Windows

Open source is not just for Linux: 14 apps that are great for Windows users

Open source is not just for Linux. Did you know there are plenty of useful software titles for Windows that also happen to be open source? Jack Wallen introduces you to some of the must-have open source Windows solutions.

Recently I had a client that had a need that simply couldn't be fulfilled with proprietary software. Well, that's not exactly true. There were plenty of proprietary titles that could do what she needed done, but none that were at her budget. So I did what any advocate of open source software would do - I introduced her to the world of FOSS. She was amazed that so much software existed that was not only quality, but very cost effective.

That little interaction reminded me that the biggest hurdle open source software faced was not an incompatibility, or lack of solid code - but the lack of recognition. The majority of Windows users out there believe if you want good software you have to pay for it. So I decided to highlight the open source projects out there that run on Windows so you could, in turn, help spread the word by using and promoting these tools to your fellow Windows users.

Now...on to the software.

#1 LibreOffice: This one is, with the exception of the "new name", obvious. If you are looking for the single best replacement for MS Office, look no further than LibreOffice. Yes, it is a fork of OpenOffice, but it forked at version 3.x so it benefited from an already solid code base. This piece of software is a must-have for open source advocates. And don't worry, although it may claim to be in "beta", many users (including myself) are using it in production environments.

#2 Scribus: If you are looking for desktop publishing for creating marketing materials, manuals, books, fliers, etc. - look no further than Scribus. Scribus can do nearly everything its proprietary counterparts can do (such as PageMaker and QuarkXPress) only it does it with a more user-friendly interface and doesn't require nearly the resources the competition begs for.

#3 The GIMP: Need a raster editor? The GIMP is as powerful as Photoshop and costs roughly $700.00 dollars less. And if you're unhappy with The GIMP's current interface, hold off until around March when the new single-windowed interface will arrive. Take a look at how the new UI is evolving at the Gimp Brainstorm.

#4 Inkscape: Inkscape is to vector graphics what The GIMP is to raster graphics. Of course anyone that has worked with vector graphics knows they are not nearly as easy to work with as raster graphics, but Inkscape goes a long way to making that process as easy as it can be.

#5 GnuCash: This is the de facto standard accounting software for Linux. GnuCash is amazing in features, usability, and reliability. I have been using GnuCash for years and have yet to encounter a single problem. It does reporting, double-entry accounting, small business accounting, vendors/customers/jobs, stock/bond/mutual fund accounts, and much more.

#6 VLC: Video Lan is the multimedia player that can play nearly everything. In fact, VLC claims, "It plays everything". I can vouch for that claim. I have yet to find a multimedia format VLC couldn't handle. Ditch Windows Media Player, what with it's crash-prone, resource hog behavior, and migrate to a light-weight, reliable, all-in-one multimedia player.

#7 Firefox: Another open source project that goes without saying. Firefox is quickly helping the "alternative browsers" to usurp the insecure, unreliable IE as the king of browsers. Firefox 4 should be out very soon and it promises more speed and security.

#8 Claws Mail: This is my mail client of choice. Not only is Claws Mail cross-platform, it's also the single fastest graphical mail client available. If you want a mail client that starts up in mere seconds, has plenty of plugins, and can be configured more than any other mail client Claws Mail is your tool. Unfortunately Claws Mail can not connect to an Exchange server, but for all of your POP/IMAP accounts, this is what you need.

#9 VirtualBox: No, not everyone is working with virtual machines, but for those of you who are, make sure you give VirtualBox a go before you dive in and purchase VMWare. VirtualBox has many of the features that VMWare offers but can bring you into the world of virtual machines without the overhead cost of VMWare.

#10 TrueCrypt: This is one of those applications for the paranoid in all of us. If you need encrypted filesystems to safely hide away all of your company secrets, or just your personal information, then you need to try TrueCrypt. TrueCrypt creates a virtual encrypted disk that can be mounted and unmounted only with the configured passphrase. Without that passphrase the data within the filesystem can not be reached. Just make sure you do not forget or lose that passphrase.

#11 Calibre: With the amazing growth of ebooks (Amazon reported 2010 saw 60% of all books sold were ebooks), people need an easier way to manage their collections or convert their files/books to a readable ebook format. Calibre is one of the best tools for this job. I have four ebooks on sale at various ebook resellers (check Smashwords for me) and have used Calibre to help manage the conversion from .rtf format to a usable file.  The only format Calibre has trouble formatting to is PDF.

