Downloading open source software is a new, rising alternative for downloading your software illegaly or paying big bucks for them, but the open source community is cluttered with poorly functioning and hardly maintained bad software which clouds you from some real jewels. In this list some familiar and unfamiliar pieces of software which are, at least as good better than the commercial alternative. Be prepared to find some software on there you already have, to surprise you: that piece of software you’re running on your computer is open source, you can download the source code, and modify it to your needs if you know how. For some of these, that’s why they are so good. Throughout this listing I will be looking at the pros and cons of the different open source alternatives, as well as the reliability towards the future (where does it get its money, how is it financially backed?).
VLC Media player
Yes, the famous white and orange cone is open source software. It plays even broken and buggy files, every video format that has an open source version is playable in this versatile media player and just because it comes with it’s own codecs, it usually plays your videos where other players say:”No can do.” In the world of music and videos, this is a must-have.
VLC is backed by a company named “VideoLAN” which seems to rely solely on donations by its users. Not to be called a really trustworthy business case, but as long as it works, it works.
If you don’t know what firefox is, then you’ve been living under the digital stone for the last ten years. Firefox is the second most popular browser (April 2013) worldwide and is a perfect alternative for Internet Explorer wantnots, Safari bugs and googles chrome stalker. The compactness and the extendability of this browser is a huge plus. On the downside, the update screen is a bit intrusive and every update doesn’t really seem to change anything.
Firefox is owned by the Mozilla foundation, a non-profit organisation backed by the Mozilla corporation selling contracts and deals with companies like google and nokia. The foundation is owned by Netscape (AOL) and also relying on donations from the big public. Quite a reliable bussines case, generating money from two sources which require Firefox to compete.
If you’re done using the webbased e-mail client and want to read your e-mail online, with a comfortable plug-in enabled piece of software, I recommend Thunderbird. It has the same backing company and structure as Firefox, but is far less known because most people use the standard or webmail. Thunderbird saves you from having to enter your password every time you clean your cookies and adds a lot of versatility to you e-mail experience.
Openoffice / Libreoffice
If there is any piece of software that you definately need on your PC, it’s an office suite. It started out with the openoffice project (OOo.org) a while back, which had my attention during my college years. After the takeover by Oracle and the perceived plans Oracle had with the software suite, several developer forked the project into the opensource LibreOffice. The office suite is fully featured with applications similar to those you expect with the micosoft office suite: A text editor, a spreadsheet program, presentation software, drawing software and database analyses utility. It also comes with math, a tool to markup your math formulas in a graphical beautiful way. The suite is quite compatible with office text formats as long as you stick to the 97 *.doc format, the formats ending in an x (like xlsx and docx) cause issues all the way, as well as the Openoffice native open document format (which causes problems in microsoft office).
As far as artistical software goes, The Gnu Image Manipulating Program is as good as they can get. I’ve modified several images with the GIMP and it has never failed me. As long as you’re not the ultimate expert and don’t need the optimum performance you get from photoshop, you can save youself a 600 EURO bill by just downloading this simple piece of software.
The GIMP is part of the GNU open software project. A large collaboration that is donation funded to support the development of open source software. That doesn’t sound really well based, but the GNU project is so big and funded by so many different sources, it would take a lot for it to fail.
If you’re into the open-source and free funded software, why not start at the basis, at a open source operating system? Ubuntu is one of the most famous Linux distributions and as far as the free ones go, the most user friendly. Ubuntu tries to be the most user friendly, open and free operating system and though it is a challenge, it keeps to its promise. The operating system comes in many languages, is easy to used even for unexperienced users, but it is also deeply and greatly configurable for more experienced users.
Ubuntu is backed by Canonical, a company founded by Mark Shuttleworth. Canonical is a commercial company providing professional support for organizations and customizations. A well known organization using a modified version of Ubuntu is, drumm roll please, Google. So don’t expect it to shut down anytime soon.
The big Joomla! Community is built around the Content Management System, with over 6000 extensions, more than 35 million downloads it surely is a big project. Where it is strong in versatility and extensions, it sometimes lacks in security, it is said that Joomla!’s default security policy is flawed and allows acces to places where users aren’t supposed to go, but fortunately, the security aspects are coverd in security checks and extra modules.
The Joomla Project is funded by donations and it looks like it is thriving, by the looks of the extensions and size of the project donations are plentifull and the future prospect of the project are reliable.
In 2005, the Quake III source was made opensource in the Open Arena project, generating the Open Arena game. It is a first person arena shooter much like Unreal Tournament, but free, open source. If you look beyond the graphics, you’ll see a open source game similar to Quake III Arena. Despite the poor graphics it is a good first attempt to create something any good concept needs to work: entertainment. I bet there are more and better games to follow.
Unfortunately, I found nothing to indicate how open Arena is funded, which makes me guess that it is backed by the donators of the original source code, ID software, or some other company. It could be that it relies on donations, but then I’d expect a donation button on the website and I couldn’t find one.
We already had VLC in the media section and where VLC is made to play movies, audacity is all about sound and mixing. I used it a lot in my days of mixing sounds and music, and the results are nice. For an amateur needing a piece of software to play and mix some sounds and music, it is as good as it needs to be.
Audacity is open about the way it is funded, part of the money comes from donations and sponsers, the rest comes from advertisement on its website. Not a really reliable funding case if you ask me, but Audacity has been around for a long time so I expect it’ll last.
Number ten in the list is something to pack it all up. 7 zip is a versatile packaging and unpackaging utility. Apart from its own 7zip format, in unpacks everything you’ll need, from zip and rar files mostly used in windows to the tar.gz format used in unix based operating systems. It’s ability to pack is limited, but it covers the important formats.
Like a lot of the applications in this list, 7 Zip is publicly funded, requiring donations from the big public.
In many cases, open source software is a good or better alternative to any similar proprietary product. Good software doesn’t have to rely on a big bag of cash or other methods of getting your money, it can also rely on a community effort to create a beautiful piece of software.