Running 3.1 miles through my hometown. Consuming unreasonable quantities of simple carbohydrates, fat and sodium. Pretending that the former activity justifies the latter. These are some of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions.

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

November 25, 2015

4 Min Read
My Open Source Thanksgiving List: Wine, Netflix, OpenWrt and More

Running 3.1 miles through my hometown. Consuming unreasonable quantities of simple carbohydrates, fat and sodium. Pretending that the former activity justifies the latter. These are some of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions.

Another is enumerating the open source developments and discoveries for which I am grateful. This year, my thanksgivings in the open source realm centers on developments that make my life as a Linux user easier.

A little background: I’ve used Linux as my primary operating system since 2007. That doesn’t make me as hardcore as those of you who were running Slackware in the early 1990s. But it does mean I’ve been around the free-software block enough times to have experience configuring xorg.conf by hand and battling ndiswrapper to get my wireless card working.

That’s why I’m grateful this year for open source technologies that make it simpler than ever to use my Linux PC. Here’s a list of the top three.

Microsoft Office Compatibility

This is going to offend some people’s religion, I know. But I’m just going to say it.

For years, my inability to run Microsoft Office on my Ubuntu system caused no end of trouble. That wasn’t because I actually wanted to use Office, or because I think there is anything wrong with LibreOffice.

On the contrary, I love LibreOffice. I like it so much that I have written entire books in it. The problem is that most of the people with whom I have to share files don’t know what LibreOffice is. They also don’t care much about the merits of open document formats.

In fact, some of them appear not even to know what Word is. They just have a program on their computer that opens documents, and they think that whichever documents I send them should work with it.

That’s why it becomes problematic when LibreOffice does things like cut off the last line of documents that I save in Word’s .doc format.

So when I finally figured out this summer how to install and run Office 2010 on Ubuntu using the DVD supplied by my employer, my life became easier. Now, when I have documents that need to look 100% the way I intend when other people open them, I just copy and paste the data into Word and save it directly from there.

I know: It has been possible to run Office 2010 on Linux using Wine for a while now. But it took me a long time to make my version of Office play nicely with 64-bit Ubuntu. After several hours poring over forum posts and documentation in June, however, I finally made it work — which made me much happier than seemed reasonable to my wife at the time.

Sadly, I can’t get whatever license manager Office uses to recognize my employer’s site license. As a result, Office stops letting me save files about a month after I have installed it because it thinks I don’t have a valid license. But an easy workaround is to delete the Wine directory where I installed Office, then reinstall it again. Maybe by next Thanksgiving, I’ll have figured out how to solve this issue, too.

Netflix Just Works

The second item on my open source Thanksgiving list is similar to the first. This year, I realized that Netflix now works out-of-the-box in Google Chrome on Ubuntu.

Netflix has worked with Linux since late 2012. But it used to take a fair amount of hacking to get it running. It didn’t exactly Just Work.

Now it does. This fall, I had to reinstall the operating system on the Ubuntu laptop that we keep in the living room to watch Netflix. (Why, you wonder? Because, in a fit of frustration with a file system that was inexplicably running out of space, I decided to sudo rm -r the /var directory, which crippled the system beyond belief.) I was again pleased in a way my wife could not understand when all it took to get Netflix working after reinstalling Ubuntu was downloading Chrome and navigating to the Netflix site.

Linksys Learns to Love Open Router Firmware

Linksys‘s announcement this year that it is offering new wireless routers featuring official compatibility with OpenWrt may not have been a huge deal to most people. But as a guy who really likes being able to configure his router in the way he wants — not the way vendors choose to impose — I was pretty happy about the news.

The FCC’s apparent move around the same time to limit open source, Linux-based firmwares like OpenWrt was less encouraging. And it would be ideal if Linksys actually offered routers with OpenWrt preinstalled, rather than just making it an officially supported option. But I’ll take what I can get.

My list could go on. But I need to go prep for the strenuous run I have coming up Thursday. (Did I mention it was an entire 3.1 miles?) So I’ll wrap up here. Happy hacking and happy Thanksgiving, dear readers.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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