#12 Audacity: Anyone that needs audio editing software should take a look at this power, open source selection. Audacity will enable you to create podcasts, music, convert audio to various formats, splice files together, change pitch of files, and much more.

#13 PeaZip: Who doesn't have to work with archives? Nearly every PC user has had to unzip a file or create an archive for emailing. Why not do this with an open source tool that can handle nearly every archiving format on the planet?

#14 ClamWin: Why wouldn't you trust an anti-virus solution created by open source developers? You should. ClamWin is a solid antivirus solution and should soon have the real-time antivirus solution completed. If you need an antivirus solution that doesn't drag your machine to a screeching halt during scans or insists of installing add-ons you do not want or need, give ClamWin a try.

I could go on and on with the list of open source software for Windows, but you get the idea. Open source is not just for Linux users. Users of all platforms can benefit from adopting open source titles. Not only will these software solutions save you money immediately, they will save you more and more money over time as you don't have to pay for software support when something goes wrong - just email a developer or hit the forums to find quick and available solutions.

Open source is not ideal for every situation, but you will be surprised how many times you will find an open source solution superior to its proprietary cousins.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

51 comments
martinlatter
martinlatter

Some excellent programs listed. The GREP port to Windows (cmd line) I find indispensable for searching within files. Win XP search is miserable for searching within files, and text editor searches have variable results. GREP is very fast, small (100kB standalone) and convenient for searching directories on the command line. Options can be a little weird, but the following is a start: GREP -dn stringToFind dirName > outputFile.txt

rkoziol7
rkoziol7

Open Source is the future of the whole computer software industry. football odds basketball betting

Understaffed
Understaffed

I've been searching for a good computer-based training app for ages and can't find anything that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. We tried TCExam on our Linux box, but the support for that project seemed to evaporate several years ago, and I haven't seen *anything* open-source in the Windows world...

steyl
steyl

Can we add one more? #15 SUPER ? If you need a simple, yet very efficient tool to convert (encode) or play any Multimedia file, without reading manuals or spending long hours training, then SUPER ? is all you need. It is a Multimedia Encoder and a Multimedia Player, easy-to-use with 1 simple click.

steyl
steyl

# 15 is the best #15 SUPER ? If you need a simple, yet very efficient tool to convert (encode) or play any Multimedia file, without reading manuals or spending long hours training, then SUPER ? is all you need. It is a Multimedia Encoder and a Multimedia Player, easy-to-use with 1 simple click.

ScienceMikey
ScienceMikey

I disagree with your choice of PeaZip--there's nothing really wrong with it, but 7-Zip has one feature that blows PeaZip away. The inclusion of a dual-pane file manager is a useful feature that I use all the time--and the fact that it bypasses Windows Explorer is often quite useful. When Explorer lies to you, 7-Zip tells the truth. Another useful feature is that because it is not dependent on Windows Explorer, 7-Zip works in Command Line Safe Mode and in the "Bart PE" environment.

TNT
TNT

Its a decent list but... For starters LibreOffice is NOT ready for a production environment. I crashed too many times in one week and went back to OpenOffice on my Netbook. Second, Scribus is good but why compare it to PageMaker, which hasn't been around in nearly a decade? Oh, right, because as good as it is it doesn't hold a candle to InDesign. Otherwise a great list. I personally have used 8 of your 14 and found them (mostly) capable. The Gimp really needs a new interface (I kept Photoshop) and I'll look forward to checking out the work being done there.

emenau
emenau

What alternatives are populair replacements for ACAD or Solidworks? Blender exists but i'm not sure if thats the best choice for industrial grade designing. any thoughts?

emenau
emenau

Yes i use OpenSource but only if there is no FREE software available.

readynowbm1999
readynowbm1999

Newbie Here: Is there an Open Source program similar or replacement for MS Acess? Thanks for your responses in advance.

