I want to break free

It was one of those lazy afternoons, when a discussion about free software started. We got discussing whether it is feasible and sustainable to use only free software, but we couldn't quite come to any conclusions. A few days later, I got my new netbook, and decided to try and prove that it is possible to rely totally on free software. Hence this experiment. I will use only free software for the next one year on my netbook for my personal use.

My netbook came pre-loaded with Microsoft Windows XP, Microsoft Office (free trial version), McAfee Anti-Virus (free trial version), Microsoft Works (bundled).

For now, I am keeping the Windows XP (since it's bundled with the laptop). Right now, I am in no mood to switch to Linux. I will keep my serious eye open for Chrome OS.
I decided not to buy the licenses for MS Office (I hate the 2007 version anyway) once their trial period expires. Instead will keep Microsoft Works for office productivity suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc) as it is bundled - the other option was to go for OpenOffice (which I have used earlier).

In addition, I installed the following software, all of them free, for my everyday use:

Firefox - My browser of choice. With those killer add-ons (like DownloadHelper for YouTube videos), I don't think I am going to use IE anytime soon.
VLC player - to play all kind of video files including the YouTube ones.
DivX - to play those HD videos.
Picasa - for organising photographs and minor edit jobs. Easiest way to upload to picasaweb.
GIMP - for major edit work on photographs. In fact, my friend who uses Photoshop professionally now wants to try GIMP as it is doing certain jobs much faster, and better than Photoshop. Example - the current "Bohemian Rhapsody" title pic was created in a couple of minutes using GIMP.
Google Sketchup - this one is for 3D modeling. I use it primarily to design my home furniture.

Wish list:

AVG - Anti-virus program once my McAfee license expires. Any other free anti-virus programs I should consider?
Jing - Video capture software instead of Camtasia Studio. I have the installer, just don't need it yet.
Apache + MySQL + PHP - If I decide to develop any web application project at home. I will also need a PHP editor software for that. Preferably one with HTML editing capability.

Help me with this experiment: Please let me know if you use any free software which really helps you. And wish me luck.


Yesterday, I was enjoying my unexpected off day at work, and as I normally do, I took a long walk through the streets of Kolkata. Near the popular market area of Gariahat, I saw something, which made me stop - a Sportstar magazine. Well, not exactly a magazine, since it is now printed in a tabloid format, but the logo is unmistakable. After all it is embedded in my childhood! I immediately bought it, a pure nostalgimpulsive (watch out for new entries to the Oxford dictionary next year) buy.

Anyway, back at home, late at night, I put aside the books I was reading, and opened the Sportstar. I read the articles enthusiastically, watched all the pictures, and then realized why it is not the phenomenon that it once used to be. I already knew everything (almost) that was written there, thanks to my daily dose of Sportscenter / Sportszone on TV. The high resolution images look glossier on the web pages. The newspapers are covering sports over three pages. The sports channels almost never fails to show a live event. There was nothing in Sportstar for which I should have to wait till the weekend. Very very different from the days when it used to be a novelty, something to look forward to.

You have to be one of those kids born in the 70s, growing up in the 80s to probably understand the sentiment here. You see, when I was a kid, we didn't have TV at home. Even when we did eventually get a TV, there were two precious channels (a third if you added a booster to the antenna). So sports news was a capsule of a few minutes within 15 minutes of news, which ended before it started. Live action meant cricket matches when they happened, football world cups every four years, and Wimbledon every year.

Even the newspapers were thinner, and sports was a one / one and half page affair in it. For sports crazy kids like us, Sportstar magazine and its likes were a life saver. We would wait for it to hit the stands and gobble up all the news from around the world. The special attraction was the centre four-fold poster. In those internet deprived days, you can only imagine what a high resolution Steffi Graf (or Boris Becker if you like) poster meant to us. In fact before Archies Gallery made it big, those posters with visible fold lines, were the only standard decoration items for our rooms / cupboards. Heck, I even had those old editions clubbed together every year in a thick bind for posterity. I guess every thing has their own time to live, to prosper, and then give way to newer things.

Cross the bridge ...

.. when it is built, and irrespective of what it is called - that is what I say.

For a few days now, the media has been harping about the new bridge connecting Bandra and Worli over sea. It has been hailed as an modern engineering marvel, and much is being written about naming it as "Rajiv Gandhi Setu". I am happy that it is finally complete, and I am convinced that it is an engineering marvel, and is going to help the people in Mumbai, despite the sceptics.

But while reporting this feat, I think the media failed to mention / undermined that the 5.6 km bridge took over 10 years to build for various reasons, raising the cost considerably. I can't help but compare similar infrastructure projects in our neighboring country - China. Hangzhou Bay Bridge connecting Shanghai and Ningbo over sea is 35.6 km long (the longest of it's kind) and was completed in a little over four years. Donghai bridge, which is another bridge over sea and is 32.5 km long, was developed in less than three years. Similarly, while we struggle to complete the railline from Jammu to Srinagar, China already has a train service from Beijing to Lhasa, Tibet, and a motorable road all the way to Everest Base Camp. I know there is no direct competition here, but my point is if they can do it, we must try to learn from them and do it on time too. In case we don't want to admit that others can manage projects better, what about looking at how the Delhi Metro project was done?

About naming the bridge: Nothing against Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, or Mr. Bal Thackeray, or Shivaji, or really, whoever they want to name it after. But why are we so insistent on naming any project after a person? Even when a bridge is named after legends, people usually call them by a convenient name. Case in point: Howrah bridge connecting Howrah to Kolkata is almost never referred to as Rabindra Setu, it's official name. Same goes for Vidyasagar Setu, again connecting Howrah and Kolkata, which is referred to locally as the "2nd Hooghly Bridge". It's not that people don't respect Rabindranath or Vidyasagar; it's quite the opposite - but I think people don't care to call a bridge after people who had nothing to do with the bridge!

Internationally, the few examples of landmark bridges that comes to mind are also named after the location or nearby landmarks. Golden Gate Bridge goes over the "Golden Gate" of San Fransisco. Millau Viaduct is near the town of Millau in France. Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan to ... you guessed it... Brooklyn. Tower Bridge in London is near the Tower of London. Sydney Harbor Bridge is obviously.... the list goes on and on. Why can't we just leave "Bandra-Worli Sea Link" to be simply "Bandra-Worli Sea Link"?