Software Giants vs. the Open Source Initiative:
In the last decade and a half, an unknown number of tech companies have sprung up and established themselves as booming enterprises overnight. Its pretty safe to say that there has never been growth like that in such little time, ever. Unfortunately, buying that software is the only option when you want a high quality product. Even though the latest Adobe Software Creative Suite might be some of the best editing software out there, it’s priced at $2,600, or about the cost of a Umass Unlimited Meal Plan. Do you want to pay for high end software; or eat? For software that your job depends on it, maybe, but not for the average user. In the end, software has hit a dilemma: either have expensive, professional software, or don’t have any at all.
“In particular, software giants are paying millions to create and develop software, which while being high quality, is expensive for the average user.”
The solution is Open Source Software, and it’s free. In it’s most basic terms, Open Source Software is an alternative software that focuses on a community of users who collectively develop it. The programs’ source code is available to anyone who wants it, so it can be edited and reworked to fit a users need. Those who do that post their new code for others to use, and the range of the initial software increases. These modifications made by individuals, also called addons or plugins, can be added to other peoples own installation allowing for personal customization of each application. The result of all this is software with a wide range of applications, lots of development and support, all while retaining the magical little word called “free”
So what’s the best, most useful Open Source Software out there? Let’s count down the top 5 most useful Open Source Applications!
5.) GIMP (General Image Manipulation Program)
Type: Image Editor Platforms: Mac OS X, Windows 7, and Linux
First made for Linux systems, GIMP has expanded into Windows and Mac. It’s a free alternative to the more widely known Adobe Photoshop, and an upgrade to Microsoft Paint. What sets it apart is that it is a raster editor (it changes the actual pixels in an image, like Photoshop) rather than just vector editor (which can change the scale of an image, but not so much or what it is made up of, like Microsoft Paint).
You may want or need this if you are a graphical designer, do any type of photo touch-ups, or just feel like touching up your Facebook photos.
Some of the cool features include tablet/draw pad support, scanner support, and multiple file extensions support. In the program itself, you’ll find all the regular aspects of an image editor, including cropping, blurring, erasing, layering and so on.
Above all, there is the Open Source aspect of GIMP. There is a registry of plugins which allows GIMP to do all sorts of things, like allow different formats or do nifty graphic transformations (like add special filters or create random patterns, like smoke)
The only negative things with GIMP is the setup. If you have only used Photoshop or MSPaint, GIMP will seem a bit strange at first. It seems to have too many different buttons in different places. But once you get used to it, it’s just as easy as any other editor. Also, GIMP offers online tutorials if you ever have trouble.
Download GIMP here. See tutorials on GIMP here. See Plugins here.
4.) Portable Apps
Type: Portable Applications Platforms: Mac OS X, Windows 7, and Linux
Portable Apps is an Open Source Software that is really unique- there is nothing else like it. It doesn’t just make images, play movies, or browse the web. Instead, it does all those things. In fact, more. How? Portable Apps is a software which uses portable versions of other software, allowing for you to take your preferred programs anywhere you want on a flash drive.
This comes in handy when working on a computer that is not your own. Need Chrome, but can’t install it? Need to edit an image, don’t have the time to install GIMP? Just plugin the flash drive, and run the program from the Portable Apps Window (which autoruns), and viola, you have the program without installing it. The basic apps include Thunderbird, Skype, 7zip, Chrome, Firefox and VLC, as well as about 25 others.
What makes this special is that you can add almost any app you want, with the full list on the Portable Apps website. This also autoruns when the drive is plugged in, auto updates every app, and has a fully customizable interface. The install and setup process is relatively easy, and there are, as always, lots of forums to help you out if you run into a problem.
The only downside is that you need a designated flash drive for portable apps to run off of. While you can still store files on a drive with Portable Apps, there will be significantly less space than before.
Download Portable Apps here. See forums on Portable Apps here. See awesome Apps here.
