November 26, 2013

Frugal Computing

I sometimes wonder about the budget impact of telecommunications in any given family: telephone(s)  both land and mobile, internet, and, of course, television. I'd be curious as to the average folks spend on this, or what percentage of their budget it consumes (ours is 4% for internet, land line, and one cell phone). Even those of us simplifying our lifestyles or going off-grid agree that at least internet and telephone are true necessities these days.

I don't have any suggestions for cheaper telephone and internet service. We don't have a television connection for our old analog job, so I have even less to say on that, except that the library is a great place to check out free DVDs.

I can make a few suggestions regarding computing for the frugally minded, as in, proprietary versus open source resources.

Proprietary refers to that which belongs to a proprietor, or owner.  In the computing, proprietary  is "closed source," meaning that the source codes are owned and maintained by the owner and are not available to the public. We can use their operating systems or software after purchasing a license to do so. For the operating system ( abbreviated OS, usually Windows or maybe Mac), and some of the preinstalled software, the price of the license is included in the purchase price of the computer. We register the software and licenses when we first set up the computer.

Of the software preinstalled installed on new computers, some of it is only offered on a trial basis. After that, we must purchase a license to continue using it, or substitute something free, but with less bells and whistles. If you read your license agreements, then you know that legally you cannot sell a software disc after you've installed it on your computer, because the software doesn't belong to you. Even the fonts are licensed! In trying to self-publish a book, for example, one must pay for those fonts because the license doesn't include print publications.

If we go online (and who doesn't), then we must have antivirus programs, firewalls, spyware programs. A few are free, but the best ones come with a subscription and annual fee for renewal.

Open source refers to operating systems and software whose source code is available free of charge for the public to use, copy, modify, sublicense, or distribute. A detailed definition can be viewed at the Open Source Initiative, here. For every proprietary OS and program, there is an open source alternative. The disadvantage, is that there is a learning curve. Plus, we humans like what we're used to. We know where the menus, buttons, and icons are, and we know how our software programs can meet our needs. No new tricks for this old dog!

I mention all this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the costs do add up. Those of us looking for frugal alternatives in all areas of our life should consider frugal computing. Also, if you are a Windows XP fan, you are going to be faced with a learning curve anyway, because support for XP is ending on April 8, 2014. You might as well consider your options.

An open source OS primarily means Linux. Thought of as the realm of computer geeks, it has nonetheless become extremely user friendly in recent years. Here's the one I use....

My Xubuntu desktop. You can click to enlarge a bit.

I like Xubuntu because it has a more traditional interface than the newer operating systems.

If you like the look of Windows 8, you might prefer Ubuntu.

Ubuntu's Unity desktop

The Unity Heads-Up-Display with Dash search function.
In fact, Ubuntu utilizes the search feature instead of menus.

Another user friendly possibility is Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu, and almost as popular. It can be installed with a choice of desktop styles, including the one that comes with Xubuntu (called Xfce desktop). Another good introductory Linux system is Linux Lite, also based on Ubuntu.

Software? Thousands of choices are available from the Ubuntu Software Center, which is included as part of the installation package on both Ubuntu and Xubuntu.

For a more thorough look at the open source advantages vs. disadvantages, click here.
For a step by step look Ubuntu, Ubuntu 12.04 Tutorial

I know this post seems a little off topic, but as we analyze how we spend our money and how to be less dependent on the consumer system, even things like computer use should be considered. For me, it feels like one step closer to freedom.

Frugal Computing © November 2013 


Woolly Bits said...

I haven't thought about the percentage of the whole household, but I try to use as little as possible. we only bought a single mobile phone because there are hardly any public phones left (try to get a taxi home from the station - impossible without a mob. phone nowadays:(). same for online banking etc. if you don't own a credit card (which doesn't come free of course!) it becomes more and more difficult to buy things, even stuff like school books etc. the days of "cash rules" are well and truly over at least here - and I have a feeling that the state and institutions like that a lot - because it's so much easier to control than cash!
to come back to electronics: we only have a tv because of DS, but having a teenager at home without internet and/or tv - seems next to impossible these days....

Mama Pea said...

