There’s nothing new about the term “open source” as it relates to software – it’s been around for more than a decade now. However, as being a tad tech-suave has settled into the collective consciousness, the reliance on commercial software solutions is dropping daily.
Whereas the connotation initially was that open source projects were buggy and unstable (I mean, how could anything being worked on for free not be?), and commercial software was solid and trusted – over the last 10 years these ideas have changed – if not virtually reversed.
Though there is an “official definition” of what open source is; simply put, open source is any software or webware which has been released with its code available for review, modification, adaptation and improvement. Oh yeah, and it’s usually free.
Here is a list of what I feel to be the best or most notable open source applications:
Browsers / Mail / Office Suite
Mozilla Firefox: Mozilla Firefox is a free and open source web browser, which is the second-most popular browser in current use worldwide, after Internet Explorer. Firefox is a standards-compliant browser which uses the Gecko layout engine. It includes tabbed browsing, a spell checker, incremental find, live bookmarking, a download manager, and an integrated search system. Its strongest feature, however, is that it can be infinitely expanded through countless additional add-ons created by third-party developers.
OpenOffice.org: OpenOffice.org 3 is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages (as of v3, it can even read MS Office’s Docx format). It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.
Mozilla Thunderbird: Like it’s browser cousin, Firefox, Thunderbird is free and open source. A full featured e-mail client, it easily replaces Microsoft’s Outlook Express, and through the use of add-ons, is quickly gaining ground on the power of MS Office’s Outlook
Google Chrome: Though quite new, Google’s open source entrance into the Internet browser market shows quite a bit of potential. It is lacking some of the slick add-ons that Firefox features, but it’s isolated sandbox and ground-up modern build make it a fast and secure alternative that is destined for great things down the road.
Multimedia / Audio / Video
Miro: Miro is a free open source application for watching channels of internet video (aka video podcasts and video rss). Miro is easy to use and offers full-screen viewing abilities. You simply “subscribe” to the video (or audio) podcast you want to watch and Miro will then automatically download the latest videos for skipless and stutter-free viewing. You can tell Miro to automatically download the newest videos, only download the ones you wish, and if you’re short on hard drive space you can specify how long the downloaded videos stay on your system before being cleaned up.
VLC Media Player: VLC is a portable multimedia player, encoder, and streamer supporting many audio and video codecs and file formats as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols – basically it can pretty much play whatever you throw at it. Additionally, it is able to stream over networks and to transcode multimedia files and save them into various different formats. It is one of the most platform-independent players available, with versions for BeOS, Syllable, BSD, Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, MorphOS and Solaris, and is widely used with over 100 million downloads.
Audacity: Audacity is a free, easy-to-use cross-platform audio editor and recorder. You can use Audacity to record live audio; convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs; edit Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV or AIFF sound files; cut, copy, splice or mix sounds together; change the speed or pitch of a recording; and more. With the proliferation of home recording and podcasting, Audacity is a program that should be in everyone’s toolbox.
Songbird: Though still under “active” development, Songbird is a promising open source music player. Features included (or to be included) are library management, multi-language support, media importing, album art display, meta data management, customizable UI and automatic updates. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s a project to be watched.
MediaCoder: MediaCoder is a free universal batch media transcoder, which integrates most popular audio/video codecs and tools into an all-in-one solution. With a flexible and extendable architecture, new codecs and tools are added in constantly as well as supports for new devices. MediaCoder intends to be the swiss army knife for media transcoding.
HandBrake: HandBrake is an open-source, GPL-licensed, multiplatform, multithreaded DVD to MPEG-4 converter. Basically, it’ll rip any DVD (or DVD-like) source into an MP4, MKV, AVI or OGM. It also supports the ripping of subtitles (burned into the video).
Graphics / Design
GIMP: GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program that can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc. Like it’s commercial counter-part, Photoshop, it is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything.
Inkscape: An Open Source vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X, using the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format. Inkscape supports many advanced SVG features (markers, clones, alpha blending, etc.), and it’s streamlined interface makes it easy to edit nodes, perform complex path operations, trace bitmaps and much more.
Paint.net: An alternative to GIMP – or commercial apps such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Paint Shop Pro, Microsoft Photo Editor – Paint.NET is free image and photo editing software for computers that run Windows. It offers support for layers, unlimited undo, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools. An active and growing online community provides friendly help, tutorials, and plugins.
Blender: Blender is a full-featured open source 3D content creation suite, available for all major operating systems. I don’t know the first thing about 3D modeling, but one look at the Blender Gallery and it’s easy to tell this is an impressively powerful free program.
OS / Utilities / Misc
Ubuntu: Deriving its name from the Zulu word for “humanity”, Ubuntu is a free, open source, operating system based on Debian GNU/Linux. Generally considered the most popular Linux distribution, and there are a lot of them, Ubuntu does pretty much everything your OS should – what can we say, it’s an OS, not inherently interesting. It’s decently pretty, damn simple to install and use, and has an extremely active community of users/developers.
Pidgin: Pidgin is a multi-protocol Instant Messaging client that allows you to use all of your IM accounts at once. It supports [deep breath]: AIM, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, Groupwise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MySpaceIM, QQ, SILC, SIMPLE, Sametime, XMPP, Yahoo!, and Zephyr. About the only big IM it doesn’t cover is Skype, because Skype’s protocol isn’t open.
Filezilla: If you have reason to connect to a server via FTP, FileZilla is the FTP program of choice. The FileZilla Client is a fast and reliable cross-platform FTP, FTPS and SFTP client with lots of useful features and an intuitive graphical user interface. It also supports drag and drop transfers, resumption of upload/download, configurable speed limits, keep-alive scripting and automatic upgrades.
7zip: A fantastic replacement to Windows’ default ZIP archiver, 7-Zip is open source software that offers a 2-10% compression increase over PKZip or WinZip. It also packs and unpacks 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2 and TAR files; while also supporting the ability to unpack RAR, CAB, ISO, ARJ, LZH, CHM, MSI, WIM, Z, CPIO, RPM, DEB and NSIS files. Additionally it fully integrates with Windows and offers localizations for 69 languages.
You’ll notice that this list is entirely client-based software applications – no web apps. I’ve intentionally left that for part two – coming soon(ish).
Know some great open source applications that haven’t been mentioned here? Please share them in the comments below.