The license for XP is on the shelf. The DragonDictate disks were lost long ago but I do own it even as it's been out of production for almost 8 years. All the games are paid for. There are no music or movie files on my machine that infringe copyright. The remaining applications with open source software licenses: Firefox, Thunderbird, Filezilla FTP, Gaim Chat, jEdit and, the king of all open source applications, OpenOffice.org 2.0.

Microsoft has a chokehold on public opinion that leads people to believe that they cannot function on the job or in a corporate environment without their office productivity suite of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access. The Microsoft Office product sells for almost $300. Microsoft wants you to pirate MS Office because it reinforces their sales to business and government. Microsoft won't spend the money to bring Justice to your seadog ways but they'll keep you jumping through hoops by making newer versions of their software incompatible with older versions of their software. If they have a down financial quarter, they can announce that they disabled all illegal copies of their software and force people to scramble again.

Does that sound remotely fair? Why would you want to deal with stuff like that over a word processor and spreadsheet? Take the other aspect of the argument: Can you trust a hacker to give you a clean version of Microsoft Office? Can you trust a hacker not to put back doors in the installation? If hackers can break into Microsoft Office, they can easily break into your machine. What do they owe you? You're probably paying by turning your PC into a spam zombie.

Take a cue from the New Testament and give to Microsoft what is Microsoft's or find another way to operate in this life. It's no secret that legal copies of MS Office perform better than illegal copies. If you have no alternative then it's better to spare your computer and just give up the $300. Fortunately, you do have an alternative in OpenOffice.org 2.0.

Currently available in the form of 1.9.79 beta, OpenOffice.org 2.0 (OO2) is ready to help you for free. Earlier versions of OpenOffice required the Java plug-in and didn't have a database application equivalent to Microsoft Access. The Java requirement is gone and an application called OpenOffice.org Base provides the database functions. The visual layout of OpenOffice.org 2.0 matches the Windows environment. Everything is slick and professionally executed.

Perhaps the most important aspect of OpenOffice and open source software in general is standards. While it's easy to say that Microsoft's .doc files are the standard, that doesn't make them an open standard. Nobody knows the exact design of .doc files and this design changes from version to version. In contrast, OpenOffice 2.0 uses the OASIS document format. This is an actual standard which means that anyone can view the file structure on any operating system. You can incorporate these files into programming to parse and otherwise manipulate the information without permission from the mothership.

The documents and spreadsheets that you create belong to you. As long as you rely on a closed document format, like Microsoft's .doc and .xls format, you risk losing everything you've ever created. Since it's unlikely that you agreed to let Microsoft share ownership of your information, it's time to start getting out of using Microsoft Office—especially if you do not own it.

Call me crazy but we live by the consequences of our actions and those actions create karma that will push us toward similar actions. Karma can build you up but it can also rip you down. Every decision counts no matter how small. Bad karma does not factor how convenient things will be for you when hell breaks loose. On that day when Microsoft breaks your word processor because they think you're a pirate or you haven't given them money in a long time, what are you going to do?

Trust Microsoft not to break your program again sometime down the road? Trust a hacker to give you the latest version for “free”? Try going the way of using OpenOffice, and Open Source Software in general, so you can focus on your information rather than the games of corporations and criminals.

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