Have I ever mentioned here that I sit on the board of a Science High School in our town?

Well, I do.  And about two weeks ago, I was asked by the Chairman of the Board to review a proposal by a contractor for the maintenance and upgrade of the units in our Computer Laboratory.  The proposal was for the upgrade of the RAM, replacement of the CMOS battery and installation of Windows OS, among others.  Apparently, more than half of the units have been corrupted and the solution they were looking at was to reformat the corrupted units.  That means having to re-install the OS.

But the process will be costly.  And when I asked the technician if the OS he was going to install was licensed, he could not give me a straight answer.  So suffice it to say that he was going to give us a cracked OS, which did not sit right with me since we are an educational institution.

Budget being tight for an enterprise license of Windows, we decided to look at open source alternatives.  Husband found Ubuntu, and decided to try it out first with our kids’ PC at home.  They do have their own PC for their homeschool because it has been a sacred rule in our home that Mommy’s home office is hers alone, and that no other person can use Mommy’s PC.  It’s exclusive for Mommy’s work.  🙂

So husband downloaded Ubuntu and installed it in the other PC, and we have been all agog about it since.

The Office Productivity Suite

My first concern was, how will the kids create documents?  My PC will continue to run on Windows, of course, so how are we going to exchange documents?  Is it compatible with MS Office?

Well, it is.  It has a complete suite of office counterpart, called the LibreOffice.   Microsoft Word is called the LibreOffice Writer, Excel is LibreOffice Calc and PowerPoint is LibreOffice Impress.  You can create a document and save it with .odt extension, and your Windows-based PC will open it in WordPad, then you can save it as .docx.  Or you can simply save it as .docx with LibreOffice.  Why make life complicated?  🙂

Then there’s LibreOffice Draw, which I assumed is the counterpart of Paint, but I’m finding it a lot better.  It can produce technical drawings, posters, etc. Making a flow chart using Draw is easy-peasy!  It also allows you to manipulate pictures and images in many ways and save them in a range of image and document formats.

MS Access is LibreOffice Base, but I have not explored it yet, as I have somehow developed an allergy for the words query, MySQL and Dbase.

LibreOffice Math is equations and formula editor.  Really neat, as it allows you to perfectly format mathematical and scientific formulas, from fractions, exponents, integrals and mathematical functions, to inequalities and systems of equations.  And what’s neater is you can use it as standalone, or you can use it with Writer, Calc or Impress.

I have not tried it yet, but I believe that the counterpart of Outlook is Thunderbird.

The Software Center

This is the part where I really fell totally in love.  It’s overflowing with apps for office and homeschool use!  It’s great that they have categorized the apps, since there are literally hundreds of them, into education, books and magazines, fonts, games, business, graphics, etc.  Among the apps that we have so far installed are the Periodic Table, Stellarium, GeoGebra, KAlgebra and Scratch. There are also educational application bundles categorized into Pre-School, Primary, Secondary and Tertiary, so you get most of the apps you need according to the level you prefer in just one click.  🙂

I have barely scratched the surface of the features here, and I’m sure you are going to find something for your personal needs.  The RedNotebook for journaling, KMyMoney or sKrooge as your personal finance manager, FreeMind for mindmapping… the list is long!

I believe Ubuntu is a great alternative for homeschooling families and work-at-home professionals who simply cannot afford the expensive license for Windows and Mac OS.  We buy laptops and desktop PCs at such a high price because vendors make the installed OS part of the selling point.  But you can actually build you own desktop PC at a fraction of a branded PC’s cost and simply install this open source OS.  And get a lot of free apps to go with it, too!

I’m now so envious of my kids for having all these cool features in their PC, I’m seriously considering installing Ubuntu in my tablet.

[Photos from ubuntu.com and ubuntuhandbook.org]

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