Fravio
Fravio

I can't believe someone is still telling that Firefox is more secure and less reliable than IE 8. It's faster, but it isn't more secure. If you're talking about IE 6 (argh) or IE 7 I agree with you Jack.

gerbilio
gerbilio

"Use the [Open] Source, Luke!"

cliff
cliff

I do a lot of data munging, and so I always have the Win32 ports of helpful Gnu tools, such as sed, grep and awk. My editor of choice is Vim, due to it's powerful regex and text handling abilities. And for anyone who wrangles data, it's hard to live without Perl. I could not imagine doing my job without these invaluable tools.

pgklada
pgklada

your poll is missing one significant answer (that I would use as an answer here): "I use open source when it is better than other options."

bobp
bobp

Although I do mostly computer infection cleanup, setup, tutoring, etc., I have completely re-written a couple of websites for clients. I used Kompozer for the website and GIMP to tweak the graphics files and make buttons. I have used both programs on both Windows XP and Linux Mint. GetLeft is a great open source program for downloading websites for editing.

d_g_l_s
d_g_l_s

I have not tried PeaZip and will have to look at it, but so far have used 7-Zip almost exclusively and love it's ease of use. It works well on all platforms, even though Win 7 compression is easy enough to use.

jamurray
jamurray

I can vouch for Firefox, Thunderbird, FileZilla, OpenOffice, and Audacity. All are solid solutions. I am going to take a look at GnuCash and Scribus. Great list, thanks!

aharper
aharper

Evolution is now available for Windows. Full groupware, and does Exchange.

gczerw
gczerw

I think that it would be more helpful if you direct users to the Scribus Home Page (http://scribus.net/canvas/Scribus) rather than link directly to the SourceForge download link. That way, users would have the benefit of easily getting to the Scribus documentation and wiki as well.

jacobus57
jacobus57

Excellent list, Jack.I just started using GnuCash and found it a little awkward at first, but once I built the reports it was pretty amazing. Firefox has taken a dive of late--buggy, unstable, and a huge resource hog. Let's add FileZilla, a fantastic FTP client; KompoZer, a great WYSIWYG Website creator; Ajax, a solid Flash sub; Ogranizer's Database, which buries Raiser's Edge; and OpenProject as an escape from the hegemony of MS Project! What is this group's favorite FOSS CMS? Do you know of one that allows decent conversion from (gag) ExpressionEngine?

stu
stu

Never used Claws Mail but have used Thunderbird with Exchange using DavMail as the connector, would be interesting to know if that works.

rtibobv
rtibobv

Clamwin has been a solid product, but recently one of the updates annihilated the hard drive on many users systems, including my own. The fix was non-trivial, and in some cases required restoring from backup.

maj37
maj37

On the other hand this is a great list thanks for the info. maj

charlvj
charlvj

Here are three I use all the time on Windows that you have not mentioned: * JEdit - my editor of choice. I have yet to find another editor that enables me to do research into code faster than JEdit. * FreeMind - A Mind Mapping tool. Easy and intuitive. Good stuff. * Cygwin - Because I need bash. :-)

plevin
plevin

KeePass is a dandy password store that's available free on SourceForge. I'm a consultant and, since it doesn't leave any footprint on the operating system, I can use it on any PC I'm assigned. You can keep the database file on a thumb drive on in DropBox, and it's available wherever you want it. I've used it for many years and have NEVER had a failure or data corruption.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

In the beginning, colaborative development and software shared by source code was the norm. Proprietary software is the more recent development. Hopefully we'll see more balance between both development methods; right now, hardware and a few key software developers remain strongly bias against FOSS users.

Jaqui
Jaqui

the web based system. The one I have heard the best about is Moodle complete course content, exams, everything. and it is not only free software, it is open source software. it's all done in php. ugly ui, sadly, but for all intents and purposes the best training software for distributed learning. http://moodle.org/

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Good CBT/LMS software ain't easy to write, and it ain't cheap, either.

SubgeniusD
SubgeniusD

From Wikipedia: :"SUPER (Simplified Universal Player Encoder & Renderer) (officially titled SUPER ?) is closed-source freeware" I'm not an FSF zealot and in fact use quite a bit of plain freeware but that's not what the article is about.

jlwallen
jlwallen

I am using the latest release (.4) and it's quite stable. If you are using the original release you should certainly upgrade.

