When I bought a computer in 2004, I didn’t know much about open source software, and so when I ordered my computer I bought quite a few products I knew I needed, including Microsoft Office and Paint Shop Pro. I since have discovered “open source” software, that is, free software in which the programming code is made available so that individuals can collaborate on the effort. The result is often quality software that is completely free. Currently, there is a lot of open source software of a mixed quality. Some is good, some is difficult to use, but that is true of paid software too I guess. Below are some open source software programs that I use regularly. I tell you what paid product they replace, as well as strengths and weaknesses of each product.
OpenOffice.Org – This is the office suite that is similar to Microsoft Office, that is backed by the Sun Corporation. The programs I use the most are Writer (like Word), and Present (like PowerPoint). If you can use MS Office, you can figure out OpenOffice.Org. I use it at work and at home. One nice feature (among many) is that Open Office exports to .pdf files with the click of a button, which is good for creating e-books and other projects.
When I buy a new computer, I won’t be buying MS Office, saving hundreds of dollars. The only weakness of Open Office that I encounter is that sometimes when it saves as a .doc file, or other Microsoft file, it doesn’t always look perfect when you open it in a Microsoft Office application, which could be a problem if you are creating a file for someone else’s consumption (but there is always the .pdf option). There is a version of Open Office marketed to professionals called OxygenOffice, which is basically Open Office with a bunch of extra fonts, templates, and things not included in the regular Open Office. It too is free.
GIMP – This is a graphics editor similar to Photoshop. It is rather powerful, and once you get past its slightly confusing interface, you will see how powerful it is. Photoshop is still more powerful, but for what I need, GIMP is fine, and saves me the hundreds of dollars that Photoshop costs.
Scribus – Scribus is a publisher, similar (but not nearly as easy to use) to MS Publisher. I find using Open Office Writer much easier to use than Scribus, although the former is not technically as powerful a publishing software as Scribus, but it is much easier to use. I will probably use Scribus more in the future.
Firefox – Quicker and more innovative than Internet Explorer, I browse with it 95% of the time, except when a website requires IE.
WordPress – There are a lot of free blogging sites out there, but WordPress is an open source software that you can either host on your own website (like we do), or else you can blog with it with someone else hosting it (like at WordPress.Com). It is free regardless, and extremely powerful. I prefer it to other platforms.
Filezilla – For those who run a website, this is a nice open source FTP client (sending files from your computer to your web host).
Audacity – Last, but definitely not least, is Audacity, which is an open-source audio file creation and editing software. I have heard a lot of praise for it from people who should know, and I have produced a few podcasts and songs using it.
To go “open source,” you may have to give up some familiarity with current software, and perhaps relinquish some power, but in general, making the switch to these open source software programs will save you quite a bit of money, with few hassles. Some people make the leap to full open source and ditch Windows…I am not there yet! Also, if you run a business, you may want to seriously explore using open source software. Our school uses almost all open source stuff, and saves a LOT of money in licensing fees.