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 www.distrowatch.com, 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
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: http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/en/dictionaries.
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 www.openoffice.org.
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
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 www.osalt.com, 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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_open-source_video_games
or http://osswin.sourceforge.net/games.html 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]