5 Free Open Source Apps for Your Computer

The following post is from Michelle of Mommy Misadventures:

CD stack
source: Michael Mandiberg

One of the things that always shocks me is how much commercial software costs!

If you’re looking for good, affordable software to help you do basic tasks on your computer, like creating documents, spreadsheets or editing photos, without spending a ton of cash, try looking at open source software. Open source software is a great way to get some great software onto your computer without spending a dime.

What is open source?

“Open source software” is software where the source code of the application is available for everyone to view, modify and redistribute.

Most open source software is developed and supported by a team of volunteers although some pieces of open source software do have commercial ties as well.

Why consider it?

Most open source software is free to use for both personal and commercial use. While quality can vary between software, many of the popular open source applications are comparable to their commercial equivalents.

What’s the catch?

Support varies greatly and may be unavailable for some applications. If you run into a problem with your open source application, your best bet is to look at any documentation provided by the development community. This is usually enough to solve small problems. For bigger problems you cannot solve yourself, many applications do have community support structure, provided on a volunteer, best-effort basis, usually via forum posting and, more uncommonly, through email. Some applications do have professional support but this is provided through a third-party help provider and can often be expensive.

Recommendations

I’ve put together a list my five favorite open source applications as well as my favorite operating system. These applications all meet or exceed commercial standards, are easy to install and use and are excellent substitutes for some of the major commercial applications available.

Office and Productivity

  • LibreOffice (Windows, Mac, Linux): One of LibreOffice’s significant advantages is that it can open, edit and save documents in popular document formats (including Microsoft Office) and save directly to PDF. Many of LibreOffice’s functions are analogous to Microsoft Office so if you’re used to Microsoft, you can make the switch easily.
  • Thunderbird with Lightning (Windows, Mac, Linux): While not as robust as Microsoft Office’s Outlook application, Mozilla Thunderbird is a powerful, easy to use mail application that allows you to manage multiple mailboxes.Thunderbird supports encrypted connections – always handy if you check email from public Internet connections – and includes a mail setup wizard that auto detects common mail settings making setup a breeze.Like Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird’s functionality can be extended through add-ons. I use calendars frequently so I always include the Lightning add-on which adds calendar support to Thunderbird.

Imaging & Media

  • GIMP (Windows, Mac, Linux): GIMP is a very robust raster image editing application. If you are a heavy Photoshop user, you will find that GIMP 2 has many functions that are similar to Adobe Photoshop, though the tools and layout do differ slightly. I’ve used GIMP 2 for editing photos as well as doing digital scrapbook layouts and was very pleased with the overall functionality and ease of use.
  • VLC (Windows, Mac, Linux): Capable of handling multiple video and audio types right after installation, VLC is a great media player. One of VLC’s biggest advantages is its ability to playback incomplete or poorly encoded files.
  • Pidgin (Windows, Mac, Linux): Pidgin is a full-featured instant messaging program that can handle several different chat networks at once, including AIM, Yahoo, MSN, as well as IRC. Pidgin has a library of third-party plug ins that allow you to extend its functionality, including encryption tools, types of account logging and more.

Operating System

  • Ubuntu Linux: There’s no better way to explore all that free, open source software has to offer than by using an open source operating system. Ubuntu is a Linux based operating system that comes pre-configured with office, social, media and cloud computing applications.There’s a built-in software center that allows you to browse and install thousands of free, open source applications with just a few clicks of the mouse. It is easy to use, with an interface that is very similar to Windows and Mac.

Are you just curious about Ubuntu and want to try it before making a commitment to a whole new operating system? Ubuntu features a Live CD function. Once you download and burn the image to a new CD, you can pop it in and run Ubuntu directly from your CD drive. The Live CD gives you many of the functions of Ubuntu but makes no changes to your current computer, making it ideal to try it out.

Do you use any free, open source applications? What are your favorites? Do you like open source software?

Michelle Mista is a former IT professional turned work-at-home mom. She muses about motherhood at Mommy Misadventures. A geek of all trades, she loves computers, video games, photography and coffee and is on the constant quest to balance life, work and geekery.

VLC is a great media p

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