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More Free Stuff…. And lots of it!


More Free Stuff…. And lots of it!

By the Computer Quack

In my last column, I spoke about WUBI, a free version of the Linux operating system that you can run alongside existing Windows installations. If you had a chance to try it, or any of the other dozens of Linux versions available at, you may have seen the thousands of free Linux applications available for download, which in many cases will do exactly what those expensive Windows and Mac programs do.

But did you know that free software is not just limited to Linux? The Open Source community is a global forum, and there are applications written for Windows and for the Mac.

One of the best known examples is OpenOffice. This office productivity suite is funded by companies such as Oracle, Google and IBM, yet remains completely free to download and use for any purpose.

Much like Microsoft’s expensive behemoth, Office, it consists of separate programs to perform different functions. Writer is a sophisticated word processing program. Base is OpenOffice’s version of Access, a full-featured Database application. Impress is a presentation graphics program with all of the special effects and tools that you’d expect. Draw is a high end Graphics program along the lines of Microsoft’s Visio (which isn’t actually part of their office suite and has to be purchases separately). And Calc is as powerful a Spreadsheet program as you can find.

OpenOffice was designed from the start as a single program, so there is tight integration between all of the major modules. And because it’s open source, any developer can create add-ins for specific functions. It supports many languages, and the list of spell-check dictionaries is impressive: And of course, Thai language is supported.

You can also save documents as .PDF files, something Microsoft only recently deigned to offer us.

If you don’t want to spend money upgrading your Microsoft Office suite every time a new release is announced, why not take a look at OpenOffice? It’s available from

But don’t stop there! There are open source alternatives to most commercial programs.

If you’re a Photoshop user, take a look at GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program from the open source community. It’s a great alternative to Photoshop and can read your existing .psd files. And like OpenOffice, the number of add-ons written by individual developers is ever growing. There is even an interface to allow you to use your favourite Photoshop plug-ins, and if you are not keen on taking time to learn how to use it, there is even a front-end called GimpShop, which re-engineers all of the menus so that it works like Photoshop.

How about more expensive business software, like Microsoft Sharepoint? Alfresco is a great alternative, which offers document and knowledge management, records and web content management, imaging, collaboration tools and workflow orchestration. Yes, it’s still free!

How about Project management? Gantt Project or OpenProj can import MS Project files and give you the same functionality. Or if you prefer the mind mapping approach, have a look at Freemind.

You can find a Customer Relation Manager (SugarCRM), Home Banking software (GnuCash), and a Mail client (Thunderbird, from the makers of Firefox).

These are just the first examples I found, but in many cases there is more than one program for the same job.

A great starting point is the Open Source Alternatives website at, where you can browse categories and look for free (and in many cases, better) versions of your favourite software.

And in case you were wondering, yes, the open source community develops games as well. Take a look at or for more details. While researching this column, I found Flightgear, an open source Flight Simulation program which is downloading as I write, but there are arcade, strategy and RPG games available as well.

Enjoy exploring the wonderful world of Open Source software, and as ever, if you have any questions or suggestions for our column, please send them to [email protected]