Sunday, February 6, 2011

Migrate to Free Open Source Software (FOSS): Part 5 - Cross-Platform Applications

It's been a long time since I wrote Part 4 of my Migrate to Free Open Source Software series, but rest assured, I haven't forgotten about those of you that have been waiting on the next chapter.

To get back in to the swing of things after such a long intermission on this series, I'd like to start the ball rolling with just a simple list of FOSS applications known as "cross-platform", meaning that they will install and run natively on multiple operating systems such as Windows, OS X and/or Linux. If you've been following this series, then you'll be familiar with some that I already covered in detail. As this series continues, I plan to use this list as a sort of outline for the applications that I will be covering in future articles.
One of the best ways to ease yourself in to using FOSS, as many experts will tell you, is to start by replacing the applications that you use on a daily basis with free alternatives within the environment that you're already used to working in. The following list of software, sorted by category, is available to download and install on any of the three major operating system platforms that you might be running on your personal computer. All are available free of charge for personal use with most offering a method of donating to the project should you choose to reward the developers for their high-quality work.
Note: I've compiled this list with the home user in mind, but there are similar lists for nearly every professional business industry also.
  • Email
    • Gmail - Google-owned, web-based email service provides details of storage, options and links to related services. The best thing about Gmail is that, because it's web-based, you can log in and check your email from any internet-connected web browser.
    • Mozilla Thunderbird - Free, open source, cross-platform e-mail and news client developed by the Mozilla Foundation. Supported features include RSS, Usenet, Junk Mail, POP, IMAP and Spell Check. Thunderbird is a drop-in replacement for Microsoft Outlook in the majority of cases complete with the ability to connect to Microsoft Exchange servers.
  • Graphics
    • The GiMP - GNU Image Manipulation Program; Multi-platform image creation and editing software with support for various painting tools, layers, channels, psd file importing and a comprehensive plugin and scripting architechture. GiMP is a free alternative for Adobe Photoshop and many other commercial bitmap drawing programs.
    • Inkscape - Open source 2D vector graphics editor. Support for lines, curves, freehand drawing, gradient fill, bitmap tracing, png and postscript export. All normal file handling is performed natively in scalable vector graphics (svg) format.
  • Instant Messaging
    • Pidgin - A multi-protocol instant message client. Pidgin allows you to simultaneously log in to all of your IM accounts and see a combined buddy list in a single window. Support for AIM, Windows Live (MSN), Yahoo!, Google Talk, ICQ, IRC, GroupWise, Facebook (via a plugin) and many others.
    • Meebo - A free, web-based, multi-protocol instant message client based on libpurple, a library created by the Pidgin project. Meebo also offers an app for mobile devices such as Android and Symbian smartphones.
  • Office Productivity
    • Google Docs - Web-based office productivity suite developed by Google. Support for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. Fully functional replacement for the Microsoft Office applications Word, Excel and PowerPoint. As with Gmail, the ability to log in to your Google Docs account from any internet connected browser makes this a very attractive product.
    • OpenOffice/LibreOffice - Open Source office productivity suite originally developed by Sun. LibreOffice is a spin-off with the intention of making sure that the suite remains free and open source regardless of Oracle's plans with OpenOffice. This office suite includes word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), presentation (Impress), drawing and graphing tool (Draw), tool for creating equations and formulae (Math) and finally a database tool which also build reports and forms (Base). All components are multi-platform.
  • Personal Finance
    • GnuCash - Open source personal and small-business financial accounting software. Support for OFX DirectConnect and HBCI - GnuCash can even communicate with your bank, etc. if they support these standards. Everything including your investments can be extracted into reports and even presented as graphs. GnuCash also support importing from both Microsoft Money and Intuit Quicken products.
    • jGnash - Open source personal finance manager. Import from Quicken and/or GnuCash. All files containing financial information are stored as encrypted files. Also includes support for multiple currencies and stock updates via the internet.
  • Text Editing
    • Gedit - Lightweight, UTF-8 compatible editing tool for the GNOME desktop found in many distributions of Linux, BSD and other Unix systems. Designed, based on the Gnome philosophy, to have a simple and clean user interface. Is now available on Microsoft Windows as well as Unix-based systems.
    • Vim - Free and open source software and is released under a license which includes some charityware clauses, encouraging users who enjoy the software to consider donating to children in Uganda. There is a learning curve due to the command-based interface instead of a menu or icon based interface. However, once the commands are familiar, this is a very powerful text editing application.
  • Web Browsing
    • Mozilla Firefox - An advanced, free, open source, browser built with its roots in the old Netscape browser. Supports tabbed browsing, a feature it had long before Internet Explorer, live bookmarks and a plethora of amazing extensions. Version 4 is now in late beta and is already shaping up to set the bar for the next generation of web browsers which will include a mobile browser counterpart for multiple platforms.
    • Google Chrome - Free, open source web browser developed by the Chromium project with value added features given by Google. A very minimal interface design to maximize the viewable area for content. Chrome also supports tabbed browsing and the newly-released Chrome Web Store containing apps, extensions and themes.
  • Website Development
    • Bluefish - A web development editor focused towards the development of dynamic websites. Bluefish supports development in HTML, XHTML, CSS, XML, PHP, C, JavaScript, Java, SQL, Perl, ColdFusion, JSP, Python, Ruby, shell and others. It has a lightweight interface with a minimal learning curve. Available on multiple platforms including Linux, Mac and Windows.
    • KompoZer - Open source web development tool built on NVU. Both the HTML and CSS development tools have been updated within the KompoZer project with many more improvements on the road map. WYSIWYG editor does a great job of being a replacement for commercial, visual web development environments such as Dreamweaver.

If you have a specific application that you'd like to find an Open Source replacement for, there are also some great resources for that. One of the best, first stop places to check is (the name is an abbreviation of "Open Source Alternatives"). To use the site, you simply click on the category in the menu on the left side of the page and then select the Closed Source, commercial application that you want to replace and it will provide a list of alternative applications to try.

    Other Posts in this Series:
    Migrating to Free Open Source Software: Part 1
    Migrating to Free Open Source Software: Part 2 - The Operating System
    Migrating to Free Open Source Software: Part 3 - The Web Browser
    Migrating to Free Open Source Software: Part 4 - The Email Client