01 July 2007

OpenSource Software and the Environment

While their is an increasing focus on the need for computer hardware manufacturers to "green" the design of their products, it seems that we already have an infrastructure present for sustainability in the software market.

Recently I switched one of my home computers over to the Ubuntu operating system just as an experiment. The only actual media necessary for the conversion was a single CD-R which came from a bulk packaged spindle (and to be quite honest I could have installed the entire package from a thumbdrive). Though software installation on this machine is an ongoing process, I still have used only a single CD-R to make this a functional machine catered to what I intend to use it for. I have yet to find a task that I wasn't able to find software suited for on my Ubuntu box. The software packages so far include:
  • OpenOffice (Office Productivity software, parallels MS Office)
  • Quantum GIS (Offers minor GIS functionality)
  • Automatix (Automated software update and install features)
  • GIMP (Photo-manipulation software, parallels Adobe Photoshop)
  • Firefox (of course)
  • Various utilities
If I were trying to assemble such a software suite based on mass-market software packages, I believe the associated media and packaging materials would be considerably more expansive. Not to mention negative environmental implications associated with my having to earn all of the money to purchase those products.

I will try to get into more specifics in later posts, but their are several positive aspects of open source software based on the fact that its infrastructure for support and distribution is based less on warehouse-type operations and is to a certain degree spread across its user base and existing academic institutions.

Open source software can also be catered to rescue hardware that would be considered obsolete by more conventional terms. I am successfully running Ubuntu on a Gateway 733mhz machine with 384mb of RAM that was previously considered to be trash. Instead of tossing our old machines to the landfills or running them through "recycling" programs, computers can be redeemed and can contribute to meeting the informational needs of developing countries.

Although this post is a glowing endorsement of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, there are several other packages that are worth checking out (I also like the Slax distribution as it can easily be ported to a thumbdrive and can become your computer independent operating system). Suse and Freespire are also fun to play with. I'll add more in the coming weeks on useful open source software. Computing can play an extremely powerful role in mitigating developing environmental problems as they provide a flexible venue for processing and disseminating information. After all, remember that GI Joe taught us all that "...knowing is half the battle."

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