With the quality and quantity of Open Source and/or free products out there there is very little reason to pay for software that you can otherwise get for free. Another reason to to go Open Source is portability, If you have Mac OSX, Linux, and Window running in your home you are going to have to buy the same software three times if you want it on every machine, well actually only twice since most Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) software wasn’t designed for the Linux environment. You can find a free and/or Open Source version of almost all COTS software. In some cases you may be making a small sacrifice in some cases the software is better or as good as what you would pay for.
OpenOffice.org or OOo – This suite, formerly star office and owned by Sun Microsystems is the largest competitor to Microsoft Office. OpenOffice includes a full Word Processor (Writer), a Spreadsheet (Calc), a Presentation Software (Impress), a Paint Program (Draw), and a Database Program (Base). You can save these files out in both the native Open Office Format as well as the Microsoft document formats. Available for Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux
GoogleDocs, GoogleDocs is Google’s online document creation and management system. The Docs suite includes a word processor, a spreadsheet app, and a presentation applicaiton. The suite is platform independent as it resides on the web. I use it for documents I want to share as you can grant edit capabilities to other users and it maintains versioning and change information.
Image Editing and Management
The GIMP, GNU Image Manipulation Program, is by far the most powerful image editing software you can get for free, this is not Photoshop with all of the bells and whistles but it is great. It is all I use anymore considering I don’t do proffesional photography or graphics design and this isn’t to say you couldn’t use it for that. It is extermely powerful and I have barely touched the surface. Gimp is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX
Picasa, Google’s photo management software is a great way to manage and upload/label your photo’s. The program also allows you to easily upload your photo’s to Picasa Web albums and provides easy image editing for common Photo related issues. Available for Windows and Linux, I think it is still beta for Mac.
DigiKam, Digikam is my preferred photo management suite. Digikam provides a lot of the same features you get with Picasa but I like the tagging features in DigiKam better and it actually stores the tags in the Exif information of the photo. That makes the tags portable, they go with the photo. Picasa stores the photos in its own database so if you choose to move your photos to another system you have to retag the photos. Available for Linux only with potential for a Windows Port in the future.
GNUCash, if you haven’t heard me talk about it before, you haven’ been following long enough. Stick around I will talk about it some more. GNUCash is a powerful tool for managing not only your personal finances but can also be utilized to manage your small business finances. It uses double entry book keeping to track your income and expenses as well as your investments. If you want to know more about it check out my series on Using GNUCash to Manage Your Personal Finances. Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Mint.com, Mint is an online tool for tracking your finances, it can also be used for budgeting and more recently tracking investments. I don’t personally use it, I hear it is quite a useful tool. It is web based and therefore platform independent.
Along the same lines as Mint you can also checkout Yodlee Money Center.
Remember the Milk (RTM), is an online task management tool which allows you to set categories for task, setup the tasks and mark the task as done. Remember the Milk integrates with many of your favorite things, some you have to pay for, some you don’t. There are widgets for iGoogle, add-ons for gMail and gCal, and even an iPhone app. You can sign up for free, although some of the add-ons require you to have the pro version. The coolest thing about it is that it integrates with Twitter so you can add tasks using direct messages. This way you can text a direct message to twitter and get an item added to your todo list. The program is web based and therefore platform independent.
Foxmarks is the greatest thing since sliced bread. FoxMarks allows you to sync your Firefox bookmarks with all of your other Firefox browsers. So you are never without your bookmarks
Thunderbird is the mail client from Mozilla, you can liken it to Microsoft Outlook without the calendar features. It works great as a mail reader and can also be used for RSS feeds. I use it primarily as a central point to access my imap capable web accounts. It works just as good as Outlook for mail management, I have never had a problem with it. If you are looking for a desktop calendar you should checkout Mozilla’s Lightning an extension for Thunderbird which provides calendaring features integrated with your mail client. Both are available for Windows, Linux and Mac
gCal, Google’s calendaring program works great and integrates with your gmail accounts, you can also install plugins which will integrate your Remember The Milk tasks with your calendar. The calendar’s can be shared or kept private and you can create group calendars as well. The program is web based and therefore platform independent.
DropBox Dropbox is an application which allows you to sync a specific set of files between machines. Basically whatever you save to the My Dropbox location will be uploaded to the DropBox servers, if you install dropbox on multiple machines the files will be synced up to all of your PC’s. In addition you can access the files from the internet when you are at a PC which does not belong to you. For free you will get 2GB of storage, if you need more you can buy 50GB for $99 a year. I use this to sync my GNUCash files between my laptop and my desktop, that way I can update my finance information from whichever I am using at the time. Dropbox is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac.
PortableAppsSuite, The portable apps suite allows you to turn your USB drive into a portable office, image editing, server, programming, and productivity safe haven. The majority of the programs I have listed here are available in portable USB format, in addition you get the Portable Apps Launcher and backup software. This way you can always have your important programs with you. You can even install a full Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Perl server directly onto your USB Drive. Possibly to run a local version of WordPress or whatever else your heart desires. I recommend anyone who uses a USB Drive regularly look at installing the suite and trying it out. This is a Windows Only suite of tools.