Open source – you’re hired!

My wife and I are gearing up for a date in just a couple hours. It’s kind of different: we are going to eat and then go to a local Starbuck’s and WRITE. Yes, just write. Not a movie, not a concert. Just writing on our laptops at a local coffee shop.

Okay, I’m not trying to bore you with our dating lifestyle. I just wanted to share the fact that my wife can jump between her Windows netbook, my MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, and Linux machines because she uses Libre Office to do all of her writing. I converted her a few years ago, and the results have been incredibly useful. There is no thought about what machine is being used. Because they ALL have Libre Office, it is a piece of cake for her to work on the story she has been writing for years.

Last night, I powered up her antique Windows 98 computer to dig up an old copy of her manuscript. It had over 30 pages of content that had been lost. Finding it was amazing. The trick was figuring out how to get it off the machine. At first, I tried to email it out. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer 5 doesn’t work with Yahoo Mail or GMail. I tried to install a newer browser, but couldn’t find one that would install successfully on that old system.

Next I tried inserting a thumb drive. Sadly, it needed drivers that I couldn’t install. We had copied it to a spare floppy disk (hadn’t used those in awhile). My next step would be to either pull the floppy drive out and plug it into a more up-to-date machine, or simply pull the entire hard drive. Before doing that, I decided to boot up the machine using an Ubuntu Live CD. That was tough because this machine had only about 500MHz of CPU power. Eventually it came up. I thought it would connect to the network immediately, but somehow it didn’t.

Starting up Firefox froze the system because there just wasn’t enough memory. Thankfully, the command-line interface saved the day. Ubuntu easily mounted the thumb drive. I decided at this point that installing Java and CrashPlan was ridiculous and I didn’t have the time for it. I copied the old manuscript files onto the drive, ejected it, and powered the machine down. I walked downstairs and gladly announced I had rescued the files.

The point is that through the power of open source software, Ubuntu, cheap thumb drives, and Libre Office have commodotized the ability to write. My wife and I don’t have to choose a computer, an operating system, or anything else in order to work on a fictional novel.

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