"If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Here at Freelock, we're strong believers in that maxim. The problem is, so much about computing is broken these days. And in most cases, we've just learned to live with the problems.

You have had choices. For the past decade, your choice has been between crash-prone and insecure Windows, incompatible, expensive, and slightly strange Macs, or highly technical, user-unfriendly Linux. Times are changing, for all three.

Windows improving, slowly, but still security problems

Windows has improved a lot. Since Windows 2000, it no longer requires several reboots to get you through the day. It is possible--with a fair bit of technical knowledge--to make secure from viruses and spyware. But it's still a massive target. And just last week a new exploit came out targeting Internet Explorer's Javascript engine. Basically if you have Javascript turned on (everybody does--many web sites won't work without it) and visit a malicious web site, your computer can be hijacked and turned to dire purposes. And there is no fix from Microsoft yet.

If you're not using Mozilla Firefox yet, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this. Go to Mozilla.org right now. Download Firefox. Install it. Make it your default browser. Now.

If you are using Firefox, it's not immune from security vulnerabilities, either. Go to the Help menu and click About. If the version is anything less than 1.0.7, you need to update Firefox too--go download and install the current version or you can be hijacked, too.

Macs getting cheaper

Apple has lowered the price on several Macs, making them almost competitive with Windows. They have also switched hardware, so we may see their latest OS X operating system available for your average PC within another year or two. While Mac aficionados laud their chosen operating system as being the most user-friendly, to most of us who have spent much time in Windows, it's a slightly odd place, trying to work your way around the systems. You have to dig into your hard drive to find applications--they aren't collected all in one menu. There's no right mouse button, or if there is, it doesn't do much. While the interface has all sorts of glitzy cool effects, it's hard to see how they help you get your work done.

But the Mac hasn't been plagued with viruses the way Windows has. Nothing has--if you run anything besides Windows, viruses and spyware are a minor nuisance, not a major threat. And while not every device out there works under a Mac, the majority at least will tell you on the box whether or not you can hook it up to OS X.

Many general applications come in Mac versions. You can get Microsoft Office, Quicken, Photoshop, In Design, and many others in both Mac and Windows versions. Macs have long been the favorite of graphic designers and print layout people, so it's particularly strong for those types of applications. If you're shopping for a new computer, strongly consider a Mac if you can.

Linux finally ready for the Laptop

I first installed Linux back in 1999. That makes me quite a latecomer to the Linux world--there were already graphical tools available for managing most of the computer. But at that point, you couldn't actually use it for much general office work--the applications were underpowered, most files from Windows weren't cleanly editable, and it took a fair amount of technical twiddling to get hardware working. Still, at that point it was a godsend for my web development skills, a free, powerful web server I could put on an extra computer in the house. I've been running Linux as a web server and backup system ever since.

I next tried Linux on a desktop in the fall of 2002, with a flavor called Mandrake 9.0. I was completely impressed with how far it had come in 3 short years. I recognized how Linux and other open source software were more than enough for most general business needs. After using it on my desktop for six months, I wrote my book to identify how and where it all could be put to use in business.

At that point, Linux was "good enough" for general desktop use. Perhaps it wasn't quite as good as Windows XP from the point of view of the average user, but certainly usable. And while I started using it on a laptop, that was pushing it--it was very complicated to get things like hibernation or wireless to work.

Now it's been another three years. Mandrake has changed its name to Mandriva, and there have been six releases since 9.0. Microsoft has not released any new desktop operating systems. The Linux systems have caught up everywhere they had been behind, and surpassed Windows in many ways.

I just installed the new Mandriva 2006 on my laptop. Everything works--it finds wireless networks, it will suspend in a matter of seconds, everything is clean, fast, and up-to-date. It's like having a brand new computer. And software you might otherwise spend a few hundred dollars for, such as photo editing, desktop publishing, spreadsheets, presentation programs, financial programs, are all here, too, for no additional cost. Yes, there's even dozens of different versions of solitaire.

Free Software for Business

Microsoft has a very compelling sales pitch for big companies with big software budgets. For years, they've been doing what they can to provide a single, seamless package of software that all helps large companies push electronic memos on colorful stationary around, plan meetings, and generally help people do stuff that looks productive. It's certainly possible to put these tools to good use--but more often I find them falling short for the tasks I really want to do. In my case, that's keep track of all the projects I have going on here, where I'm spending my time, what I've accomplished and what I have yet to do, and report all of that to the appropriate client. And preferably send them the bill when I'm done. The Microsoft stuff doesn't help me with much of that--at least not their products in the price range of a typical small business. And the big problem with the Microsoft stuff is that it doesn't integrate well with other programs that already do a good job filling part of my needs.

