Gift-giving: Free Software, Free Music

For many of us, it’s gift-giving time. Choosing or making a present, wrapping it up and putting it under a tree or handing it to a friend or loved one.

This Christmas, why not give free gifts? There are great sources of free software AND free music. They are not only free to download and use, they’re free to share (and free to adapt & customize). It’ll save you money and it will come with the fringe benefits of freedom – the people who receive the gifts can share with others. It’s a gift that keeps on giving!

Free Software

These are free and open source software packages that we use at school with students and teachers. They are fully functional, cross-platform (so they’ll work on Windows or Mac OSX), and free to share. Download a copy and install it on your computer. Put a copy on a flash disk and give it to a friend or neighbour. They are all licensed so that you can share them freely.

Here are a few choice software tools that we use at ICS (and I personally use and enjoy!).

Powerful Productivity: LibreOffice

libreofficescreenshotLibreOffice is a free and fully-functional office suite. It has a word processor (Write) that can be used to type up a simple poem or format a multi-sectioned formatted document. The spreadsheet (Calc) supports all the usual functions and graphing features you would expect. The slide presenter (Impress) lets you make boring bullet-list presentations or slick graphics-full slides. Furthermore, there’s a Math formula editor, a powerful database component and (one of my favourite features) a drawing component that lets you create graphics or lay out brochures, posters, etc.

The main commercial competitor to LibreOffice is Microsoft Office. They both have strong features and each have functions that the other lacks. LibreOffice can open just about any MS Office file (.docx, .xlsx, etc. files) and also save files in Microsoft formats. See this LifeHacker article for comparisons.

In a review, PC World calls LibreOffice “extremely capable” and “highly configurable, extensible and cross platform.” It’s 100% free and available for Windows, OSX or Linux. Download it for free from the website.

Creativity Unlimited: The GIMP

gimpThe GIMP has an aweful name, but it’s an awesome program. The GIMP (it’s short for GNU Image Manipulation Program) lets you edit image files (photographs, etc.) in both simple (cropping, adjusting brightness, colors, etc.) ways and also in much more complicated ways. It has a range of artistic and creative filters you can apply to a whole image or part of one, multiple layers and brushes, etc. It’s an incredible creative program.

The GIMP’s main commercial competitor is Photoshop and it’s often compared to it. Expert Photoshop users find the GIMP’s interface and workflow different and might find it hard to work with. They both offer similar features, and both are incredibly powerful. If you’re a professional photo editor you might want to pay for Photoshop. If you just want to get creative with photos, try the GIMP. Here’s a simple and balanced comparison.

A review in ExtremeTech lauds the GIMP’s “extensive and powerful set of features” and states that “in some areas …it actually outshines Adobe Photoshop.” Check out this gallery to see some examples of amazing work with the GIMP.

Download the GIMP for Windows, Mac OSX from the website. (Click “other versions” for links to OSX and Windows downloads.)

Incredible Drawing Tool: Inkscape

Inkscape-1024x777Inkscape is a vector graphic drawing tool. That means it focuses on drawing and construction, rather than “paint-like” tools. With it, you can create graphics projects that are simple diagrams, plain clip art or complex artwork. It’s all SVG files – scalable vector graphics – so you can zoom in as much as you want and the graphics are crisp and detailed. There’s a great plugin (Sozi) which lets you create zoomable presentations. (Check out a workshop I presented about it here.)

The main commercial program that rivals Inkscape is Illustrator. Again, they both have powerful tools and can do many things the same. Check out this comparison on BrightHub.

MacWorld gives Inkscape 4 mice and calls it “powerful” and “highly extensible.” Download Inkscape for Windows, OSX or Linux here.

Want more?

Audacity is great for audio/podcasting, VLC is simply the best for playing any videos, Thunderbird is a terrific email client, KeePass is a secure way to store your many passwords, Celestia is incredible astronomy software, GeoGebra is a fantastic math learning program…

Check out the website for much more information, or see these sites for free & open source software for Mac OSX or Windows.

Free Music

Sure, you can download “free” music from various sites on the internet, but much of that is pirated. You’re breaking copyright laws and violating licensing agreements. There have been cases where individual downloaders have been taken to court and fined hefty fines. And you’re really stealing the music – taking something without proper permission by the owner.

However, there are a number of musicians – independent, lesser-known artists – who share their work freely and give you permissionto download, listen to and even share their work. They don’t use copyright laws, but license their work with Creative Commons licenses. This is a way artists (even you or me) can protect their work but give permission to others to use, share, remix, etc. The artist can control how the work can be used (commercially? mashed-up or just like the original?) but all require attribution (giving credit to the artist), so you can use but not steal.

I’ve wrttien about this topic, including some of the Christmas music I found to give away, on my own personal blog.

Here are a few sites that I go to for great music.

The Free Music Archive is a great source of all types of music and podcasts. I often find interesting artists and good music to listen to. The music all has different licenses – mostly some version of the Creative Commons licenses. One of my favourite finds here is the Debo Band – an American/Ethiopian band that plays some great funky versions of Ethiopian jazz music.

Jamendo is another place I go to find interesting and free music. There are all kinds of independent bands that release music on the site, with all kinds of styles. I recently found and got hooked on the band I Am Not Lefthanded – featured on the website screenshot.

MusOpen has some beautiful classical music – all in the Public Domain. That means there is no copyright or restrictions on the music at all. Use them as you wish. They also have sheet music and educational resources …it’s a great site.

Happy holidays …give freely!


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