“Could you Photoshop this picture for me?” ”Professor, can you show me the fifth slide of the PowerPoint? I’m a little confused about the concept.” “Look, I found this wonderful song on iTunes!” You may not notice the extent to which daily life is intertwined with the use of all kinds of proprietary software. However, when you jump out of the mainstream circle of software, you may find another fresh experience—open source software. Justin Russo, the head of the magazine’s web department and experienced technical expert, says “There is basically a free version of anything you can think of.” And truly, programs like Linux, GIMP, OpenOffice and other open source software has started to attract the attention of the public. Here is some useful free software you may want to try.
LibreOffice, whose use you may determine from its name “Office”, is a free and open source suite. It contains the programs Writer, Calc, Impress, Base, and Math that accomplish almost the same functions as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, Access, etc. What’s more, the software has different versions that support various languages such as Chinese, Spanish, and English and fit all kinds of operating systems, like Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. It is even capable of exporting documents that can be used with Microsoft Office, so there isn’t a compatibility problem to worry about.
Another very useful open source software option, and one that is highly recommended by Justin, is VLC Media Player. Although there are plenty of other free media software options, VLC Media Player shows its competitive advantages in supporting files of many formats and total customization. If you are unsatisfied with the limited file formats that Windows Media Player supports or all the restrictions built in iTunes, VLC Media Player can be a good choice.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an alternative to Adobe Photoshop that can do image retouching and various powerful editing. With constant improvement from a volunteer developer group, the functions of GIMP are becoming evermore consummate, which makes it comparable with Photoshop. No matter if you are an amateur or a professional photographer, you can try GIMP as a new experience.
As for operating systems, Linux is gradually stepping out of the pockets of technicians and walking into our classrooms. Among its numerous versions, Ubuntu is the most stable. It can be freely customized in different ways as the user desires. “All Linux distributions are basically based on the think of Linux kernel, which is the main core of the operating system that everything is built on. You can take this free kernel online and build your own operating system out of it. You can take what somebody already built and adapt it to what you want,” says Justin. In addition, all the software running with a Linux system is also free; however, it may take some time to get familiar with the use of the Linux system on account of the operational differences between Linux and other operating systems.
You may be wondering why paid software dominates the market instead of free alternatives that accomplish the same functions. Justin reasons that, “There are people employed to help you use your paid software, and you can trust it. When you’re putting down money for the software, you’re paying for piece of mind that it isn’t malicious, and it is going to work. But when you’re using free software, you must be more careful because open source software is more vulnerable and susceptible to some people’s malice.”
Open source software is developed by those who work on the projects due purely to personal interest without the expectation of monetary reimbursement. For this reason, bugs are more likely to be encountered when using open source software. Additionally with open source software, there is no personnel designated to provide maintenance and support, which makes fixing those bugs a longer process.
Furthermore, there is a very realistic problem in the decision of adopting paid software instead of free software. That is, time and effort versus cost. Justin used building a computer as an example of this point; he explained that if one spends a little time and effort to pay attention to deals online, buys all the parts separately, and then puts them together, a computer can be built with roughly the same quality as the retail computer at half the cost. To find a free alternative or a given software type, you may need to search, research, and familiarize yourself with the operations of alternatives. This takes time and effort which adds cost to the “free” software. Meanwhile, paid software is easily accessible and convenient to use without supposedly having to worrying about stability or performance. This is one of the reasons why proprietary software dominates the market.
However, we can still see the highlights of open source software. First, it can satisfy the basic performance requirements of its users. Second, it can be personalized and customized due to the freedom granted to modify and distribute the source code. Third, it is free, which is an attractive reason for most people.
It’s all about choices, according to Justin’s advice in choosing free or paid software. He says, “If you don’t want to pay anything and you put on some time and effort and a computer, you can get whatever you want for free and it will work just as well.” Open Source as Alternative (OSalt) is a website where you can find alternatives for specific software. However, sticking with mainstream and proprietary software may be a better option for you if you aren’t willing to spend extra energy to search for open source software and get familiar with its operations.