As long as everything is Microsoft, it works (usually). As soon as you try to add another piece that isn't Microsoft, good luck!

Paul Graham, a programmer who started up a company and sold it for big bucks, writes: "The atmosphere of the average workplace is to productivity what flames painted on the side of a car are to speed." Powerpoint, Sharepoint, and the other Microsoft products can sure make you look good in that corporate work environment, but have little to do with making your business successful.

I've noticed that big businesses and small businesses have completely different world views. In the small business world, free costs less than several thousand dollars. Getting stuff done is more important than talking about it in meetings. Building a strong, loyal, satisfied customer base is more important than figuring out how to cash in with a good exit strategy. And suing large numbers of your customers is a ridiculous thing to do.

Okay, enough ranting. If you'd like to give Linux a try, let me know and I'll help you get started. Meanwhile, here's some computer news bits...

Firefox 1.5 released

Just today, Mozilla released the newest version of the Firefox browser. It now supports some special HTML extensions that Apple pioneered that previously only worked in Safari. It also added support for a new web graphic standard called SVG, which probably doesn't mean anything now, but will allow for some very innovative graphics down the road. But the reason you should install this new version is that it keeps itself up-to-date. Whenever there's a new update, it downloads it in the background, and when it's ready, it tells you about it. There have been several Firefox vulnerabilities; now you're better protected against them in the future--after you install this new version.

OpenOffice.org 2.0 is here

We wrote about this in our last newsletter, but it's officially out. Moving from Microsoft Office XP to OpenOffice.org is about as easy as moving from Microsoft Office 97 to Office XP--it's that similar, and that compatible. Unless you have a ton of macros written for your business, or need some specific arcane special feature that only Microsoft provides, next time you need to install an office package on a new computer, go to OpenOffice.org and save yourself a few hundred bucks.

Sony/BMG CDs have hacked your computer

If you've bought a music CD recently and played it on your Windows computer, you may now be infected with some spyware you can't detect, but could be used to reveal everything you do online, courtesy of Sony. And your anti-virus software probably didn't notice, either. California and New York are putting together class action suits. Sony has recalled the CDs. Hackers have created a virus that sneaks in to computers who have played these CDs. More glimpses of big business world views...

If you have a Mac or run Linux, you have nothing to worry about from this threat.

Mambo/Joomla vulnerabilities

Joomla (formerly Mambo) recently had a major vulnerability discovered in it. It's far from the only web application to have this same vulnerability--it's just an application we use and recommend for many clients. Many web sites were defaced by miscreants using this vulnerability, including the main download site for the old Mambo server itself.

This incident highlights the need for having someone pay attention to the security lists, and keep all your Internet-connected computers and applications up-to-date with current security patches.

None of our clients were affected. We patched all of our client's systems before an official patch was even available. That's a big difference between hosting your web sites with Freelock Computing, compared to most web hosts who leave patching and upgrading up to you. We keep up-to-date on security issues affecting our clients systems, so they don't have to.

Freelock News

After working on 16 different client projects during the month of October, we're finally starting to get our schedule under control. Which means we're booking our work out into the future on our calendar, instead of promising everything today... We still have time for one or two small maintenance projects or web site migrations before the end of the year, but for custom projects we're now booking in January.

We have a couple of exciting business operations systems in progress, including an electronic medical records application for a psychiatric practice, and an exercise results tracking system for a fitness coaching company. We've set up a bunch of new Joomla sites, many of which will be going live in the next couple of weeks. And our hosting and maintenance business continues to grow.

About Freelock Computing

So we're hard at work getting many different systems up and running. We'd like to welcome the 8 new customers who signed up in July and August, and other people continue to be interested in our offerings. Right now, we're especially looking for businesses who want to upgrade their web site to something they can manage themselves, or who need a web site in the first place. If you or someone you know could use this, please send them our way!

We provide technology strategy, implementation, and maintenance for our partners at a low monthly rate. We focus on general business processes: marketing systems, sales management systems, operation support systems, financial systems, and reporting. We provide integration of these systems, with particular attention paid to security. We provide custom development services and superior documentation. If you know any small or growing businesses who need a technology partner, send them our way!

Until next time,
John Locke
Manager, Freelock, LLC

This newsletter is available online at /news/1105.php. Feel free to forward on to anyone you'd like! Also note that any links to Amazon in this newsletter and on the Freelock sites are affiliate links--if you purchase a book by following one of these links, I get a small commission.

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