The amount of programs that are available for free these days on the internet is astounding. Software that would have cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars just a few short years ago can be had for nothing, all thanks to the Open Source movement in the tech community. Technically speaking, Open Source means that the source code for the software is freely available to be downloaded, compiled, and edited by anyone. But for non-programmer-types (me included), it means that you can use the software for free!
Here are a few of my favorite Open Source equivalents of popular software packages:
1. OpenOffice.org (Microsoft Office / Productivity)
This one is probably the most popular Open Source program out there (except for FireFox of course). I haven’t bought a new version of Microsoft Office for years because of it. The newest version is practically identical to Office in functionality. As is often the case, the only real thing missing is the Templates and Wizards for making pre-formatted documents. However, these can be found online for free as well with a little extra searching.
2. GIMP (Photoshop / Image Editing)
GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It started out on Linux, but now there are Windows and Mac OS X versions as well. This will be plenty powerful to handle about 90% of your image editing and graphic design needs. For most people, they will never miss the extra bells & whistles that Photoshop has. This is perfect for installing on a laptop or second computer, if not your primary workstation.
3. Pidgin (AIM / Yahoo / IM)
Pidgin is another Linux convert that is available for the major platforms. It is a very lightweight and slick little IM program. It supports all of the major chat protocols, and it won’t pester you with annoying ads like the default AIM and Yahoo clients. You can sign into all of your profiles at once and chat across multiple protocols, including Facebook Chat.
4. FileZilla (WS_FTP)
This is hands-down my favorite FTP program. I’ve used paid software like WS_FTP in the past, and FileZilla blows it away in speed and reliability. And did I mention it’s free? This is a no-brainer download for anybody that works with websites at all.
5. ThunderBird (Microsoft Outlook)
If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance that you are already using Mozilla’s FireFox browser (according to my logs, over 60% of my readers use FireFox, and only 9% use Internet Explorer; way to go guys!). But you may not know that Mozilla has another excellent program called ThunderBird that is a totally free replacement for Microsoft Outlook. You do have to download an additional free plugin to get the Calendar functionality, but it is well worth the extra 30 seconds that should take. I personally like ThunderBird even better than Outlook, it is much faster.
So there you have it, a first step into the world of Open Source software. Beyond these, a simple Google search for “Open Source Software” will bring up hundreds more programs to check out. What are your favorites?