I submitted this article to one of the medical practitioner monthly newsletter that is freely distributed to all the general medical practice in Malaysia – almost. This is a long post with some medical jargon. If you would like to read it, take your time. You may benefit from it.
“I bought a laptop 3 years ago. It was an Acer TravelMate that is pre-installed with Windows XP for the operating system. I use the laptop for my usual daily desktop work like email, personal planner and organizer, web browsing, word processing, spreadsheet and slide presentation. Frankly speaking, during those days, I used a pirated software to run most of my desktop work. It was very cheap and I could get it for RM5 in Petaling Street. I know it is illegal, but because of the limited of resources at that time, I have no other choice. If I were to get a genuine software, it will cost me thousands of ringgit for the license.
As time goes by, I become more and more knowledgeable on computer. Again and again, we are always warned by our government on illegal software usage and how our ministry is getting strict on any person or company who use pirated software. They can charge anybody who have and use pirated software with jail sentences. I did not want to end up in jail for this.
So, I did some Googling (it is a term for those who use Google (http://www.google.com) to look for information from the internet) for an alternative software for the expensive genuine software that I could not afford to buy. I was very surprised with what I found. There ARE alternative free software out there that does not even cost a cent, but can deliver as good as the original proprietary software. They called it Open Source Software (OSS) – softwares that are community driven, freely available and downloadable to anybody, no restriction on distributing it and if you know how to write programs, you can even modified the code, do anything with the software and even sell it. Sounds weird huh? Well, it is not in the computer world.
Let me give you an analogy to compare with our medical world, so that you will understand more: Imagine that a software as a drug. Original (proprietary) software is like an original manufactured (proprietary) drug. A pirated software is like an imitator or fake manufactured drugs without any relevant bioequivalent study. An open source software (OSS) is like a generic drug which has a reputable and trusted bioequivalent study. The only different features between the drugs and the software analogy is the cost. While generic drugs will still cost you some money, open source software (in this context) will not cost you anything. Sounds interesting eh?
Enough with the analogy. Now I would like to share with you my findings on the replacement for my Microsoft (MS) Office 2003 pirated version. It is called Open Office (http://www.openoffice.org), the latest is version 2.0. It is like a twin for MS Office, but an office suite with steroids. The downloadable package is about 93 megabytes in size, and if you use Streamyx broadband service to download the installation file, it will only take you few minutes. The package will give you a complete set of the office suite that is usually included in your MS Office 2003 – a word processor, a spreadsheet, a power point, a database, a math software and a paint program. For MS Office user, there is usually no problem with the new software. There are a lot of similarities between MS Office and Open Office. The graphical user interface (GUI) is almost same. The feature that I like most about Open Office is that it can open native MS Office files, i.e. the files with the .doc, .xls and .ppt extension files. So, it is not usually a problem if you want to import your files from MS Office to Open Office. Personally, after using Open Office for the past 6 month, I don’t think that I want to spend money on an original MS Office 2003 anymore.
Oh, remember that I said it comes with steroids? It it because Open Office Writer (same as MS Words) has a feature of generating a PDF files from any words document. MS Office do not have this feature. If you want to produce a PDF files, you will need another proprietary software like Adobe Acrobat to get the job done. As most of us know, Adobe products is not cheap. With Open Office Writer, it is free.
Next would be the Excel and PowerPoint files. Open Office Calc render my Excel files very well, and I did not have any problem on importing the files between the programs. However, I did face some problems navigating the taskbar and toolbar because of the slight differences in Open Office Calc. They just did not put the menu at the same position as Excel. I got the same experience when I shift my existing Power Point files to Open Office Presentation. It was difficult at the beginning, but it becomes easier after some training.
I know, most of us use MS Outlook to organize your email, calendar, planner and contacts. As a doctor, it is important to have a good organizer software so that you will not miss your appointment and could plan your next holiday. Yes, I agree that MS Outlook is the best choice as it also comes with your MS Office package. So, what are the alternative for my pirated copy of Outlook? The alternative for your Outlook would be Mozilla Thunderbird (http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird). However, I have to inform you that the installer package for Thunderbird only contains email management program. You will need to download an extension for Thunderbird to get the extra features like planner and organizer so that it will be as similar as your Outlook. To do this you need to install Thunderbird first on your laptop and get the extension from Thunderbird menubar. After installing the extension, your Thunderbird will be as close as your Outlook.
You will ask me, how would I transfer all my appointment and schedule from my Outlook to Thunderbird? Don’t worry, most open source software is also proprietary software compatible. You can use ‘import’ feature in Thunderbird to get all your appointment from Outlook.
Personally, I do not like to have an email-planner-organizer-scheduler in one program. Outlook looks crowded to me. So, I decided to use Thunderbird solely for email management and download free version of EssentialPIM (http://www.essentialpim.com) to handle my calendar. Data file transferring from Outlook to EssentialPIM was also a breeze as they use the same format of files. It works more efficiently this way, as having one program to run multiple task (like Outlook) will usually use more resources and memory compared to running one small program for each task.
What about internet browsing? I know, most of us use Internet Explorer (IE) to browse the internetfor information. But, do you know that IE have several issues on security and reliability? And it is slow too? Yes, they are, and that is why I would like to share with you the best alternative for IE for your internet browser. Firefox (http://www.mozilla.com/firefox) is another open source software that gives you the best option for IE. It is fast, reliable and a lot more secure than IE. I must confess that after using Firefox for sometime, I would never ever go back to Internet Explorer.
Like everything else in medical field, there is also an exception on using Firefox. I cannot use Firefox to submit my claim to ING Employee Benefit and transmit worker information to FOMEMA. The portals are both not Firefox browser compatible. It is not that Firefox is not good, it is just that the programmer who create those two portals did not think that their programs will run in Firefox. We will have to stick on those arrangements for the time being. When you installed Firefox, don’t forget to check out their extensive number of extensions. Firefox extension is an add-on feature to your browser that could make it more useful for your daily browsing activities. From an internet browser accelerator to calories calculator, there are a lot of extensions for you to choose. You won’t get this with IE.
I think that is about it. You will now have an almost complete free office suite and desktop software to substitute your existing pirated copy of MS Office and Outlook . I must stress out that there will be some difficulties the beginning, but as time goes by and a little bit of effort on learning, you will be up and running your new software in just a few days.
So, what are you waiting for? For doctors who have been using pirated software for your laptop or PC in your clinic, it is about time to change. I don’t think you want to end up in jail. For those who have been using the original proprietary software from Microsoft, you can still try Open Office as an option. At least you can compare it with your existing expensive software. If you like it, it is good for you, but if you don’t, you can always stick with what you have.
Migrating to open source software from the proprietary counterpart is just like changing your patients proprietary drugs prescription to generics. It will always saves you money.”