Free software and easy access to it is the biggest thing Linux has going for it. Anoyne who’s spent much time getting to know Synaptic, as compared to googling for the software you need knows just how much easier life can be in this respect.
One of the big things that keeps people tied to their pay-to-play operating systems is the need for compatibility with the software everyone else uses. The best example of that may be MS Word. Now, a lot of free word processors are available, and a lot of them are very good. Just about all of them can save in MS Word format. Many of them do things that MS Word doesn’t, or do something MS Word does only better. However, none of them “out of the box” mimic all the functionality that MS Word users are used to.
Enter extensions. OpenOffice.org is probably the most popular free office suite, and their word processing program is very good, however, it lacks in some key areas – the most essential of these may be pagination. If you have typed a document in OOo, and you want to add page numbers, you cannot do so without messing up your existing formatting, and heaven help you if you need to start numbering after a cover page, or number one section with Roman numerals and another with Arabic (I haven’t used MS Word recently, but this used to be impossible there as well). Luckily, you can extend the utility of OpenOffice with extensions – much like the “plug-ins” you may use with Firefox.
If you use OpenOffice.org Writer, and don’t yet have the following extensions, add them NOW.
1) pager – Adds a very useful pagination dialogue to the “insert” menu.
2) LanguageTool – If you, like me, like have a GrammarCheck function, this is pretty comparable to the one in MS Word.
3) Sun PDF Import Extension – Lets you easily work with, and save as PDF.
That pretty much sums up my geekery for today. My point is simply this – if you use free and open source software and feel that it doesn’t offer the functionality most people would want, there’s a pretty good chance someone out there has fixed that, and you can pretty easily get things how you want them.