Open Source

Published in April 2003

Open Source software has long been ignored by the public as the preserve of geeks and those with too much time on their hands. However, with large corporations now switching to open-source alternatives, people are re-assessing whether or not they want to pay hundreds of euros for one software license. Anthony Mc Guinness, Voice Technology Correspondent, explains the open source ideology and gives alternatives to popular programs that can be downloaded for free.

What is Open Source Software?
The idea behind open source is that applications are developed by an unlimited set of developers and distributed for free. For example, with Microsoft Windows, there is a core team of programmers for each component. I cannot come along and obtain that code because Microsoft owns it. With an open source alternative, I can download the source code of the program, work on it and then give my version back to the development community. It’s this sense of fostered community, which sets open source apart. In fact the ideology is nothing new. Open source applications have been around for years, ever since Unix was developed in 1969, but up until now have seen little or no use in the public domain due to their lack of user friendliness. These hurdles have been overcome though and open source is now a viable alternative for any business or individual.

One thing you don’t get with Open Source software is a warranty or tech support line to ring if anything goes wrong. You do however, have a lot of experienced users and developers, who often run message boards where you can detail a problem and get an answer pretty quickly. Errors within most Open Source programs are rare due to testing periods and early versions. Even those that appear are normally dealt with in a matter of weeks instead of months or years when dealing with large software vendors.

Operating Systems

Instead of Microsoft Windows use Linux

Linux is an open source operating system that was developed initially by a student named Linus Torvalds. Today Linux is used in millions of servers’ worldwide and is gradually being introduced to the desktop environment. Linux comes in many guises called “distributions?, with most of them being completely free for download. Probably the most famous distribution is that of Red Hat Linux. You can buy the suite of CDs from Red Hat, which entitles you to technical support, or you can download the majority of the components at their site (this is quite a large download though so you’d be advised to use a broadband connection). The many variant distributions can be linked up to graphical front-ends which look and feels a lot like Microsoft Windows. The main incentive to use Linux is its stability but some drivers and software are yet to be ported for the OS. The future is definitely bright for Linux though.

Size: Approx 3.2 Gigabytes

Office Software

Instead of Microsoft Office get includes the key desktop applications, such as a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager, and drawing program, with a user interface and feature set similar to other office suites. The killer feature with is that you can open and save to Microsoft Word file formats. This allows you to switch from Office with relative ease as documents you have saved before can be opened with the new package. It’s also available in 25 languages with more being constantly added by the community. Two components missing from the suite are a database program and an outlook-style email program. However, work is ongoing at the Open Source Applications Foundation ( on a program to better Microsoft’s Outlook so keep an eye out for that.

Platforms: Windows, Linux, Linux PPC, Solaris (S) , Mac OS X (Final Beta for Darwin, X11)
Size: 51.4 MB

Word Processor

Instead of Microsoft Word use AbiWord

If you’re not too keen on downloading the whole package but still want to take advantage of an Open Source alternative then why not use AbiWord? The AbiWord project began as a desire to create a stable, feature-savvy word processor unbound by a single platform or proprietary file formats. AbiWord’s feature set includes almost everything you’d expect in a modern word processor including: a familiar interface, Word file import and export and unlimited undo and redo capacity. One of its best features however is the fact that any document saved with AbiWord is written in plainly readable text, making it possible to use any text editor to view AbiWord documents. This means that users are free from depending on a single program and can switch around easily.

Platforms: Windows (all versions), Linux, Windows, BeOS, QNX, and GNOME.
Size: 3.9 Mb
Version: 1.0.5


Instead of Microsoft Internet Explorer use Mozilla

Internet Explorer currently holds the lion’s share when it comes to browser stats with its only serious opposition, Netscape Navigator, having trailed off in recent years. With Microsoft seemingly content to release minor bug fixes and tweaks for Internet Explorer, the door was open for a serious competitor to enter the fray. Hence Mozilla was born. Mozilla pushes the boat out when it comes to handy features and looks. A pop-up ad killer along with tabbed browsing has seen Mozilla make a substantial impact in the past year. You can alter the look of the browser with free themes that are widely available on the net. It also imports your Internet Explorer favourites without any extra configuration. Definitely work a look.

Platforms: Microsoft Windows (95,98,ME,NT,2000,XP), Mac OS X, Linux x86
Size: 12Mb
Version: 1.3

Media Player

Instead of Windows Media Player 9 use Zinf

Zinf audio player is a simple, but powerful audio player for both Linux and Windows. It supports MP3, Ogg/Vorbis, WAV and Audio CD playback, with a powerful music browser, theme support and a download manager. You can change the look of Zinf using themes downloaded from the site and the player looks a lot like Winamp. While Zinf doesn’t have the advanced features of Windows Media Player such as DVD playback and recording capabilities it does have all the basics you need from an audio player plus its feature list is growing all the time with continued development.

Platforms: Windows and Linux.
Size: 1.7Mb
Version: 2.2.1

Photo Manipulation

Instead of Adobe Photoshop use the GIMP

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. The GIMP has many uses such as a simple paint program, a expert quality photo retouching program, a image format converter, etc. It isn’t as pretty as Adobe’s graphics heavyweight but it does offer a lot of the functionality for free. It’s also highly extensible so you can plug extra modules into it if required. Whereas Photoshop has an established user base of print-houses and graphic artists, the GIMP is gradually starting to gain acceptance as a serious tool for both individuals and the industry.

Platforms: Windows, Linux, OS/2 (under development) and Mac OS X.
Size: 7.8Mb
Version: 1.0

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