Today on Radio New Zealand National I’ll talk mainly about a free stuff you can use and downoad legally from the Internet. My point is that a huge amount of useful and world-class stuff is just there for the using. No cash required. Who said the best things in life weren’t free?
I put out a call for suggestions for this program by email and on my blog a few days ago. If you were one of the helpful people who replied – thanks. This program’s yours as much as mine. Don’t you love the Internet!
Q: Your main topic today – free things. What sort of thing do you mean?
A: Mostly software and services. Let’s start with the canonical example that most of use every day – Google search. We all know it, of course. That’s a free service supplied by a private company, and using the Internet is almost inconceivable without it.
Q: It’s supported by advertising.
A: Yes, it is. And a lot of free stuff is only free in the sense that the users aren’t paying but someone is.
Q: You’ve talked about free software before – that means something more than that you don’t have to pay for it, right?
A: Yes, there’s a definition of free software – Richard Stallman originated the term in this sense. And, by free software, Stallman means that the software itself is available for people to modify and pass on. It’s a strong form of open source. But that’s one meaning of free software. I thought to day I’d concentrate on the less idealogical meaning, the straightforward alternative meaning that it doesn’t cost you any money to use it.
Q: That’s not the same thing?
A: No – it’s possible to have free software in the Stallman sense of the word that you have to pay for, and quite a lot of software you don’t have to pay for is not free in the Stallman sense. The terms ‘libre’ and ‘gratis’ get used sometimes to make the distinction – both translate as ‘free’ in English, but one is about freedom and the other about cost.
The other thing we are not talking about here is software that’s been placed on sites for unlawful download. There’s no excuse for using pay for software without paying for it. It’s just wrong. And there’s so much legitimately free to use software and services out there that, if you don’t want to pay for some specific thing, there’s a high chance that there is a free to use alternative. Just use Google.
Q: OK – we’ve got that straight. So, what sort of thing is out there legitimately cost-free?
A: there’s a whole array of amazing stuff just waiting for you to use it!
Let’s start with OpenOffice, which is a free replacement for word processing and spreadsheet software. Lots of people have OpenOffice, and its often distributed on a new PC. If you want to do word processing – writing letters etc and you don’t have a program to do that – you can either buy one of get OpenOffice for absolutely nothing.
Q: Is it any good? And does it open the same files as the other programs?
A: Yes, OpenOffice opens files from all the main word processing packages including the ones you have to pay for. And it’s pretty good. Just go download it from OpenOffice.org.
And then there’s Ubuntu – or Linux in general, which can completely replace Windows on your computer if you want it to. If you do install that you find a huge list of free software in the menus. But you don’t have to be a fully piad-up Linux-loving tree-hugging hippie to like getting stuff for free. Assuming we are staying with Windows, there are some great things available just for the download.
Word processing and spreadsheets for your computer.
Play audio and video: VLC
Air New Zealand’s superb mobile phone software – mPass
VirtualBox – for running several operating systems simultaneously.
Published materials – TV, NZ Onscreen, Radio
Tripit – trip planner, puts together an itinerary from all your tickets and bookings.
Gapminder.org for analyzing statistics about world population, health, wealth etc.