Okay, let’s face it. Open source software (OSS) is much more than an operating system. You may want to use OSS, but not want to switch to Linux…yet. Let’s begin by discussing some of the more popular programs, ones you can use whether you have stepped up to Linux or are still a Windows user. (Mac users out there? Give some solid feedback, too.)
We’ll start with three tools that is a more or less direct substitute for a program you currently use. Follow the links provided to go to the Web sites from which the program can be downloaded.

  • Open Office instead of Microsoft Office
  • Firefox instead of Internet Explorer
  • GIMP instead of Photoshop

The benefits of switching to the OSS program are many, but two stand out. 1) You don’t have to pay for trying the program. 2) Over time, if you continue to be happy with the program, you won’t need to spend money to upgrade.

Open office is a suite of software that has the same purposes as Microsoft Office.

It is an open source software project that was originated by Sun Microsystems, and is written to be an alternative to Microsoft Office. It stores its files in an open format file, making it possible to avoid a vendor lock-in. The file format is supported by many software vendors, making it possible to import and export effectively among competitive products.

Open Office is available in versions that run on most operating systems like Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux, among others.

Open office will open files created by Microsoft Office, without their macros. It saves in Microsoft Office formats so you can generally exchange files with your associates who use MSOffice. When saving a file with Open Office, select the appropriate MSOffice format.

The main Open Office components are:

  • Writer – word processor (like MS Word)
  • Calc – spreadsheet (like Excel)
  • Impress – presentation (like Powerpoint)
  • Base – data manager (like Access)
  • Draw – drawing tools (like the ones found in MSOffice)
  • Math – equation editor (for showing complex math in Writer, Calc, Impress)

Firefox is a fast Web browser that can keep many pages “open” at the same time using tabbed windows. It is considered very secure. It has become popular for those unhappy with Internet Explorer. You can use Firefox on Linux, Mac and Windows. Windows Update continues to require Internet Explorer, so you do need to keep it on your computer, even if you otherwise browse using only Firefox.Firefox can be highly personalized through add-ons/extensions created by the wide support community. You can block banner ads easily, read rss feeds, work on your blog, and on and on. If you don’t like the standard look of the browser, you can even change the theme to suit you.Firefox is a product of the Mozilla Foundation which formerly supported the Mozilla Navigator browser, which, in turn, was the decendent of Netscape Navigator.

GIMP is an image manipulation program that gives you features like Photoshop. You can quickly crop and enhance photographs, draw with pencil or brush tools, and label with text. If you are currently limited to using MSPaint, this is a big step up. GIMP provides many image filters that can make fancy results. GIMP is available for Windows, Mac and Linux users.One of my favorite GIMP tools is a feature, found in layer>color>levels. With it, I can compensate for my ability to get my digital camera set just right for the light conditions. My camera does a really good job, on its automatic settings, but I don’t take time to adjust white balance, etc. So I make up for it by adjusting. The level tool allows me to change the settings to brighten a dull photo. Here’s an example…a family photo that came out too dark. Adjusting the color level, the photo is much better.
You might notice that the photo isn’t standard shape. It has been cropped using GIMP. In addition, it’s size and “quality” adjusted to make it a smaller file, suitable for a Web page.

That’s a beginning. Next time, we will take a look at a few more high quality, popular, useful programs.

Recommend your favorites.