We were first introduced to open source software in 2005 by a cousin who works in the computer industry. He told us there was a group of people who believed that computer software should be available to anyone who wanted or needed it to freely use, develop and share, and that people had developed completely free alternatives to programs like Photoshop and Microsoft Office. At first it seemed too good to be true, but we soon saw for ourselves and have now been able to save hundreds of dollars on our home office computer. Below are some of the popular programs that we use or have used in the past.
- Open Office
The Open Office Suite is similar to the Microsoft Office Suite. There is a word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), drawing (Draw), database (Base), presentation (Impress). There’s even a math program for doing math calculations, but I don’t really understand or have much need for it. You have a choice of installing all the programs or just the ones that you need – i.e. we just use Writer, Calc and Draw. While Open Office is not quite as fancy and aesthetically pleasing as the Microsoft programs, they are more than capable of most everyday and business tasks. We use the Calc program for accounting and taxes, Draw for drafting patterns for our dog clothing designs, and Writer for letters, invoices, coupons, etc.
For email, I recommend Thunderbird, which is a great alternative to the Microsoft Outlook email program. Like Outlook, it has filtering, junk mail control, etc. You can install the calendar add-on Lightning if you need/want it. The Sunbird calendar program is also available as a separate program if you don’t use Thunderbird or prefer not to use add-ons.
Foxit is a pdf reader similar to Adobe Acrobat Reader with annotation features such as highlighting, drawing graphics and typing text, and conversion to plain text.
Filezilla is a nice and easy to use FTP program. I use it for working on my Zen Cart and WordPress sites, which is much easier than uploading through my webhosting browser ftp.
- The GIMP
The GIMP is a graphics program and a Photoshop alternative of sorts. This program isn’t as advanced as Photoshop, but is probably competent enough for the average casual user for basic photo touch-ups or graphics. (We use Adobe Photshop Elements for our business graphics and photos.)
I think this browser has surpassed Internet Explorer in popularity by now and you’ve probably either heard of it or already use it. We have been using Firefox for almost 4 years now and it is our primary browser. It is much faster than IE, and while I have found that it’s not as fast as SeaMonkey or Opera, the number of available add-ons enable you to customize it is so many ways that the convenience surpasses the downside of slightly slower (but still very decent) browsing speed.
- SeaMonkey (Mozilla)
SeaMonkey is an all-in-one internet suite that comes with browser, HTML editor, mail and news client and chat applications, and other web development tools. As mentioned above, I have found the SeaMonkey browser to be faster than Firefox. The main reason I downloaded SeaMonkey was because I had need of a good WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) HTML editor, and the SeaMonkey one has worked very well for the occasional webpage design. I’ve also used the mail client in the past and found it quite decent.
I downloaded Opera mainly for webmastering purposes to make sure all my websites are displaying properly. A lot of people have said that Opera is the fastest browser, but I’ve found it to be about the same as, if not a little slower, than SeaMonkey. It’s a very nice-looking browser however, with a very convenient “speed-dial” page for quick access of your frequent online haunts.
This is the php program I use to manage this site. You can pretty much see for yourself what it does, but I will add that it is a wonderfully clever and very easy to use program. There are scores of plug-ins you can install to add additional functions and features. Download it for free at WordPress.org.
- Zen Cart
I use the Zen Cart php shopping cart my business website. As with WordPress, there are hundreds of modules you can install to add additional features to your store.
OsCommerce is another php shopping cart script similar to Zen Cart. I personally like Zen Cart better and found it to be less buggy than osCommerce. However, there are many people who use osCommerce.
Ubuntu is a linux-based operating system that comes with pretty much anything you need: web browsers, office applications, instant messaging, games, media players and graphics applications. There are a myriad other applications that you can easily install through the control panel. To a non-linux user, it may look a little foreign at first and take some getting used to, but it works just as well as Windows and best of all it’s free. Just go to the Ubuntu website to download it or you can request a free CD to be sent to you completely free of charge.
For the most part, we still use Windows XP as it came free and pre-installed with our current computer, but we have an Ubuntu CD on hand for when Windows acts up, which inevitably happens once in a while, so we can still handle our business affairs.
A good place to start looking for free software is Softpedia where you can search for, download and try various types of programs (some are free, but some are not). I highly recommend that you always do a little research on the web to find out more about a program before downloading and installing it.