Free Software for Fun and Non-Profit, part 2
Non-profit organizations often receive donated computers, many of which simply are not powerful enough to run current versions of commercial software. Samba, one of thousands of Free Software applications, allows a non-profit organization to improve collaboration, protect data, and save money using their donated computers. It turns an older computer into a powerful file server allowing Windows-based desktop computers to share files and printers.
An older Pentium class or higher PC with a modest amount of RAM (128 megabytes or more) and a moderately large hard drive (4 gigabytes or larger) can make an excellent file server. A file server is a central repository for files and documents, kind of like an electronic filing cabinet. Desktop computers can talk to the file server over a local area network, and users can copy their files on to it. This solves two problems. First, it's easy to share documents electronically with other office workers, without the need for floppy disks. Second, the file server's copy of data serves as an effective backup of that data. If the user's desktop PC blows up, all that user's data can be retreived from the file server. This is an invaluable time saver, and a good safety net.
A network file server, acting as a central repository for data, can greatly improve collaboration on documents. Office workers can easily open documents from the file server, make changes, and save them back to the file server, where they will be available to others for review. Confidential documents can be protected on the file server by restricting access for specific users. For example, the HR department could have a private, secured space on the file server that only HR staff members could access. In this way, HR staff could be granted access to confidential employee records, but anyone else attempting to access them would be denied access.
A file server can also manage printers that are connected to the network. One or two printers can be strategically placed and connected to the network. When a user prints, the document goes from their computer to the file server, which then acts as a concierge for all the incoming print jobs, making sure they all get printed. A few network connected printers can easily replace many individual desktop printers, possibly saving an organization quite a bit of money.
Free Software can turn these older computers into valuable Information Technology resources. Samba, under constant development for the last ten years, is one of the best examples of the power and flexibility of Free Software. Read more about Samba here: http://www.samba.org/samba/docs/using_samba/toc.html