Information for a Visual Age

Open Source Software I’m Using

In Technology on March 25, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I’m a big fan of open source software. The philosophy of it appeals to me — a community of like minded individuals who are dedicated to making the world a better place through the creation of software. The functionality appeals to me — often the tools are as good or better than their commercial equivalents. And the price really appeals to me — free!

As a sometimes coder, I can understand and appreciate the amount of time and dedication goes into writing software.

I should note that an excellent resource for finding open source software is the Open Source as Alternative site. You can search for commercial software — say “Photoshop” — then find open source alternatives. With reviews and ratings, the site helps you decide if there are viable open source alternatives for your problem.

So here are the open source software I use.

Can’t Live without Them

These are the open source programs I use without fail, every day or very regularly. To me, these are really the best of the best.

Audacity: Hands down. I use this audio editor every week to edit audio files from my church and at work. Great options and the beta version (as of this writing) adds some great features.In the world of open source software, this program is very well developed with a professional feel to it.

I also recommend downloading Chris’s Compressor, which is a great plugin that allows you to automatically control the dynamic intensity in your recordings. In other words, it will make the soft parts louder so the overall volume is more consistent — great for almost every recording and especially if you want to listen to classical music in a noisy environment like the car (where the soft parts can otherwise get masked).

GIMP: Weird name, but great Photoshop equivalent. For editing photos, graphics, etc. There might be some real artists out there who miss the fancy functions of Adobe’s product, but this non-artist is very content with the high level of sophistication of GIMP. The main interface is pretty good, though some of the options and functions could use some refinement.

FreeMind: I know of no commercial equivalent — perhaps it is similar to the Microsoft Visio. Essentially, the program allows you create free association diagram, then create links between those nodes and anything you want — files, documents, web pages, notes, etc. It’s flexibility is truly amazing. It has revolutionized how I plan large projects. Give it a try.

Firefox: A great browser. The list of plugins is astonishing and I use them all the time. My essential plugins: Firebug (web development), Web Developer Toolbar (ditto), Xmarks (bookmark & password synchronization across multiple computers), NoScript (to prevent javascript and flash from automatically loading — makes web surfing MUCH safer).

Thunderbird: A great email client. Way faster than the Microsoft Outlook I am tied to using at work.

XAMPP: A great little program that installs a local copy of the open source server Apache onto a local computer. It allows you to do things like install WordPress or other PHP programs on your own computer, play and test them, before installing them on a real web server. Indispensable for web development.

WordPress: This blog and several other sites all run on this platform. Originally started as a blogging platform, it really can run fully functional “traditional” websites. I’m going to write more soon about using WordPress as a content management system (CMS).

Tried Them

I’ve used these programs a little but can’t speak a whole lot to their quality.

Inkscape: A vector illustration program similar to Adobe Illustrator. It’s actually a very nice program but I don’t do that much vector illustration any more. If you do, check it out.

Scribus: A page layout program, like InDesign or MS Publisher. Everyone in my office uses Publisher, so I haven’t used this much. I haven’t used InDesign much so I can’t speak to the comparison.

Still on Closed Source

And there are a few commercial systems I still use regularly, for a variety of reasons.

Microsoft Windows: Yes, this is the biggie. I use it at work and I use it at home. I suppose I could make the switch to Linux or another open source OS, but I have just been too lazy. I grew up on Windows, so switching would be a really big investment that I don’t feel I have the time to make right now. And I don’t think it would fly at work to switch my OS there.

Adobe Dreamweaver: I use Dreamweaver, in combination with some free tools, depending on what I am doing. But Dreamweaver’s integrated environment makes web development fast and fairly painless.

  1. Have you ever considered SSuite Office as a free alternative to MS Office?

    Their software also doesn’t need to run on Java or .NET, like MS Office and so many open source office suites, so it makes their software very small, efficient, and easy to use. 🙂

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