Three Open Source Applications Everyone Should Have

09Feb10

The number one reason people stick to what they know is because they don’t know any better. In my last article, I wrote that most people have no clue what alternatives are available in the software world. It’s hard to go out and look for an alternative that works. While there are tons of great resources to start with such as Lifehacker, many find it too tedious to constantly keep up with emerging technology.

Here is a list of what I think are essential open source applications that everyone should have, with the exception of web browsers. The following three recommendations are available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

OpenOffice.org – One of the most troubling things about purchasing a new computer is that it doesn’t come with the tools that most people need to get real work done. By real work, I mean an office suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheets, and a presentation program. By default, we know these commonly as Microsoft Office, a.k.a. Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. These are brand names, yet we associate them almost entirely with what we expect from an office suite because of how ubiquitous they have become, much in the same way we substitute “Google” for “search”.

How much does Microsoft Office costs these days? Last time I checked, it was roughly $400 for the standard edition, give or take some savings here and there at Amazon or wherever you purchase your software. The student edition isn’t as hard on your wallet as the Standard version, costing only around the suggested retail price of $150.

We are so aware of MS Office because that is what the business and education sectors use for the most part. However, alternatives do exist. Sometimes they match MS Office in features or extend beyond what Office provides. You can buy Apple’s iWorks ‘09 for $80, a savings of $70 over the student version of Office, but how does free sound instead? It sounds a lot cheaper, right? I thought as much. However, the $0 price tag shouldn’t come at the cost of functionality.

OpenOffice is a complete MS Office or iWorks replacement and it costs absolutely nothing. You have your word processor (Writer), spreadsheets (Calc) and presentation maker (Impress). It’s lightweight and versatile, offering just about every major feature included in the MS Office suite.

I highly recommend installing it on a netbook if you own one or plan to. Buying a new copy of MS Office just isn’t worth it for a cheap, limited machine.

Download OpenOffice.org here.

VLC Player – Neither Windows Media Player nor Quicktime can match VLC player. Have a video in a format such as .3gp? VLC Player handles that and just about a million other codecs that are equally as unheard of and obscure. VLC Player keeps it simple for the user. It’s a multimedia player that just works. No freezes or hijinks.

In addition to playing back video and music, VLC Player can also encode multimedia from one format to another.

Here’s a list of codecs VLC Player supports:

Audio: MPEG Layer 1/2, MP3 – MPEG Layer 3, AAC – MPEG-4 part 3, Vorbis, AC3 – A/52 (Dolby Digital), E-AC-3 (Dolby Digital Plus), MLP / TrueHD, DTS, WMA 1/2, WMA 3, FLAC, ALAC, Speex, Musepack / MPC, ATRAC 3, Wavpack, Mod (.s3m, .it, .mod), TrueAudio (TTA), APE (Monkey Audio), Real Audio, Real Audio, Alaw/ µlaw, AMR (3GPP), MIDI, LPCM, ADPCM, QCELP, DV Audio, QDM2/QDMC (Quicktime), MACE

Video: MPEG-1/2, DIVX (1/2/3), MPEG-4 ASP, DivX 4/5/6, Xvid, 3ivX D4, H.261, H.263 / H.263i, H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC, Cinepak, Theora, Dirac / VC-2, MJPEG (A/B), WMV 1/2, WMV 3 / WMV-9 / VC-1, Sorenson 1/3 (Quicktime), DV (Digital Video), On2 VP3/VP5/VP6, Indeo Video v3 (IV32), Indeo Video 4/5 (IV41, IV51), Real Video 1/2, Real Video 3/4.

For the full list of features, check out the VLC website.

VLC Player is also customizable. A vast array of user made skins are available to match your personality or mood.

The last great feature of VLC Player is that it is also a streaming solution. VLC can be set up as a server and as a client to send and receive network streams. I haven’t yet set this one up in my house, but I’ve heard a success stories from a bunch of people who have and they say it is very simple.

Download VLC Player here.

Pidgin – Long gone are the days when we had to install an AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) client to chat with our AIM friends here, a MSN Messenger / Windows Live Messenger (MSN/WLM) client for our buddies over there, and separate ones for ICQ, IRC or QQ (if you live in Asia). With Pidgin you can chat with everyone, all within one instant messenger client.

Pidgin lists the clients it supports right out the gate: AIM, ICQ, Google Talk, Jabber/XMPP, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, IRC, Novell GroupWise Messenger, QQ, Lotus Sametime, SILC, SIMPLE, MySpaceIM, and Zephyr.

If you have any other clients that aren’t listed, you can download the plugin and install it. The great thing about Pidgin are the plugins. Spell check, a Twitter updater, Last.fm music tracking, and a converter that translates your message to another language when you hit send are among some of the best ones I’ve installed.

All in all, Pidgin beats having two or more applications installed. Trim it all down to this one that has way more functionality thanks to its customizable nature.

The best part about Pidgin and other open source programs are that, in most cases, many languages are supported so virtually no one is left out.

Download Pidgin here.



One Response to “Three Open Source Applications Everyone Should Have”

  1. awesome post. very interesting. But why can’t i just steal the stuff!!! jk… a netbook sounds good right about now.


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