Giving the gift of free software

box-15737_640It’s Christmas time and many people are rushing around, scrambling for presents. Here’s an idea: give things that are free.

Free software not only has a great price (who can beat $0?), but also come with an ethos of freedom, openness and collaboration. They’re developed by the community, as people create plugins and extensions and then share them back to everyone in the community. The same is true for documentation and tutorials. It really is a gift that keeps on giving!

Here are three of my all-time favourite free software tools – freely downloadable for any operating system.

Free Office suite: LibreOffice

libreofficescreenshotLibreOffice is a powerful cross-platform office suite that includes not only the usual word processor, spreadsheet and slide presenter, but also a strong database and math formula editor. It’s more powerful than the tools you get on Google Docs and definitely stands up to Microsoft Office. Two features that I use regularly which MS lacks: a one-click “export to PDF” function (which also includes the capability of embedding the doc itself, making the PDF editable) and a Draw environment for graphic layouts of posters, brochures, etc. (Far simpler than trying to force Word to do it.)

PC World gives it 4 stars, calling it “an extremely capable office suite …highly configurable, extensible and cross-platform.)

Free photo editor/manipulator: GIMP

gimpThe GIMP has an awful name (it stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program), but it’s an awesome product. The GIMP is an image manipulation software – you can edit photos and other images, use a wide variety of tools and filters to apply artistic effects, change colors, etc. It’s comparable to the commercial Photoshop software. People do some amazing work with the GIMP.

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.”

Free graphics creator/editor: Inkscape

InkscapeInkscape has made even a non-talented person like me an “artist.” (Well, at least I’ve created some graphics that one might consider art …or just clip art.) With Inkscape, 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.)

MacWorld gives Inkscape 4 mice and calls it “powerful” and “highly extensible.”


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.


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