Open Source Law Student – Part 2
This is the second part of my free and open source law student project that I’ve conducted over the past year. It picks up pretty much where part 1 left off, which you can read here.
Calendaring: Mozilla Sunbird and Google Calendar, Windows Live Mail with built in calendar. I tried switching entirely to Sunbird (and syncing it with Google Calendar) which I eventually got working satisfactorily. Sunbird is fine, but I still find the user interface used by Outlook 2007 to be far superior. I truly wish that was not the case, however, as Outlook is a bloated jack of all trades, and insists on bizarrely storing everything in just one .pst file which is a disaster waiting to happen. I readily accept that Outlook’s days are most definitely numbered.
Encryption – Around 12 months ago, I moved away from Steganos Safe on my Windows machines for the open source solution, TrueCrypt, which is far superior in my opinion. There are Mac and Linux versions available too, though I find it annoying that it doesn’t offer the ability to increase the size of an encrypted safe you have already created – a feature which Steganos Safe boasts. Although I tried the full partition encryption feature on a laptop, I mainly use encryption simply as a safe or vault for confidential data.
Although I eventually came to the conclusion that I cannot make an open source based solution work for me, it was more down to my esoteric computer needs rather than the software not being up to the job. To students making the switch from Windows to a distro of Linux, I would say the following:
Be prepared for the odd problem: I quite like Ubuntu and immediately felt at home within it. Getting one of my printers to work proved more difficult than I imagined but it’s perfectly doable – particularly with a little help from Google. There are plenty of very helpful Linux discussion boards and forums out there. Parts of the UI felt a little clunky, yet there were others which felt more streamlined and user-friendly than Windows. One thing that did bug me greatly in the early days was getting used to the ‘OK’ and ‘Cancel’ buttons being the opposite way round in Linux dialog boxes compared to Windows. It’s always the little things in life!
Ink-saving software not compatible: I like to run ink-saving software on my Windows machines which minimises the amount of ink used when printing: on XP I used Inksaver 2.0 while with Vista (and Windows 7) I’m running EcoPrint 2 Ink and Toner Saver. Both are excellent and have saved me a huge amount of money over the years. Of course, I’m not able to get either working with Linux even using a compatibility layer such as Wine (not that either EcoPrint or Inksaver is open source or free, either) but I’m not prepared to go without ink-saving software for long. On my LL.M I’ve had to do way too much printing for that to be an option.
While I’m on the subject of printing, I’ve long harboured a hatred for typical printer manufacturers and the way they have turned printer consumables into such a grossly lucrative aftermarket. While I’ve suffered with various HP, Epson and Lexmark models over the years (and a Citizen dot matrix if we’re being picky) Canon hardware is by far and away the best in my experience – both in terms of price and performance.
I currently have two printers set up: a regular Canon inkjet and a Canon multi-function machine, which is reserved mainly for scanning and copying. My regular inkjet, an aging Canon IP1500, was as cheap as chips to buy back in 2005 and even cheaper to run. I get unbranded cartridges from specialist online ink outlets which work out at just over £1 per cartridge. While their longevity might be slightly less than with official cartridges, it still represents a huge saving and a regular compatible cartridge lasted several weeks on my LL.M – or several months during regular use. With my ink-saving software, too, I enjoy super-cheap printing – just as it should be.
While some users might be less than eager to shell out on ink saving software, it is very inexpensive and very quickly pays for itself – particularly if you ramp the saving percentage up. As a general rule, I keep mine on 60% ink-saving - both on Inksaver and EcoPrint.
Abobe Products and Games
Another sticking point in my free and open source law student experiment has been the loss of Adobe products. I’m a heavy user of Adobe’s products – particularly Photoshop and Dreamweaver, and while I could use Gimp as an advanced image editor, for instance, I just don’t feel as comfortable using it and miss Adobe’s products. I even tried Nvu as a replacement for Dreamweaver, and while it might have cut it ten years ago, it certainly doesn’t today. I also have some legacy PC games which I enjoy from time to time and while I guess I could try running them through Wine, it’s just too much hassle when I can run them natively in Windows. For me, the combined effect of these issues is just too great a hurdle to overcome and keep me firmly tied to Windows, at least for now.
The average law student would be perfectly able to get along with just free software without sacrificing his or her grades and convenience. For the most part, a student running Linux and just free and open source solutions within that environment would be absolutely fine for the purposes of workload, file compatibility and so forth. Providing you don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty occasionally – such as installing a printer – it’s an entirely viable option. That said, if you have certain PC software that you can’t be without and don’t fancy your chances (or want the hassle of) running it in a compatibility layer, Linux might not be for you. A more viable prospect, to my mind at least, would be to make use of the wealth of free proprietary and open source software available out there but run it within Windows. As I found out, jumping lock, stock and barrel into the open source world is not quite as easy at it might seem.