The terms ‘Freeware’ and ‘Open Source‘ mean many things to many people. Generally speaking, software of this nature is the fruit of collaboration between programmers in their own time, who see a need in the community and address it with love and attention. Back in the ’90s the term ‘Freeware’ used to be synonymous with ugly interfaces and limited applications. The game has evolved nicely though, and collaborative teams have grown with the open-source ethos (making software code transparent and accessible, and seeking contributions) so much so that many of our core software needs are met by such products.
What follows is a list of our favourite, heavy-use software that has grown out of open-source culture. All the projects’ development teams make calls to donate to further their cause, and if you find them useful, we strongly recommend you give something back to these generous and talented developers.
- Productivity Suite: OpenOffice.org
This fully-fledged suite of productivity software is a big deal. Since discovering it a couple of years ago, I gave Microsoft Office the flick and haven’t looked back. OpenOffice can open and handle any Microsoft Office data, and cuts you loose of the software giant’s tentacles. You can also export anything you genereate in OpenOffice in a plethora of file formats, including many different versions of Microsoft standards. We primarily use Writer and Calc (the wordprocessor and spreadsheet applications) but the suite also includes titles comparable to Powerpoint, Access, Draw and others. I’ve heard people complain that sometimes complex layouts in Word documents can get scrambled when they are imported into Writer, but if complex layouts are important to you, you should probably be using a higher-end desktop publishing solution anyway, like InDesign or Quark Express. All in all, this is an incredible package, that gets better with every revision.
- Web Browser: Mozilla Firefox
I’m sure there are hundreds if not thousands of blog posts devoted to browsers, so I won’t linger on this one. Firefox may not be the fastest kid on the block, but it does have a formiddable volume of great plugins to choose from. The selling points for us are the integration of our chosen password manager, a Facebook toolbar, and EchoFon, a twitter plugin which allows us to follow and tweet more conveniently. I’ll make a separate post about favourite Firefox plugins in the coming month or so- in the meantime, download Firefox and get more out of your web-browsing.
- Email Client: Mozilla Thunderbird
Yes, I’m a bit of a Mozilla fan I admit. Again, I got onto this package many years ago, and haven’t touched Outlook or any other mail client since. It’s quick, clean and intuitive interface suits me fine, and the program handles a massive amount data if you’re an email hoarder like I am. Equally indispensible is the utility MozBackup, which allows you to backup your archive of emails. This can be handy if you’re like us, and upgrade computers and travel regularly. MozBackup makes it easy to migrate your email from one machine to the next, and it also takes with it all your mail settings, along with settings from any other Mozilla software.
- Media Player: VLC Player
Don’t you just hate having to use Windows Media Player to play back some media files, Quicktime for others and still ending up being herded onto websites to download missing codecs? Enter VLC PLayer. This simple, no-fuss media player cuts through the crap and delivers fast, stable playback of more file-types than you’re ever likely to come accross. It’s still at version 1 at the moment, and is a project well worth supporting.
- Media Burner: CD BurnerXP
Don’t be misled by the seemingly obsolete title- CD BurnerXP handles BluRay and many other media peculiarities and does it with style, efficiency and grace. It’s an attractive application, has a drag & drop interface and it has quickly become our media burner of choice. As with all the software mentioned here, it may be written by nerds, but not for nerds- so it’s an application that should keep young, heavy-harvesting media farmers and casual-use retirees equally happy. It can burn .ISO images along with the usual combinations of data, audio and video discs bringing it damn close to perfection.
If you use any OpenSource or Freeware tools you couldn’t live with out, please leave your recommendation as a comment below.