after this including QTM, Drivel, and BloGTK.

Addendum: I posted this using the program and I have a couple more comments.:

  • The checkbox on the left was the one that mattered in the image above, so this ended up without a category.
  • Tags are not added to WordPress, but I expected this.
  • It uses WordPress’ native image uploading to some extent, so the image I added from my desktop ended up in the right location and is still attached to this post.
  • It doesn’t post line breaks even though it shows up in the HTML preview. This leaves me with a very hard post to edit between that and all the tags its WYSIWYG interface adds.

Addendum 2:

Unfortunately, QTM, BloGTK and Drivel also fail to meet my criteria. Neither support WordPress specifically and support a generic API, so they both ignore features that I find important like tags and downloading draft posts. Draft posts are very important to me as I have about 25,000 words floating around in various states of postability, so any program or add-on that doesn’t allow me direct access to these words is not useful to me for all my blogging needs.

I’m posting this addendum with ScribeFire, but it has the same problems of not listing draft posts separately and no tags, but what it does allow me to do is change websites and have my research content directly above the post pane, so I can read and research while I write.

One reason I use Linux.

Tux: The Linux PenguinIt continually surprises and impresses me, in a good way. As a little background: I’ve used Linux at a moderate to advanced level for a few years now: I’ve never written a bash script longer than 6 lines and never hacked the kernel, but I’m not afraid of the command line and have no problems editing my xorg.conf, grub.conf or any other system files using nano. The command line is my friend, but I still like a GUI admin panel sometimes. I’ve totally switched to Linux as evidenced by the fact that the last copy of Microsoft office I purchased or used on my own computers was 2000.

Anyway, I recently bought a new laptop and I set it up as a dual-boot system with Vista and Ubuntu (I originally had a triple boot system with Open Suse until I remembered how clunky RPM based Distros are and I have a whole post full of “observations” about Vista, but this is all neither here nor there.) I was testing the battery life, ran it down, plugged it back into the power cord, and, for some unknown reason, I right clicked the battery life indicator. It had an interesting option called “power history,” so I clicked it. Turns out that it prints out these nice graphs that show everything from the voltage to the wattage to the accuracy of the batteries prediction ability. Needless to say, it impressed me. I’ve used Ubuntu for a long time now on a laptop and never noticed that little feature.

So while Linux may take a little more effort to set it up, it and the people behind Linux reciprocate by giving you the little extras that make the experience go from droll to impressive. The only thing impressive Vista has given me so far is two blue screens of death since Wednesday.

A few screenshots (each of which only took one button press and one mouse click to make).

Charge Time Profile
Voltage HistoryPower History
Charge Time Accuracy Graph

Bash Script to Set Random XScreensaver as background

This short bash script will randomly select a screensaver and display it in your background window, so you can have a random screensaver background instead of having to select a particular. Obviously you will need to have Xscreensaver installed for it to work.

!/bin/bash

    files=(/usr/lib/xscreensaver/*)               # Look for files in the XScreensaver folder
    n=${#files[@]}              # For aesthetics
    "${files[RANDOM % n]}" -root & # Choose a random screensaver and execute it in the root window.