Type: Video Converter Platform: Mac, Windows, and Linux
No matter if you are making a video, editing an image, recording your own garage band in your parents basement, or just writing a tech blog for your university, you WILL run into an issue with formats. .JPG, .MP4, .WMA, .DOC, or .whatever, there will be a time when you need to go from one to another. Normally, professional file converters will cost more than you need it for. While online file converters like Zamzar work well in a pinch, but they often take way too long to convert multiple or larger video files.
Other than that, there are a variety of other converts, but they usually only work from one format to another, and don’t always produce the best quality.
Instead, the Open Source alternative is in Handbrake, which simply converts video files from one format to another. It handles “most media” formats, and you’ll be pretty hard pressed to find one that doesn’t work. This also handles subtitles, chapters in a video, audio, and filters. But whats most surprising is that that Handbrake works exceedingly well with mobile video formats, and has special plugins for Ipads, Iphones, and Android devices. It will be able to convert any video files from these devices into usable video.
This is a reliable and safe alternative, as there a lot of other converts that seem untrustworthy. This software comes directly from sourceforge, a reliable site for downloading Open Source Software.
Is Handbrake anything special? No, not really. But you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles for a video converter, you just need to convert video from one to another. Handbrake does the job just fine, all while being free and reliable.
Download Handbrake here. See forums on Handbrake here.
Type: Audio Editor Platform: Mac, Windows, and Linux
Perhaps a bit of a niche application, Audacity is an audio editing program. But given that, it is the king of audio editing. Audacity allows you to do almost anything to an audio track, including, but not limited to: changing pitch, tempo, speed, volume, cutting, pasting, multiple channels, digitize older media, stereo, mono and enough sound generations to kept any novice busy for a few sleepless nights.
Audacity also works and formats most file types, and produces and records high quality audio. More than that, it is pretty easy to use: just pointing, clicking, and highlighting. You can even clean up audio tracks, making them have more or less interference, and in some aspects, changing the quality.
The only downside with audacity is its own intermediate file type. Much like other video or audio editors, you do not directly edit the files, and instead use a project file with all your media imported. Audacity uses the same feature, and while it may be useful for the program, it takes another step in the editing process, since you will have to export and import multiple files.
Really, Audacity’s fame here is features. Have fun with it!
Download Audacity here. See Tutorials on Audacity here.
Type: Media Player Platform: Mac, Windows, and Linux
Finally, the very best Open Source Application has to be VLC. There is no other that comes close. If there is nothing else that you should take from this blog post, it’s that you should get rid of whatever you are currently using to play music or movies on your computer, and go get VLC.
VLC is a simple and fast media player, running on all platforms, and plays everything. No, not most everything, everything. Digital movies and songs, DVDs and CDs, and even streaming. Not only that, but all formats too. You would have to make your own format to find one that didn’t play here. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but you get the idea.
Again, since VLC is Open Source, it allows for addons from other users. The most popular being a subtitle finder/generator, an information panel (so can instantly find which actor was playing who in that other movie your friend thinks he was in) and even a lyric finder for your favorite songs.
Download VLC here. See the Addons here.
Software Growing and Growing:
Everything from computers (Moore’s Law) and mobile phones, to operating systems and the internet, have just kept growing and growing. Sure, the quality and scope of our technology has been getting better, with only one downside: cost. In particular, software giants are paying millions to create and develop software, which while being high quality, is expensive for the average user.
“The programs’ source code is available to anyone who wants it, so it can be edited and reworked to fit a users need…and the range of the initial software increases. These modifications made by individuals, also called addons or plugins, can be added to other peoples own installation allowing for personal customization of each application. The result of all this is software with a wide range of applications, lots of development and support…”
Now, there are some limitations. Sometimes there isn’t a wide user base, so there is no addons or support for it; or maybe the version isn’t updated for the newest operating system. It’s hardly perfect by any means, but there are some programs out that are incredible. In fact, some rare open source programs are better than propriety software.
To check out more Open Source Software, try Sourceforge for thousands of other programs.