Thursday, March 16, 2017

--- Open Source and Freeware ---


I use some software that I have bought and I have nothing against commercial software but I will rarely recommend it here.

It is possible to completely equip a computer using free downloads. If you need an operating system, there's Linux and if you need a graphical user interface, there's Ubuntu. For web browsing there are programs like Google Chrome and Firefox. LibreOffice is as good an office suite as Microsoft Office (and sometimes better). There is good freeware for just about anything you want to do and I want you to be able to do the things I write about even if you can't buy software, so I will be talking about freeware and inexpensive software here.

Although there is some commercial software that I have real problems with. When I became a vocational evaluator, I set out to automate my department and, of course, the fact that most office productivity suites have macro languages that allow users to program them to do specific tasks made a good office suite essential. The facility I worked for used Microsoft Office and I was happy with that for many years until they came out with Vista.

With Vista, Microsoft no longer supported their Visual Basic for Applications, which was, of course, the language of my evaluation software. There was no more upgrading for me and I lived in terror that a virus or lightening strike would destroy my computer (Well, not actually "terror". I'm made of sterner stuff than that.)

So, I have had a grudge against Microsoft ever since. My next office productivity suite was OpenOffice, which is a free download, by the way. I was more or less happy with that although it was rather unstable. You could place a number of picture files in a document, close it, and, when you reopen it, all the pictures have gone. Also, large and complex files get crankier and crankier. They tend to crash.

Looking at their forum for help in dealing with idiosyncracies, I ran into regulars who insulted people looking for help and maintained that users should not program macros in spreadsheets (my favorite part of a productivity suite).  So, I was less and less happy with OpenOffice until one day I downloaded an upgrade which wouldn't install. When I uninstalled the old version as recommended by the user forum, the new version still wouldn't install, so I no longer had a working office suite and I was in the middle of a complex programming job.

Looking for alternatives, I found that a group of disgruntled programmers split away from OpenOffice when it was bought out by Oracle and they formed LibreOffice.

I was so happy with LibreOffice that I am now going to recommend it.

LibreOffice has retained some of the instablilities of OpenOffice but the people at LibreOffice actively support the software so that much of the glitchiness has been worked out of it. Upgrades occasionally introduce new problems but they tend to be ironed out in the next upgrade. Also, most upgrades are perceptibly upgrades. I can tell that something has been done to improve the program.

The major components of LibreOffice are:
Writer, the word processor
Calc, the spreadsheet
Impress, the presentation editor
Draw, the graphics editor
Base, the database
There is also a mathematics formula editor. Many LibreOffice users also produce extensions for the package.

The primary macro language is LibreOffice's version of Visual Basic which is more powerful than the classical BASIC in that it allows the user to manipulate most of the  elements of LibreOffice but it's weaker in that it's a subset of BASIC that has dropped some  of the core commands of the BASIC language. For instance, there is no Data....Read structure. I missed that one so much that I programmed a function into DANSYS that would do pretty much the same thing. Otherwise, it's a real pain to load specific values into a matrix from code.

Generally, I enjoy using LibreOffice. It can be obtained from the LibreOffice website:

A warning: LibreOffice does not have an offline help file. It has to be downloaded separately at the LibreOffice website. And the last upgrade would not access it. Hopefully the next upgrade will address that. Our Internet is glitchy and I'd like to be able to look at helpfiles when the Web is down.

There's some confusion about open source and freeware. Open source isn't freeware (some of it is and some of it isn't). "Open source" just means that the code for the software is open to the user so they can modify it to suit their needs. "Freeware" means that the software can be downloaded and used for free. There are a variety of licenses that designate what you are legally able to do with any particular program.

Often, it is considered a common courtesy that, if you like a freeware program and will continue to use it, and can afford it, that you make a donation to the creator. Some creators specifically say that they are not after donations. For instance, my statistics package is something I dreamed up for my own use and decided to make available. I don't want donations. If a creator wants donations, they generally make that plain in the description of the product.

My favorite source for freeware programs is SourceForge (

No comments: