One of the coolest things about the internet is that it really is a global community. There are groups of highly talented programmers who work together to build software that is rock solid, easy to use, and absolutely free to anyone who wants to use it.
The most well known “open-source” software is probably Linux. It’s an operating system that rivals Mac’s OSX or Microsoft’s Windows. While it was once home to only the most hardcore geeks, Linux has been polished into an operating system that just about anybody can use. And in a great many ways, it’s actually better than its pay for counterparts.
Linux is packaged into many different flavors, or “distributions”. Some cost money, but most are free. Certain flavors are much more difficult to use than others. For the beginning Linux user, I tend to recommend Kubuntu. Check out Kubuntu in action on YouTube.
But what if you’re content with Windows? You can still benefit greatly from open-source software. Here’s a list of very helpful programs that are absolutely free to use:
- Gimp – Graphics/photo editor that rivals Photoshop
- Audactiy – Audio file editor
- ClamAV for Windows – Powerful anti-virus scanner (note: no real-time system protection, making it more of a backup a/v scanner)
- 7Zip – Handles archives of just about any type, from zip files to tarballs (tar.gz)
- OpenOffice – Alternative to Microsoft Office, and even includes the ability to save as PDF!
- Inkscape – Works with vector graphics as an alternative to CorelDraw or Illustrator
- PDFCreator – Turn any file into a PDF by “printing” to a PDF printer
- Scribus – Desktop publishing application that rivals InDesign and PageMaker
- VLC Media Player – About a zillion times faster than Windows Media Player. And can handle just about any type of video file you can throw at it.
- IMGBurn – A very small but powerful disc burning utility
- TrueCrypt – Utility to create virtual encrypted drives out of existing files (be sure to read the documentation on this one – it doesn’t encrypt files, it creates an encrypted file “container”). The encryption is so good that, with the processing power we know of today, it would take tens of thousands of years to crack if properly configured
- PasswordSafe – Allows you to store all of your passwords inside of one encrypted database.
Some of these programs also have OSX counterparts. And almost all of them exist on Linux as well. Enjoy!