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Volume 7, Issue 4                                    University of Houston

Best way to keep computer safe is to set it free

Jim McCormick
Opinion Columnist

Being connected to the dorm networks here at UH has taught me a few things about keeping my computer safe. For example, ' wouldn't dream of connecting to our networks without a proper firewall and anti-virus software 

Quite frequently, friends come to me complaining about slow machines. After cleaning up the spyware that has made their computer slower than the one on my fireplace that dates to the late 1980s, ' install Mozilla Firefox and set it as their default browser and instruct them to use that.

Firefox is one of an increasing number of free software packages that has garnered a lot of press lately. When ' say free, ''m not referring to the price (though it didn't cost me anything), but that, under the terms of its license, ' am able to use it in any circumstances, study the source code, redistribute the program as ' choose, and the right to make modifications to the program. These freedoms allow me to take total control over my computer and to find out how my computer works.

Of course, Firefox isn't the only piece of free software out there. ' use Mozilla Thunderbird to check my e-mail instead of Outlook, The GIMP for my photo manipulation in lieu of Photoshop, Gaim to do my instant messaging in place of Trillian, and to do everything that most people use Microsoft Office to do. These programs are all licensed under the same terms. There's no such thing as a pirated copy of any of them: you are encouraged to share the software with everyone, for free or for a charge if you want to make money.

Even my main operating system is free. While ''m currently working on my Windows computer, as my desktop is locked away in my dorm room, ' normally use GNU/Linux as my operating system. ''ve found it far easier to use than Windows, and the fact that it's free allows me to install only the components of the system that ' really need. Furthermore, most distributions of GNU/Linux include the software ' need to do my schoolwork already installed and configured to work with my hardware, as other, more skilled programmers have gone before me and made it easy to use.

Sticking to the free software model cuts down on my software costs, to the point that ' rarely spend that much money on software anymore. So not only am ' free to know exactly how my computer works, ''m also free to spend the money ''ve saved by using no-charge mirrors to get my software on other things, like food and books. 

<'>McCormick, a columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
<'>can be reached at

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