I got started with free software for more practical reasons – I was a poor college student who couldn’t afford a full office suite, even with the student discount. I believe my first download was OpenOffice. While it didn’t have everything that I wanted, it did have what I needed. It allowed me to write my papers and complete my assignments.
From there I looked at more open source options including using Linux as an operating system for personal and some work use. I love the operating system, but there were certain programs that would not work with Linux so I started exploring alternatives. Through the software center with Ubuntu and searching online, I found some great options for both casual and professional use.
While many people refer to these as free software, it is more directed towards the usage rather than the price (though all of the programs I list below are free to download). With free software you are have the ability to use and modify your copy as you see fit. You have control over how you use it which gives it an additional appeal to certain users.
LibreOffice is a free office suite with a solid community behind it, keeping it updated, adding features. I’ve used LibreOffice for years (and even before it forked off from Open Office) and I’ve found it to be incredibly useful for most of my word pressing needs. When I first used Calc, I found it lacking the ease of use and features of Excel, but over the last few years, the gap has closed considerably.
That said, I’m not a big of fan of Impress, the presentation program that is meant to replace Powerpoint. It just seems behind, but I think if you get some templates, you should be good to go for most of your needs. I haven’t used Draw or Math, so I can’t give you a review on them. I highly recommend LibreOffice as a solution if you’re looking for a handy office suite for standard use.
Gimp is a popular image editing program and has approached professional quality in certain respects. While Adobe is still the standard for many in the graphic design industry, the notoriously high prices for licenses has discouraged some users. (Adobe addressed this somewhat with their Creative Cloud subscription options, but not everyone likes the idea of ‘renting’ their software. )
Gimp offer most of the major features of Photoshop and it is free to download. I have both and I will say that GIMP is able to take care of most of my photo retouching needs. There is a learning curve, but once you get familiar with the interface, it is comparable alternative for some designers.
This is an open source vector graphics editor that can serve as an alternative to Illustrator. I have recently discovered this as I’m relying more and more on Linux as my regular operating system. I had browsed through some reviews and saw that Inkscape was given praise and then I spoke with a graphic designer and he highly recommended me trying it.
I’m still running through some of the tutorials so there still a lot I have to learn, but it really is a full featured package.
Thoughts on Open Source and Free Software
Even though all of the programs I listed are free, that doesn’t mean you can contribute to them. The money you give helps the community grow and in turn can assist them with building better software.
How many of you use open software in your daily activities? Is it for casual, home use or do you rely on it professionally? How did you get started with free and open source software?