We here at WorldChanging make plenty of references to Open Source Software and the wonderful crunchy goodness therein, but I suspect that most of the people reading this site have never tried out Linux on their own machines, feeling -- perhaps rightly -- that most Linux distributions are not made for mere mortals. While the most popular Linux versions have made great strides in ease-of-use and ease-of-installation, they still have the unpleasant requirement that you reformat at least part of your hard drive to give them a shot.
But open source is more than Linux. Open Source applications actually exist for Windows. Enter the OpenCD.
The OpenCD is a CD (surprise!) containing a wide assortment of useful open source applications, from professional software such as OpenOffice to internet apps such as Mozilla to various utilities for privacy and file management. Not only are they free, they're open source -- the CD contains links to the source code for every program. The latest version of the CD was just released today.
The goal of the OpenCD is to show non-technical users that a software world exists beyond Microsoft and Adobe, without requiring that they give up familiar programs and environments. Best of all, it's freely available, downloadable as an 'ISO' file for burning to CD; the makers encourage users to copy it as often as they like.
If you're curious about this whole open source thing, and want to check out some examples -- or you know someone who is -- this is a good place to start.
Another way to dip a toe in to test the clean clear cool waters of the open source ocean, is to try out knoppix...
"KNOPPIX is a bootable CD with a collection of GNU/Linux software, automatic hardware detection, and support for many graphics cards, sound cards, SCSI and USB devices and other peripherals. KNOPPIX can be used as a Linux demo, educational CD, rescue system, or adapted and used as a platform for commercial software product demos. It is not necessary to install anything on a hard disk."
Knoppix is also used as the "base" for a number of other customised "boot from CD and run" Linux distros that are targeted to education (schools), games, multimedia etc.
I like Knoppix, but unfortunately running everything from a CD -- OS included -- sometimes feels pretty slow. Still, as a way of dipping one's toes into the world of Linux, it's a good place to start.