Sunday, June 24, 2007

The right tool

(Updated Mar. 2014)
With the myriad of resources that surround all aspects of the Internet, what are the sites and links that educators with little time on their hands should be looking at if they want to provide their classrooms, their students and their schools with FREE resources? First, there are MANY operating systems (like Windows) that can be installed in new and old computers, replacing or sharing the windows operating system. See Why Linux is Better and Proprietary Replacement. If you plan to keep your Windows system, but need applications, here are seven areas of Open Source Software that can help: (1) Desktop Applications, (2) Educational Applications, (3) Games, (4) Graphics Applications, (5) Internet Applications, (6) Sound and Video Applications and (7) Utilities. If you are using a modified Linux machine (aka Mac) read the last paragraph. Some sites to try: OSLiving, 101 Alternatives, Top 50 Proprietary Alternatives and THE Monster List
(Updated Sept. 2010)
Access to the right kind of tools can make or break a craftsman. With the advent of Linux the open source programming community worldwide received a boost. How could an application that was for all intent and purposes free be causing such a furor on the Internet? It was a combination of many factors, but it was its collaborative nature that made it so special. Just as in the origins of the Internet, where early users shared their applications freely and willingly, this cumulative and collaborative effort by programmers worldwide provided the transparent foundations for a very reliable operating system, Linux, and the many “flavors” it presently has.

Just as developers have made Linux a sought-after operating system for servers and desk top users alike, so have they made some huge strides in developing freely-sharable applications that run on traditional operating systems (Windows, Macs, etc.) These applications include entries in traditional proprietary (for pay) software categories such as business, communications, databases, development, graphic applications, internet & networking, multimedia & audio, security & privacy, system utilities and web development, among others. (open source project repository) lists over 240,000 active projects! Visit Open Source Monster List for a list of common software by categories.

The list below provides examples of software whose source code (the human-readable code programmers use to develop applications) is freely available, allowing coders a transparent view of the “engine” that runs the software they need to work with. This “Open Source” quality is a philosophical milestone away from proprietary software that just offers the compiled binary source code (the ones and zeros computers understand.) There are no “thousand eyes and minds” looking at and improving the code, so response times, when there are problems, are traditionally slow and tied to that company’s marketing plan. Also, more often than not, software performance adjustments and tweaks are very hard to obtain, especially from huge companies. Free open source applications are, in most cases, as robust as their proprietary counterparts, and in some cases, even more so.

It is important to note that not all “free” software is open source. Reliance on this type of “free for as long as our company wants it so” software, has some of the response time and update drawbacks that for-pay proprietary products have. Caveat emptor.

If you are wanting to become a software skilled craftsman (or just want to have a chance of learning about “what’s out there” without spending a fortune), open source software may be your tool. Teachers are using it and, in many cases, giving the applications to their students legally, so everybody has the same tools and there are no piracy or per-copy license fees to worry about.

For more links check out World Label's Open Source or site.

Which Open Source applications are available that cost nothing and are the equivalent to proprietary PC programs? The list below should help:

Microsoft Internet Explorer ===> Firefox , SeaMonkey, Amaya, Chrome and Opera
Microsoft Office suite ===> Open Office and NeoOffice. More specifically,
In addition Open Office provides OO Math, OO Draw, and OO Base

