Free software, or just go online?

Following some of the points made on my post about Kubuntu and Linux yesterday, I’ve been wondering a bit more about free software and how it might help people make the most of their equipment.

After all, software is expensive stuff. One of the great things about Kubuntu is that if I want a piece of software to a job, say editing graphics, all I have to do is call up the application manager, type in ‘graphics’ and it comes  up with a list of applications I can download and use straight away.

Things aren’t quite so easy with the Mac, of course, but at least that comes preloaded with the iLife suite, which means you can pretty much get on with most things out of the box.

Poor old Windows users are of course left behind in this. They don’t have any decent software pre-installed, by and large, and nor do they have access to a great open source application manager like Kubuntu comes with.

Having said that, an awful lot of the best open source apps are available for Windows users as well as Linux. But they are spread about on their own websites – though many are downloadable from sites like SourceForge – and how is the average user supposed to know they are there? If I want to create a podcast on my PC and need an audio editor, how do I know that Audacity is the package I want?

A great way of tackling this would be to create a simple CD, with all the main open source packages that people might want to use on a regular basis. You could burn and print a load to give away, and maybe make the ISO downloadable from a website.

Some of the software I would include on such a CD would be:

All of which are freely available (and more importantly, distributable) for Windows users.

But then… is this really the right way to go? In the age of Web 2.0, cloud computing, Google Docs and Zoho, do we really want to encourage people to be installing loads of desktop software? Or should we just point them to where they can download FireFox, and then giving them a list of bookmarks?

Maybe it depends on things like web connection speeds. Perhaps desktop software works better for some people than others

I’d be interested to hear what others think. Would a CD with preselected, quality open source software really make a difference to the way people use their PCs? Or should we be encouraging folk to use online tools, and to compute in the cloud?