What is upsetting to me is that there can be so many hidden costs related to the computer itself, the programs, Ipods, Ipads, cell phones and even land line phones. Unless you are computer savvy (which I'm not, but fortunately my daughter and husband are), it's nearly impossible to navigate the muddy waters.

I have a single, older friend and I am appalled at the amount she pays out for computer, TV, cell phone, her "reader", etc. Is she being taken advantage of by not comprehending what she's signing up for? Or is she sometimes sold a "bill of goods?"

Renee Nefe said...

sometimes I feel as if I'm in the dark ages because I simply refuse to buy into the mindset that I must have the newest and latest of each gadget.
my new job "requires" that I have an iphone so they can use their grasshopper app for contacting me. I explained that I don't have an iphone or any desire to have they are getting me a company phone. I'm fine with that. I'm sure I'll have no problems staying within their data usage requirements as I don't plan on using it for anything other than being contacted by them. :p
to connect to the internet while I'm out (I don't do this much) I bring my netbook (did you know they're already obsolete thanks to tablets?) and hook up to unsecured wifi. I don't do any online banking...especially NOT on wifi, even my secured wifi at home. I don't trust it.
now that my daughter is 15 we did have to get another cell phone. Poor girl, she has to use my old phone that just calls. She would love an iphone...when she heard I was getting one for work, she wanted to load it with music and stuff and I'm like NO. sigh

Anonymous said...

I spend more than I'd like on cell phones (3 lines with unlimited calling & messaging so I don't have to worry about anyone going over & driving the bill up, plus internet access on all 3 runs about $150/month), but gave up the land line years ago. No cable tv either, just antenna (and still more channels than I really need). I guess my big electronic indulgences are internet ($20/month) and Netflix ($16 gets me 1 dvd at a time & streaming access too).

Ed said...

Initially when I read this I thought that technology was an increasing part of my budget over the last decade but the more I think about it I feel it has been pretty stable. Sure I have cell phones but I'm soon cancelling my landline. With internet access, soon the cable bill will be gone because everything will come via the computer. The computer used to mean a desktop or laptop but these days they are going by the wayside in favor of smart phones and tablets. I save money with technology by getting exactly what I want shipped to my door instead of driving around looking for it and settling for something less. I pay bill online now and the only time I use a stamp are for those personalized Christmas cards we send out. The list goes on. Pretty soon kids are going to be asking their parents what is a television, landline and desktop.

I've been tempted many times to try an open sourced OS but I've always been scared that some of the programs I love the most won't work on them. You didn't say but I imagine that your open source OS probably has a windows or mac emulator on it to allow you to run just about anything?

Leigh said...

Bettina, that is so true. It's frustrating to be pushed along into technology that we neither need or want, except to do ordinary tasks. And it's getting harder and harder to deal on a cash basis. Out of curiosity, doesn't Ireland have a TV tax?

Mama Pea, we all need an IT person these days! Unfortunately in my family, I'm it. :p It's true about those hidden costs, and those who are not computer savvy seem to be taken advantage of. But then, sadly our world revolves around making profit, not helping folds.

Renee, at least they gave you a company phone! It's a shame though that jobs have come to that; another out of pocket cost to have a job. Dan has to have a cell phone too, to keep in touch with his dispatcher. And I agree about wifi.

Sue, I've heard Netflix is a good alternative to cable or satellite TV. And I have to say I'm with you on internet. It's not an indulgence! LOL

Ed, yes, a lot of Linux users have a virtual machine installed as well. Another alternative is to have a dual boot. This is what I did so I still have Windows if I need tech support from my service provider, or for my computer, or other hardware. I can choose either Windows or Ubuntu at start up.

If you're curious, you might try a Live CD. By that I mean downloading the OS you're interesting in onto a DVD or USB stick. If you're computer will boot from either of those, a menu will come up letting you either install or try the OS. It gives you a chance to look around and explore options without permanent changes to your computer.

I have to say that there are numerous open source alternatives to Windows programs. One place you can research and ask about these is the Ubuntu Forums. I never could have done it except for the help I received there! They can answer any question about virtual machines, what software runs well on them, dual booting, etc.

badgerpendous said...

And let's not forget that many of us have to pay the cost of the electricity to run all of these gadgets! Talk about more hidden costs.

I'm looking forward to getting solar panels installed one of these days.

