10 Open Source Apps You Can't Live Without

Thursday May 24th 2007 by Matt Hartley
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The core software programs that every open source desktop needs.

Even for the most seasoned computer user, taking the leap to open source can prove to be a bit daunting. But once you have a solid base of core applications, I believe most people will find the switch is not nearly as painful as they imagined.

Here’s a list of open source applications that I feel are a “must have” for anyone interested in exploring open source software alternatives:

1. Open Office

I have yet to come across anyone who didn’t need access to a fully functionally, no excuses offered, office suite. Open Office provides the end user with easy installation, a rock solid word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software. Also included are powerful graphics, database and mathematical equation applications.

Open Office comes in handy for students and professional users of all types. Special bonus: the spreadsheet program can help you maintain your budget; you can also use Open Office to create invoices.

Compatibility: Windows and Linux (OS X users should look into NeoOffice)

2. Pidgin

Instant messaging is both an annoyance and blessing, especially when you work from home remotely. Locating a solid IM application that handles multiple instant messaging protocols can be frustrating – as there are so many options to choose from. This is where Pidgin comes into play. It supports everything under the IM protocol umbrella: AIM, Yahoo, MSN, ICQ, IRC, Jabber (Google Talk included) – it even supports protocols you may have never ever heard of.

The Pidgin interface is crisp, functional and provides a level of functionality without a lot of the “whiz-bang” features you might see with other IM clients.

Compatibility: Windows and Linux (OS X users should look into Adium)

3. Firefox

Using Safari, Internet Explorer, or even Konqueror (which is faster than Firefox), cannot hold a candle to the Mozilla-based browser when it comes to collective functionality and power. Its secure browsing and stable performance will continue to win over most new users.

When factoring in the ability to include extensions to further the browser's functionality, closed source alternatives simply doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Compatibility: Windows, Linux and OS X

4. Thunderbird

Like its closed source counterparts, this open source email client is compatible with both POP3 and IMAP email services, in addition to offering further functionality for RSS feeds and newsgroups and of course, the ability to improve functionality with Thunderbird Thunderbird also provides phishing protection, along with a solid spam filter to help curb the influx of junk mail using Bayesian filtering technology.

By using some of the great Thunderbird extensions out there, you can turn this simple email client into a content management machine. User control: it's your email, so being able to mark, move, save and locate important message is easy with the latest release of this email client.

Compatibility: Windows, Linux and OS X

5. VLC media player

An important feature of today’s desktops is the ability to play a variety of video formats. Unfortunately, trying to locate a single media player that can play every video format is frustrating – it actually borders on impossible. VLC supports almost everything with the exception of Real Player media files, and it’s is easy to install. It allows you to customize the user experience to best suit your needs.

Advanced functionality includes the ability to transcode video, stream video to other computers on your LAN, or simply watch your favorite DVDs cross platform without any video codec hassles.

VLC is stable, and will provide you with the tool set to retake control over much of the DRM nonsense we see floating around these days. It's your media, you should be able to enjoy it with one application, not five or more.

Compatibility: Windows, Linux and OS X

6. Songbird

Said to potentially become the next “Firefox” for music players, Songbird is a powerful application that has been gaining attention. Designed to make music management a more pleasant experience, Songbird allows the end user to play any audio file they like – headache free; OGG, MP3, FLAC, WMA, in addition to some fantastic music discovery features.

Songbird will do practically anything iTunes can do, and then some. Sync your iPod, connect to a stand alone music device like the Squeezebox, or perhaps discover new, unsigned bands using Songbird’s unique music browsing capabilities. Songbird is the only music player out there that allows you to “browser music” as you surf a webpage, linking to an audio file for a particular band. It's pretty powerful stuff.

Unlike iTunes, Windows Media Player or amaroK, Songbird works on all three major platforms. And because it is based on Firefox technology, the user can add any number of extensions to further the functionality of this already powerful music player.

Compatibility: Windows, Linux and OS X

7. Evolution

Anyone out there utilizing a PocketPC, an MS Exchange server at work and a contact list with all of your co-workers listed understands the need for a rock solid personal information manager (PIM). Evolution, considered by many to be the closest competition for Microsoft Outlook, is most definitely on my “must have” list.

Tasks, your calendar, contacts and even the ability to sync with your mobile devices thanks to MS Exchange support, Evolution helps the busy individual needing a dual-platform PIM.

Evolution brings junk mail filtering, email encryption, easy to manage mail filters and full support for Exchange 2000/2003 and Novell's GroupWise. If you work off of a tight schedule, Evolution is the mother of all PIMs.

Compatibility: Windows and Linux

8. Filezilla

Frankly, Filezilla the single best FTP client I have ever used (and I’ve used plenty). The FTP client allows for simple changes to meet with the needs of your server. Everything from Active to Passive modes, easy entry for custom server commands, an intuitive site manager for multiple websites, and point and click simplicity when working with a large queue of files.

Control, logical interface and a simplified way to manage multiple websites are what make Filezilla a must have FTP client.

Compatibility: Windows, Linux and OS X

9. GIMPShop

This free professional graphics and picture is powerful, stable and extendible thanks in part to various plug-ins. Tie this in with logical pallet layout and you have a fantastic graphic editing program.

GIMPShop provides the power of GIMP while maintaining most of the common sense functionality of Photoshop. The end result offers a more logical interface, while also providing an economical alternative to the expensive Adobe program.

Compatibility: Windows, Linux and OS X

10. Audacity

Without a doubt, this one of the most commonly used, most proven audio editing applications on the Internet today. Relatively simple to use, Audacity allows the typical user to record, splice, mix, add effects, analyze and convert any sound file you can think of. Actually, the only challenge people generally run into is where to download and install the LAME MP3 encoder.

I have seen professional audio engineers marvel at Audacity's simplicity and power. In the end, this application is a must have when working with any kind of audio editing project. Whether it be for a video, podcast or even a personalized soundtrack – you'll need this application.

Compatibility: Windows, Linux and OS X

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