Time to Use Linux or Do You Use Pirated Software?

This is a tricky thing for some many some people.  Using pirated software that is.  For most people, their computers come preinstalled with WindowsXP or some variant of Windows.  Some would also come with Microsoft Works while higher end versions come with MS Office installed.  Using word, excel and powerpoint files have also become common fair on PCs (btw, PCs include desktop and notebook PCs :P).  The tricky thing for some is that not all PCs come with MS Office while some cheaper ones don’t even come with a proper OS!

So some resort to piracy, and I’m not talking about folks with bandana.

Piracy here refers to the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of electronic, audio, video and software content.  In some countries, it is so rampant that pirated copies of software is the easiest if not only way one can acquire them.  In Singapore, licensed software is quite easily available while pirated software is now harder to get on the street (or in Sim Lim Square, the IT center in the island).

MICROSOFT IS TOO RICH ALREADY

Of those whom I know who uses pirated software, a common reason given is that Microsoft is already so rich, there is no reason one should pay such a high price for something they can get for a fraction of the retail price or virtually free if they download it from the web.  There are two parts to this argument and both are unsound, ie 1) The software vendor should charge a suitable fee proportionate to its wealth and 2) Software prices should be cheap or cheaper.  Firstly, just because a company is rich does not mean that it does not deserve to charge a suitable price for it.  Companies or individuals should not be faulted by their success.  Granted, it is arguable whether Microsoft got rich through just and legal means, it still does not make it right to pirate their software and use it.  Two wrongs just don’t make one right.  Furthermore, while Microsoft is the favorite punch-bag, it is not the only company whose software is being pirated.  Consumers will happily pirate from companies like Adobe, Autocad, Mcafee, Norton etc etc or from lesser known companies as well.  Games are also pirated frequently and some game writers are not necessarily rich and power, but their games get pirated nonethless.  As they say, if you put it out, they will buy it.  So MS (or M$ as some like to put it) may be a major target due to its market share, the very act of piracy is not and cannot be justified by its success as it is not the only company whose software is pirated.

IT IS TOO PRICY

Again, as in the first case, many who use pirated software like to point out that Microsoft products are expensive.  Paying S$200 to S$300 for a retail set of Microsoft Office (approx. S$230 for MS Office Std edition at blog entry) may seem pricy, but if you consider that one could potentially use say MS Office 2003 even today, it means that the retail price is good for the past five years.  Amortizing the retail price of $230 over five years means that it cost S$230 / 5 = S$46 a year or S$0.126 per day.  When is the last time you did something with 12.6cents?  ok, so maybe five years is a stretch, let’s stretch it over three years.  This would come to S$76.67 a year or S$0.21 per day.  Hmmm … last I check, a bus ride on a feeder bus cost more than that in Singapore!

Then people will start getting self-righteous and claim that they over charge even in
third-world countries.  For that I say, so sue them.  Using pirated software does not make the poorer countries richer or lower the prices there.  Ok, I take the last part out.  In China and some third-world countries, MS has different pricing schemes supposedly tuned to the local economies.  But again, I say if you think they are wrong, find a lawyer and sue them.  Using pirated software does not make us any more right than their ‘crazy’ pricing.

Furthermore, the same issue that MS is not the only company is at hand with prices.  Consumers may complain about price, but what about anti-virus software subscriptions (3 users) that ranges from S$35 to S$90 depending on the make and software type you choose.  Surely that is affordable on a yearly basis?

BUT WE HAVE NO CHOICE

Well, actually you do.  While one may think that piracy is the only solution to software usage, it is not.  I’m typing this blog on a cheapo S$699 Packard Bell notebook offered to me and it runs on Ubuntu 8.04.  It came with no operating system except for some crappy distro of linux without any GUI.  I’m not a linux (some would say GNU/Linux) or Ubuntu advocate, but I’m on my fourth month using Ubuntu daily and have so far met with little or no problems at all.  Life without Windows XP (or Microsoft products) had so far been stress free, but to be fair, using Windows XP was never much of a problem for me. 😉

There are many software applications that come on that single Ubuntu CD (ISO), but here’s a short list of what I commonly use:

On Windows

On Ubuntu

1. Documents Office documents (Word, Excel, Powerpoint), pdf (Acrobat Reader), chm(help) files Open Office (Writer, Calc, Impress), pdf (Evince reader), gnuCHM. I also have AbiWriter and Gnumeric for text doc and spreadsheet if Open Office messes up.
2. Web Surfing Firefox, I stopped using Internet Explorer
years ago and you should consider as well.
Opera or Firefox
3. Email I used the web browser for gmail or outlook for monastery email. The IT folks refused to open up POP access!! grrrrr Again, I use the web browser for gmail and now Evolution for accessing the monastery email. It supports Exchange via OWA so no problem there.
4. Messaging Trillian, and sometimes Windows Messenger. Pidgin. You loose some emoticons feature but you get multi-protocol support.
5. Audio / Video (Dharma talks etc 😉 ) VLC and MPlayer. I don’t use MediaPlayer because they don’t accept many formats. Quicktime is … well, I have never owned any Apple products in my life but sometimes some files come in mov format … grrr … VLC, MPlayer, Rythmbox
6. Photos I cannot remember what I used, but I think I used picasa and gfview for photos and GIMP for photoshop-like graphics stuffs. Picasa and GIMP. Ok, actually, I mostly use the built-in GNOME Image Viewer for viewing pics.
7. Language Support (Chinese / CJK) Windows XP was the life saver, after Win2k in that it incorporated decent Chinese text reading and input support. No more messing with Chinese Star or North-Star etc. Native support for CJK (and others as well). Input via SCIM, also native. To be fair, setup was easier on Windows XP, but it’s not rocket science on Ubuntu anyway.

So if you are like me, chances are, you can
pretty much live your life free of pirated Microsoft software and not really feel much different altogether.  Oh, actually there is a difference.  It is snappier (faster) and safer than Windows for most people.  But to be fair, I’ve used MS products since MS-DOS days, so I know how it’s like to stay in one’s “comfort zone” and for me, Windows XP was pretty stable for what I used it for.  The point is, the next time you want to use pirated software, think again, there are alternatives available, and a monk told you so! 😉

SO WHAT HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH A MONK ME?

Well, many lay people have asked me about the Five Precepts, the second which is a voluntary resolve “to abstain from taking that which is not given”.  To a large extent, piracy is at least a flouting or transgression of this precept, so I decided to not just write about why it is not advisable to use pirated software, but also suggest possible solution to this common dilema.

I hope this blog entry had been useful to you as a start.  Using Ubuntu will not get you enlightened, but if doing so helps you avoid stealing software, may it help you live a more blameless life, laying the foundation for Dharma practices which when rightly practised will lead to the complete Cessation of Suffering.

PS: Did I mention that you can also dual boot between Windows XP and Ubuntu? 😉

EDIT: For the uninitiated, here’s a link for downloading Ubuntu for free http://www.ubuntu.com/ 🙂