USER-FRIENDLY, FREE OR LOW-COSTS SOFTWARE AND SERVICES THAT CAN SAFE YOU MONEY, WHILE IMPROVING YOUR PERFORMANCE
Free and Open Source software
For my work I support national parks services in developing countries and costs of equipment and legal software licenses is a very important issue. Therefore, the availability of FREE software is extremely important in conservation. We will give you a brief overview of some of the products that we consider most useful. Not all of the products listed are open source or free in all of its versions. Some products are free for the most basic applications but require payment for additional features, but they may still be very useful for you. This list is NOT exhaustive, on the contrary, it is a limited selection of available products, but we feel that these products are definitely worth looking at. A much larger list can be obtained from the several free software websites at the bottom of this page, but you will find out that it is difficult to chose from the large selection of products and decide what is useful for you. Therefore we share our experiences with you, but in the end, you must decide what works for you. Have fun!
Let me suggest you bookmark this page. From time to time, when I discover something new, I just add it. It does no hurt checking out once or twice per year.
Free software became a major issue in 1998, when Netscape made the heart of its software, the "source code", publicly available. This allowed other people to work on the software and improve. Two pioneers, Bruce Perens and Eric S. Raymond initiated the Open Source Initiative, an organization dedicated to promoting open-source software. Open source is a set of principles and practices on how to write software, the most important of which is that the source code is openly available. The Open Source Definition, adds additional meaning to the term: one should not only get the source code but also have the right to use it. That means, that Open Source software is completely free of charge! If the latter is denied the license is categorized as a shared source license. For conservation this is extremely important and nowadays, it is possible to run computers almost completely on Open Source software. On this page we will give you brief reviews and the links for downloading of completely free products that are essential for people working in conservation, and most other people in the world. Most free software is available for Linux operating systems, but there are very good free applications for Windows operating systems as well.
Shareware, on the other hand is NOT FREE SOFTWARE. It refers to commercial software that is provided to users without payment on a trial basis and is often limited by any combination of functionality, availability or convenience. If you are looking for free software, simply ignore it, it usually is not worth you time, as those freeware versions don't do anything worth your while.
The interesting thing of these free programmes, is that they function in most other operating systems: Windows, linux, Apple. We feel that that is important. We should have freedom of choice to decide what operating system to use and software programmes should be able to work on all of them. So what about Apple? Well, they had the same monopolist inclinations that Microsoft has shown. So we stayed away from them, besides, their products tend to be expensive. After all, why pay more if you can get it for less? But if you want the state of the art on innovation and user-friedlyness, the few dollars extra you pay for an Apple may be worth it to you.
On the other extreme end of costs, a fully functional desktop computer is now possible for about $100 per year with all software legally installed if you use Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird. I can remember dashing out $2500 for just a computer in the 1990s! And then some $700 for legal versions of first Word Perfect and later for the MS office suite, which I had to upgrade every few years for half that amount!
Why is it so important to have alternatives to Microsoft? First of all, competition stimulates creativity and innovation. Do you remember that the only processors were from Intel? Then AMC came along with an equally fast processor, the Athlon. Within a year the price of the processors were cut in half, even though the market share of AMD remained rather small. At the same time, the speed of improvement became much faster. Secondly, it makes corporations more modest, because they know that customers have a choice. Both issue are important to us. The mere fact that there is a free office suite and operating system available, will eventually force Microsoft to reduce its prices.
Now you can buy a simple netbook for under $300 running on Windows. Fierce competition makes the prices come down.
Safe on your phone bill
More and more programmes are now providing Voice via Internet VOIP. For various reasons I prefer SKYPE, although it has some disadvantages as well. First of all it works fairly well in Linux, although better in Windows. It allows voice conferencing of up to 9 persons, it facilitates video conferencing and it is not so polluted with family users as MSN, which is used by mothers to watch over their children and as a children's communication tool. with internet connections over 1 mbps its voice service works well and it has calling facilities in most countries of the world. That means you can make calls to phones and the prices are quite reasonable, cheaper than from most telephone companies. I just bought a Philips VOIP321 and it works quite well. It is convenient to buy a SKYPE-In telephone number for about $4-$5 per month, because then people can call your SKYPE from their telephone or cell phone. With this service, your VOIP phone becomes a fully functioning telephone. The important thing to know is that in using SKYPE for making calls from SKYPE to regular phones, one must dial 00, country code (1 for the USA) the area code without the (0) and then press the "SKYPE" button. I also bought the SKYPE-Pro for $3 per month, which facilitates free calling in the USA and Canada. One major disadvantage of the Philips VOIP is that it does not work with Linux. There seem to be a few tricks with other models to make that work, but we will simply use our one Windows machine for these gadgets and hope that some day SKYPE comes with a Linux solution.
Moreover, like so many of the websites of the large providers, it is very non user-friendly. So be careful what you order and how many, because it is easy to place a wrong order. For multi-user business use, the website is too complicated and non user-friendly. We tried to set it up and after wasting a full day on trying to figure it out, we gave up. We asked Skype for telephone support, but they said the can't. That basically is a NO NO for enterprises. But for individual use, it most certainly is worth your while to sort through that unpleasant un-transparent website and set up your phone service. We safe a few thousand dollars per year.
Most people won't have the knowledge to run a server for their website, so they need to get that from a provider. We have a server, so we don't need a web host. But we do need a company that registers or domain names, which is called a Registrar. We have had excellent experience with GODADDY. A rather funny name for a company that provides good service. They are at http://www.godaddy.com . Registering a website costs about $10, per year and they give a discount for registration for a longer period of time. In fact you do want to register for a longer period of time, because if you forget to pay on time, your domain name becomes de-registered and there are people with software that specialize in immediately re-registering unpaid domain names with the intention to sell it back to the previous owner for fabulous amounts of money. It has happened many years ago to out birdlist.org domain. So we registered all our domain names for 10 years, for which we paid $80 per domain.
If you live in a developing country, you probably do better using the hosting service in another country with fast connections, so that you website provides a fast connection to your web visitors. Our experiences with GODADDY has been so good that we decided to recommend them. The reason is, that you can actually call them and they immediately answered the telephone and they are actually trying very hard to help you (No while I write this I have not contacted them and this is not a paid advertisement). Their fees for hosting are quite reasonable, starting at about $4 per month. This provides you also email with your own domain. That is a great service. Most beginning websites have plenty of disk space with this beginning service. If your organization is a government, I would recommend paying both a domain name and a hosting service for the duration of 10 years. That means that for 10 years, you won't have to worry again about paying the service, and when your funds are low, at least your website will stay up! There is one disadvantage using the services of GODADDY: the extensions of many countries, like .nl for the Netherlands, .br for Brazil, etc. are not available, and neither are the extensions .gov or .edu So you must work with the more common extensions like .org, .com, .net, .info, etc. But that is a small price to pay for fast connectivity for your visitors at very low prices, good phone support (use skype) and for stable long-term payment plans which can provide you internet presence security.
Last but not least, and with great hesitation, we would share some good experiences with enterprises that sell equipment. Over time, we have learned that many enterprises change in quality and service, but 2 corporations with very large selections of products so far have never disappointed us while we have used them for our equipment since the early 1990s. What makes these firms stand out, more than anything else is that they have extremely knowledgeable sales agents, who don't try to push you into buying a product and for acceptable return policies.
We hope this was useful. Please make comments, suggestions and share experiences on our forum