Posted July 6, 2011
by Lensyl Urbano
The open-source and free-software movements have matured to the point where a teacher or student can reliably outfit a new computer with software that is free and compatible with their proprietary cousins.
The first place to look for free software for whatever purpose you need should probably be
SourceForge [edit Nov. 8th 2013: given Sourceforge’s recent changes that bundles junk software with some installers I can’t recommend it at the moment]. It feels odd having to say this, but it’s legal, free software. Mind you, it has a lot of programs that are still in development, many are not terribly polished, and not everything will be available for your operating system. Add in a few other pieces, like Firefox and OpenOffice, and you have all the basics you need for a basic loadout. I typically find these to be most useful.
- OpenOffice: not from SourceForge, but a free, poor-man’s alternative to MicroSoft Office. It can open and save MS Office files, but it also has some of the irritating auto-formatting issues as Office. So for text editing I usually prefer Smultron. Also, Gnumeric is an excellent alternative to Excel.
- Smultron: for writing text and only text, forget the formatting (and also useful for writing computer programs).
- Firefox: For web browsing.
- GIMP: instead of PhotoShop for editing images.
- Inkscape: For drawing diagrams (like this one).
- VUE: For mindmaps (like this) and flow charts.
- Audacity: works well for sound editing (I’ve only used it a little for trimming sound files when I was trying to create sound effects). Unlike SOX (see below) Audacity has a user interface.
- OpenSCAD: For creating 3d models using basic shapes (spheres, boxes etc.) for 3d printing.
There are other odds and ends that you’ll find on my computer, like vlc for playing DVD’s, Combine PDF for rearranging pages in pdf documents, and TexShop for really nice typsetting, but there are a lot of good, free alternatives out there. Not a whole lot of games however.
Command Line Programs
If you’re comfortable using the command line there are a number of programs, most of which have been ported to the major operating systems, that can also be very useful: