One of the hardest parts of making the switch from “standard” proprietary software to open source alternatives is finding the right replacement. In some cases, the proprietary solution has become so common place that people do not realize they have other options. For instance, it is the belief of many that Microsoft Word is the only way to type papers, and that the .doc or .docx are the only file formats that can be used to store them. This is simply not true. There are plenty of open source alternatives available, and the first step in making the switch is learning how to find them. I will be examining some of the more common open source solutions here.
First off, the staple of the modern office products, Microsoft Office. Believe it or not, there is a complete open source software suite that can completely replace Office. It is called LibreOfiice. LibreOffice contains software that can read and save to Microsoft’s proprietary file formats such as .doc or .xls, as well as open standards formats such as .odt. LibreOffice comes as a standard install on many distributions of Linux, so it has clearly earned the open source community’s stamp of approval.
Another common office tool is an email client. For many businesses, Microsoft Outlook is the current standard, but there is a free and open source alternative. It is called Thunderbird and is made by Mozilla, a leader in open source software development. Thunderbird is very simple to use, and comes with all of the advantages of open source software. If you like having a dedicated email client, Thunderbird is the way to go.
Let’s face it, one of the most important programs you have on your computer is an Internet browser. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to read this post! Many people do not realize they have a choice when it comes to which browser they want to use. Some Windows users believe they can only use Microsoft Internet Explorer, while some Mac users think Apple’s Safari is their only option. Once again, this is not true. Mozilla also develops an open source browser called Firefox that is far superior to Internet Explorer or Safari.
Another industry standard tool you may require is Adobe Photoshop. Besides being proprietary, Photoshop is quite expensive. The obvious replacement application is GIMP. Developed by GNU, another leader in the open source software world, GIMP gives you the power of Photoshop without the drawbacks. Need to do some vector based editing as well? Check out Inkscape.
Everyone likes to have a nice music collection, but currently the standard media applications include proprietary software such as iTunes and Windows Media Player. Unfortunately, there are many who once again believe they do not have any other options. Part of the difficulty of switching to a new media manager is getting all of your existing media into a new format. VLC solves this problem. VLC is an open source media player, capable of playing almost every media format out there. It is cross platform and very simple to use as well.
Finally, if you are looking for a complete open source operating system replacement, Linux is the way to go. There are many versions of Linux available (called distributions), but my favorite would have to be Ubuntu. It includes many of the above applications by default, and you can find thousands more through the Ubuntu Software Center. Learning to use Linux requires a commitment in terms of time and effort and can be overwhelming at first. However, if you don’t mind a little bit of problem solving and are willing to learn some new things, the result is definitely worth the effort.