MS Outlook or Outlook Express ===> Thunderbird and SeaMonkey
MS Visio ===> Dia, StarUML, and OpenOffice Draw
MS Access, Filemaker Pro ===> Open Office Base, Kexi, WaveMaker
MSN Messenger ===> aMSN, Pidgin and PlanetaMessenger
Microsoft Money, Quicken ===> Grisbi, GnuCash and TurboCash
TruSpace ===> Blender, Pixie
Photoshop, Paint, Corel Draw, Paint Shop Pro ===> Gimp, GimpShop, Paint.NET and CinePaint
Corel Draw, Illustrator or Freehand ===> Inkscape
Adobe Audition ===> Traverso, Audacity
Adobe Framemaker ===> DocBook, Scribus
Adobe After Effects ===> Jahshaka
Windows Media Player ===> VLC, MPlayer and Miro
MS MovieMaker, FinalCutPro, Adobe Premiere ===> Avidemux and VirtualDub
Macromedia Flash ===> OpenLaszlo and OO Impress
Macromedia Captivate ===> CamStudio
AutoCAD ===> Archimedes
Mind Manager ===> FreeMind
Kid Pix ===> Tux Paint
MS Visio ===> Dia, inkscape, starUML and OO Draw
Dreamweaver, GoLive, FrontPage ===> NVU, SeaMonkey’s Composer, Amaya , Quanta and KompoZer
MS Publisher, PageMaker or Adobe InDesign ===> Scribus
Microsoft Projects ===> OpenWorkbench and GanttProject
XML Spy ===> XMLCopyEditor, SernaFree
Adobe Acrobat ===> PDFCreator and SumatraPDF
Blackboard, WebCT ===> Moodle, Joomla and Sakai
McAfee Virus Scan ===> ClamWin and Winpooch
MS Office Clip Art ===> OpenClipArt
Nero Burning Rom, Roxio Record Now ===> Infrarecorder and CDRDAO
SASIxp ===> SchoolTool
MS FTP Server ===> FileZilla
Symantec Norton Ghost ===> g4u, Clonezilla
Symantec Norton Partition Magic ===> gparted
VMWare ===> Virtual Box, Xen and CoLinux
WinZip ===> 7-Zip
Skype ===> QuteCom, GoogleTalk
iTunes === Amarok or Songbird
QuickTime ===> Darwin Streaming Server, VLC Media Player, MPlayer, Pencil

Other applications worth considering:
Audacity: a sound editing program which can record, playback, and mix sounds or apply effects using a variety of filters. It’s an Open Source alternative to Adobe Audition
Celestia: a simulation of the entire universe, based on current astronomical information.
Juice: a cross-platform aggregator application that is used to download podcast media files, such as oggs and mp3s.
Stellarium: a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D.
GCompris: educational software which propose different activities to children from 2 to 10 years old.
Childsplay: a suite of educational games for young children.
Gramps: free genealogy program
Blender: a free open source 3D content creation suite, to model, shade,animate, render and compose interactive 3D graphics. See also PovRay.

If you are looking for a place to find open source software alternatives to well-known commercial software, visit
For diverse opinions and a place to vote for your favorite Open Source applications go to GroupThink’s Open Source page.
The UK has a site dedicated to Free, Libre and Open Source Software solutions for Education (use the right column for categories)
FOSSWiki is an excellent source for freeware and open source software. For a site offering a downloadable CD image visit TTCS OSSWIN's CD site.


Tom Hoffman said...

Please do not write the GNU project and the Free Software movement out of existence.

When you say "With the advent of Linux the open source community worldwide received a boost," that is incorrect. Linux predates the term "open source." Linux was started from 1991, the term "open source" from 1998. It is correct to say "With the advent of Linux, the GNU Project (started in 1984) got a boost from the addition of a functioning kernel."

It is essential that any time you feel it necessary to point out something like "It is important to note that not all “free” software is open source" that you also explain that the "free" in free software, as in the Free Software Foundation" does not refer to cost, but refers to "freedom."

elptx said...

Accurate observations from an "official" date/time perspective. The spirit of open source (before the term was coined,) however, predates even the 1984 date when GNU was "offically" launched. The early internet was an open source de facto environment, that has been added on (some would say taken over) by the usual suspects. It's very hard to portray the "history of Open Source" in a couple of sentences without affecting accuracy. The "free" as in freedom is referenced in many of the links available here. Thanks for the comments

Gnuosphere said...

Open Source started in the late 90s. Free software started in the early 80s. Before that, there was no name as there lacked an organized nature. People just copied and shared freely.

Referring to either OS or FS in any time frame before their origination will only confuse people. As well, many in the open source camp would strongly disagree that there is an open source "spirit". "Spirit" implies a value system and behavior based upon ethics. For many, open source is merely a way to describe a development model. Though many supporters of open source may approach their advocacy this way, that is a product of their own conscience, not the rhetoric open source was founded upon. By contrast, you won't meet a Free Software advocate who doesn't base her argument on ethics or "spirit" or whatever you want to call it.