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Two for the Price of None

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I love dual-boot machines. Miserly Scrooge that I am, the very idea of getting double the functionality out of a single computer investment for little or no added cost, simply thrills me. Linux doesn’t need much space. If you have a 120MB drive, you can give Windows 100MB and Linux will be happy on the remaining 20MB. Sometimes a dual-boot can also save the day.

Recently, a friend’s notebook started going through an endless cycle of rebooting, even before it reached the XP welcome screen. Likely a glitch in some software’s install/uninstall had damaged the Registry.

With no way to boot into Windows, normally one solution would be to reformat the drive and lose all your data and settings. I’d encountered these symptoms before, and fortunately the computer was a dual-boot box. I booted into Linux, extracted the damaged file, fixed it on another XP machine, then returned the repaired Registry file to its original place. Voila Problem solved in under an hour, with everything back where it belonged.

Even if your computer isn’t a dual-boot, you may want to take a look at free, open source software that is multi-platform and will run on either Windows or Linux—and sometimes even on Mac OS X. I like to think of these programs as dual-capable, similar to the way an F-16 war bird can be used as both a fighter/ interceptor and for bombing/ground support. Military analogies aside, let’s take a quick peek at some of my favorite dual-capable programs.

Anti-Virus: AVG
This German anti-virus program is available in both Windows and Linux versions. Normally, you don’t need an anti-virus program in Linux. But there are times when the integrity of a Windows setup is so questionable that even the anti-virus may have been compromised. In such cases, it’s great to be able to use AVG in Linux to scan the Windows drives.

Image Editing: GIMP
If you’re happy with the programs that came with your camera’s install CD, then you wouldn’t bother using a separate image editing program. But if you do need something more capable, can’t afford Photoshop, and don’t want to take the risk of installing virus-ridden bootleg copies, then GIMP is a great option. It does take a bit of effort to learn how to use any image editing program, but GIMP’s basic features are easy to learn and you’ll only have to learn them once in order to use it on multiple environments.

Audio Player: aTunes
Tired of having to update iTunes four or five times a year just to patch security holes? There are several alternatives available that don’t slow your computer to a crawl and that have loads more features.

Audio Editing: Audacity
I’m no audio engineer, but will occasionally want a customized ringtone or have to splice and edit a taped interview. It took me under an hour to learn the basic features of Audacity and produce a compact, properly cut, compressed mono track of the intro guitar riff from Sweet Child of Mine. For a few laughs, you can try putting any politico’s speech through the phase-shifter and wah-wah. If you have the time, you can even do your own version of the Garci tapes.

I’ve saved the best of the bunch for last...

Office Productivity: OpenOffice
Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations, and more in one bundle. No, it’s not 100% compatible with MS Office, but most of these problems have to do with more esoteric features such as embedded images or macros. There’s only a gentle learning curve as OpenOffice looks and feels like the versions of Office (97, 2003) that you’re used to, even more so than MS’s own Office 2007! One tip: If you mainly work with documents in MS format, then change the default settings so that OpenOffice saves files in your preferred format.

Internet: Firefox & Thunderbird
This is Mozilla’s dynamic duo. If you still haven’t tried Firefox, you should really test drive this faster and more secure web browser. Importing bookmarks is a no-brainer and takes mere seconds. If you’re still using an e-mail program, Thunderbird will be just as easy. Simply install and migrate your settings.

That’s just a sampling. Some of those programs may already sound familiar to you. The critical thing to remember is that, in the software domain, “free” doesn’t mean “lousy.”

Most of these programs are as good as, if not better than, their more costly counterparts. You may even have a task that you don’t currently have the software for. Look around the Web as there are a large number of resources available. What’s great is you don’t have to do “geeky” Linux to take advantage of these programs. You can stick with your comfy Windows and still gain the best of both worlds!

Get free downloads at www.sourceforge.net, www. softpedia.com, and www.download.com.

Print ed: 12/08

 

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