BitDepth 595 - September 25

The Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society hosted its third Software Freedom Day recently.
A slow march to freedom

Dev Anand Teelucksingh (far left) and Anil Ramnanan (far right) present Ubuntu to visitors to the TTCS Software Freedom Day presentation. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

As the cursor glides jittering across the screen, there is a sputtering squeal as it leaves a jerky purple line behind it.
The audience titters. Emboldened, the artist switches tools and begins stamping bricks into the lower left corner over green scrawls meant to look like grass, and a wall takes shape with each audible thwack as the cursor hits the virtual canvas.
The small group explodes with laughter, and the presenter slash artist, Dev Anand Teelucksingh, allows himself a small smile of satisfaction before announcing, "Well, that's Tux Paint and it's on the OSSWIN CD."
The occasion is Software Freedom Day a global, grassroots effort to share the gospel of free and open source software with the public. The event was held globally on September 15, and the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society (TTCS) has been an advocate for three years now.
This group is the largest so far, at least partly because the group leveraged the savvy the past two experiences to invite schools to send a representative to the event.

From the beginning of the event at 1:45pm until it came to an end four hours later, I was astonished at the willingness of 20 perfect strangers to sit attentively through the enthusiastic but sometimes overwhelming presentations by TTCS members even after getting their free CDs and snacks.
At least 25 other people grabbed their swag and left, but this group stuck around, asking relevant questions and stoking hope that technology was taking root in the school system.
Participants received the TTCS OSSWIN CD (Open Source Software for Windows) and a copy of Ubuntu, a version of Linux that's becoming quite popular because of its relative ease of use.
In the spirit of eating what's served up on this page, I met with the TTCS during a planning session one week before Software Freedom Day to try installing Ubuntu on my laptop.

Between heated discussions of the wording of a letter to schools, various members of the group coached me through the process of getting started in the world of Linux.
Ubuntu, a project funded by wealthy South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, is a Linux distribution based on Debian Linux which is designed to be a relatively easy and functional introduction to the world of Unix.
The software is distributed on a "live" CD, a disc with a bootable version of the product that you can use without touching the installation on your computer's hard drive.
It's a slow and mildly irritating way to view the software, but it offers a useful way to try Ubuntu without making an investment in partitioned space on your drive for another operating system.
The installation was quirky for me, since I was working with virtualisation software, essentially installing Ubuntu in a software sandbox on an Intel Mac.
After following the step by step instructions on a webpage dedicated to just this topic, I had Ubuntu up and running, putting another notch on my OS belt (I've also got Windows 2000 and Vista Ultimate on this drive, along with Mac OS X).

What's striking about Ubuntu is just how non-techy it is. The current distribution, Feisty Fawn, offers just a spare menubar and a brown background after installation. It isn't until you begin browsing through the menus that you start discovering how much is packed into this release.
There's a complete productivity suite, the Open Office product, which offers basic compatibility with Microsoft Office, Firefox for web browsing, Evolution for e-mail, IM using Pidgin, image editing with GIMP and a good selection of simple games.

Edubuntu is a special version of the project designed for server based classroom environments.
Out of the virtual box, Ubuntu won't play DVDs because of some complicated legal issues, but VideoLan Client, a cross platform media player, will do the job.
Ubuntu is usable, but it's also a compelling way to introduce people to both Linux and a world of open source software that exists in quiet parallel with the big names in the pretty boxes.

Interview with Mark Shuttleworth
Software Freedom Day
Ubuntu download
VideoLan Client
Playback of restricted formats in Ubuntu
Install Ubuntu in Parallels
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