Still, I couldn't imagine life today without access to the Internet. Sure, there are plenty of bad things out there and lots of ways to waste time, but there are also great things like blogs like this one, and tons of information.

Woolly Bits said...

Leigh - yes, we do have a tax to pay over here for irish tv. as in most european countries, I'd say. but we can also get britisch and german tv via satellite. once you have set up that system, you don't (yet!) have any other fees apart from electricity of course. we inherited most of that system from a neighbour, when brit. tv stopped broadcasting sport stuff via satellite:) he wasn't interested in anything else. you can also pay extra for programs such as sky etc., but we already have more programs than we could ever watch! all this will probably go at some stage, because the EU wants to introduce a general fee/tax for tv, computer, radio etc. - all very complicated and expensive! I could live without tv, no problem, but I would miss radio!

Leigh said...

Badgerpendous, when Dan and I discuss energy needs should we ever get off-grid, the priorities are refrigerator, freezer, and computer/internet!

Bettina, a tax on tv and computer and radio? That's a very bad idea, I think. I know the way things are going in this country, folks are eventually going to have to start making choices about where to put the little money they have. Radio is the only "free" thing left!

Chris said...

I went over to Ubuntu, because I was tired of Windows mandatory updates continually eating up all the memory I had. The Linux Kernel is very simple and doesn't require a lot of the extras Windows put in for user interface convenience.

The only time I regret installing Ubuntu is when they stop supporting a version (pretty good at 3-5 years though) and I have to revert to the newer version. Before they work out all the glitches, you can have some weird things happen to your computer.

I basically have to wait it out until they install the update which fixes the glitch.

Apart from that, I like using Ubuntu because my computer is lasting double the years my Windows desktop did. I suffer very little lag as the memory doesn't fill up as fast with Linux updates.

You do have to become responsible for backing up your system though, as it doesn't have all the "fix its" Windows has as standard.

Leigh said...

Chris, that's the exact same reason I abandoned Windows! You can have backups automated as a cron job. And I know what you mean about newer versions. I think it's fortunate that they've extended LTS support to 5 years. That means version 12.04 LTS will still be supported three more years after the newest LTS version (14.04) comes out next April. We should get the best of both worlds that way!

BTW, are you on the Ubuntu Forums? I'd love to friend you if you are.

Shawn said...

Man, I am LOST in the jargon here...guess I didn't pay enough attention back in my Computers in Management course a few years back and have gotten left in the dust...!

I have had an iPhone since I was in corporate tax, and when I left it was mine to keep. I also got to keep the great unlimited monthly data plans which no longer are offered. Careful end-around upgrades are important as the carriers REALLY want to get rid of these plans, and I recently traded in the old iPhone and for $99 got a new one without any changes to the sweet data plan.

Our issue is internet. I'm curious what services (satellite) others have and how dependable they are, but we are out of service for anything but satellite OR the Verizon(maybe other carriers too...) Hotspots. We opted for the Verizon Jetpack and have been happy with it's results, although it poses some challenges as well. It is fairly reliable, but we can eat through data fast, and obviously streaming is now out of the question. The phone and internet put us at $171/month. We have no landline.

I have not really had TV since even before college, and before I depended on netflix/the internet for streaming movies or football games. Now that we can't stream we got the 2 DVD Netflix plan for $12/month and augment it with Redbox rentals (there are TONS of free trial codes released each month which give you a free rental) Football for now requires a sportsbar to see my New England Patriots since we are way out of market now...

Interesting to hear how different folks make it work!

Chris said...

Hi Leigh. It's frustrating when Windows chews up the memory of your computer, and you're extremely vulnerable if you don't update. I guess it takes years of using Windows and seeing how many MORE computers you go through, to push you in the direction of Open Software.

It was extremely daunting when I first contemplated converting over, because I couldn't do a partial install. My computer didn't even want to use the Disk for a trial. So I bought a second hand hard drive and plugged everything else from my old system into it. Once I did a complete install, I never looked back at my old hard drive or Windows.

I didn't join the Ubuntu Forums but if I ever do, I'd love to friend you there too. It's something I've been meaning to get back to, but when my new baby gets a bit older. :)

Interesting subject and thanks for the link to a cron job. I will investigate as time permits.