I’ve been playing around with a software distro called The Open CD. If you’re interested in Open Source, or perhaps in alternatives to the usual software applications, it’s a learning experience and resource that you shouldn’t pass up.

Open Source programs are freeware, but not all freeware is Open Source. In order to qualify, an application’s underlying code must be available both actually and legally for anyone who wishes to examine or modify it. Various organizations have slightly different definitions, but they all have that underlying principle in common. Some of the better-known Open Source outfits are The Gnome Foundation, The Apache Software Foundation, LiveJournal, OpenOffice.org, MozDev, and Google. (While Google isn’t totally Open Source, since it has its proprietary search algorithms to protect, it nonetheless provides access to many of its application codes, such as Google Earth, and strongly supports the O/S concept.) The basic idea is that anyone who doesn’t want to pay for software ought to be able to find something of comparable quality for free.

The Open CD is a project to distribute Open Source to the masses by allowing us to download a CD .iso file (about 650 MB) that can then be burned onto a CD to provide access to the software. (You cannot use information from an .iso directly; it must first be burned onto a CD, and then accessed in the usual manner.)

The Open CD makes no claim to being a one-stop source for all-around computing, but it’s not a bad start. It contains a complete office suite (OpenOffice 2.0), an instant messaging client that will access all the common formats (GAIM), a Web browser (Firefox, with K-meleon thrown in to display the CD’s graphics and HTML), MoinMoin, a desktop Wiki application for note keeping, journaling, etc., AbiWord and Notepad2 for those times when you don’t want to crank up OpenOffice, PDFCreator, the excellent GIMP image processing program (more or less equivalent to PhotoShop, but free), Thunderbird (Mozilla.org’s mail client), Nvu (WYSIWYG HTML and CSS editor with FTP), Audacity – for recording and managing audio files, 7-zip – an excellent compression program that’s more versatile than the Windows version – and goodness knows what else, because they add things all the time.

But wait, there’s more! If you insert the CD in the usual manner and let it run, you get all the goodies above. If you put it in and re-boot, the computer will boot into a cut-down version of Ubuntu, an Open Source desktop Linux distribution based on Debian. This will run from the CD in memory only, allowing you to play with a Linux distro without modifying your computer. Since you have access to all of the software mentioned above, you can actually do quite a lot, although you can’t access your hard drive. When you restart, the CD ejects and the machine boots back into Windows again.

A little-considered aspect of these “Linux live” distros is that once the machine is rebooted, everything that you did in Linux is gone. This makes it a good “sandbox” if you want to surf to some sites that you wouldn’t normally access. Your machine is safe, because nothing can get to the drives, or to the native software. You can’t even save a bad file by accident.

There are a number of mirror sites for TheOpenCD, and you can download the separate applications on the home site, as well. The easiest way to get the CD image is to download via torrent. It’s fun to play with. Give it a shot.

[tags]firefox,google,open source,ubuntu,.iso,open cd,openoffice.org,gaim[/tags]