General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

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Law Trends & News

Practice Area Newsletter

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

Spring 2009

Vol. 5, No. 3

Young Lawyers


Cut Your IT Costs With Open Source Software

The open source movement gains new converts every day. Everyone is sick and tired of paying for new software each and every time they buy a new computer. There was a time when open source software, especially Linux, was cumbersome and generally inaccessible for non-nerds. Those days are long gone. My grandmother now uses Linux, and she didn’t pick up a mouse until she was in her nineties. There is no reason why any law office cannot also make the switch.

I cannot explain every feature and possible problem associated with each program mentioned here, but I can tell you that I use them every day and they all work. If you have questions or problems check the websites. Each has a forum full of people ready to help newcomers. Open source software packages may not be as shiny as their commercial counterparts, but the increased usability more than makes up for the lack of eye candy. And when I say free, I don’t mean just “free to try.” Open source is not shareware. The downloads are free. The install and use is free. There are no adds. There is no spyware. There is no registration form or survey to take. This is an actual free lunch. The people who develop this stuff want you to go out and use it. If you are at a small firm trying to scrape the money together to buy new computers, then you need this software.

OpenOffice (~130mb download)
OpenOffice is the open source community’s answer to MSOffice. OpenOffice handles any document format you will ever run into. Word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentations, authoring .pdfs for electronic filing, spellcheck: it’s all in there. It works, and it’s free.

Truecrypt (3mb download)
Need to secure your electronic client files? Truecrypt is arguably the most powerful file encryption scheme available to the general public and is a regular thorn in the side of law enforcement. Truecrypt protects files by placing them into encrypted containers sealed by whatever combination of passwords and/or keyfiles you choose. These encrypted containers are then “mounted” and appear as a new drive attached to your computer. If you are using Windows, Truecrypt can also encrypt your entire drive. That means when your laptop goes missing, you won’t have to worry about any data falling into the wrong hands. Most importantly, Truecrypt is free.

Inkscape (34mb download)
Need to put together a diagram or flow chart? Inkscape is a vector graphics editor comparable to Adobe’s Illustrator. Instead of painting pictures, vector graphics editors are essentially 2d CAD programs that draw and manipulate objects rather than pixels. Complex diagrams remain easy to edit as each object is handled separately within the larger picture. Whole diagrams or individual objects can be altered, deleted, or scaled without the blurry edges associated with manipulating .jpeg images. Inkscape is also free.

Ubuntu Linux (700mb download)
Do not replace that old computer because it take too long to boot up/shut down. Download and burn the Ubuntu iso file. Place the CD in your CD/DVD drive and reboot the computer. The computer will boot from the CD and let you test-drive Ubuntu without making any changes. If you like Ubuntu, you can then install it permanently. If you don’t, shut down, remove the CD, and restart. No changes will have been made, and you can go back to your old operating system. Chances are that your computer will run Ubuntu faster than it ever ran Windows, but the benefits don’t stop there. Linux is inherently virus-resistant, so you won’t have to keep paying for antivirus protections. The most amazing aspect of Ubuntu is the vast repository of open source applications ready for install. Simply pick the program you want from the list, and Ubuntu will handle the download and install. There are no serial numbers or other DRM headaches. Choosing Linux is a big step, but it’s a cheap one. You owe it to yourself to give it a try before spending good money on a new copy of Vista. Ubuntu is and will always be completely free.

Software Costs To Equip a New Computer

  • Windows Vista business Edition: $299.95
  • MSOffice Professional (Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint): $499.95
  • Bit Defender (Antivirus + File Encryption): $49.95
  • Adobe Illustrator: $599.00
  • Total: $1448.85
  • Costs for open source alternatives: $0, nothing, nadda, zilch— Free.

Richard Abbott is an Oregon attorney and IT privacy consultant. Specializing in countersurveillance, Richard works with businesses and individuals trying to safeguard data from threats ranging from wiretaps to hardware theft. Richard is also a staunch supporter of Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS). He can be reached at or

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