Jaqui
Jaqui

There is no viable alternative at this time for CAE/CAD use. there is a distro that is focussed on being for CAE specifically. http://www.caelinux.com/CMS/ I have looked at it, very briefly, and as far as a distro goes, it's fairly well done. What hey include for CAE tools are a few different analysis tool kits. nothing for creating the design in the first place. I would say that the only truly viable option would be Inkscape and export the vector graphics drawning as dxf. [ yes, dxf support exists, and vecotr graphics apps can do the actual drawing work for structural design easily ]

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

http://www.linuxalt.com/ " Microsoft Access Kexi ( http://www.koffice.org/kexi/ ) knoda ( http://www.knoda.org ) GNOME-DB ( http://www.gnome-db.org/ ) " I'm not sure how any of the three stack up to Access but they list them as alternatives. Personally, I've found Access well suited to doing quick SQL filters on the local machine or writing database interfaces. In terms of actual data storage, Access is to real databases what MS Paint is to Photoshop. I've heard of a few other apps, most recently it was a slick front end for MySQL databases. The data goes in MySQL and the app provides the "Access" like GUI for creating form, reports and filters. I guess it first depends on what you want to do. What, about Access, do you like and need from a FOSS replacement?

fallout330
fallout330

I have yet to use PeaZip. 7-Zip is a bit familiar, very similar to JZip, which is now my main compression/decompression application.

rbeam
rbeam

I tried evolution on XP,sp/3. Does not work. Repeately crashes. I googled it and the net is full of complaints. The only installer I found for it was from DIP Consultants, and they won't answer my email. Evolution is fantastic on my Ubuntu box, and I'd love to use it on XP, if it would only work. Do any of you have another source for Evolution for Windows?

aharper
aharper

We have used Filezilla for years, and I forgot all about OpenProject, even though it's what we use in production. Great call.

aharper
aharper

Have not had that problem yet. Care to give details?

blarman
blarman

VirtuaWin: http://virtuawin.sourceforge.net/ If you've ever worked with *nix and like the multiple-desktop approach, VirtuaWin can give you what stock Windows can't. Notepad2: http://sourceforge.net/projects/notepad2/ A simple text editor with highlighting, find/replace, etc. Easy to use. Great for SQL, HTML, etc. Greenshot: http://getgreenshot.org/ Screen capture utility. No limit on number of open captures and you can edit them right there. Great for preparing software documentation. Malware Bytes: http://www.malwarebytes.org/ A great malware scanner. Corporate edition available.

cobbgw
cobbgw

I downloaded and installed KeePass, and part of the optimization hung at end of install. Now, I can not uninstall the program through either Ctl pannel, nor through the unins000.exe found in the installed folder. Both methods hang, and can not be killed with task manager. I am not a happy camper.

Keighlar
Keighlar

I use open source when it makes the most sense for me. I use Gimp and Open Office, not because there is no other option, but because the functionality for the price is unbeatable. However, I do not use open source all the time at the drop of a hat just to say that I do. So, yes - I use some open source software... when it makes sense to me to do so. ** EDIT: Sorry Plevin! This was not meant as a response to you. Used the wrong "REPLY" button. =(

TNT
TNT

The last time I used LibreOffice was in October, it was the latest version at that time but am unsure what version number it was.

cobbgw
cobbgw

Thanks for the posts. Eventually deleted the folder and contents of the install, cleaned the registry of all enteries, then did a PC restore from previous day. All seems well now. I will try the portable version as suggested. Your vote of confidence on the product is enough to prompt me to try again. Many thanks.

plevin
plevin

Sorry to hear of your problem. The latest version I've used is Ver 1.16, which is much simpler than later (2.n) versions. I tried those but opted for the simplicity of the tried and true 1.n.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

From years of experience, I've found Keepass to be a solid and reputable program. Perhaps it is a broken installer download? My usual practice is to use the protableapp version but the few full installs under Windows have been fine. If it's a broken install then you should be able to re-run the installer; your basically installing over top to finish off what the first install attempt failed at. Hopefully you can at least get it installed cleanly so you can uninstall it. If it's a broken installer then you'll get the same crash out consistently. In this case, you probably want to try downloading the installer again directly from downloads.com or the keepass website. Re-downloading should give you an unbroken installer that gets past whatever point the first is crashing out at. As mentioned though, I'd look at the portableapp version. It'll give you an introduction to the application. You may find you like it enough to install or find it better to run from a USB stick. Keep the USB with you and you've always got your passwords handy. Make that USB an Ironkey and you have a password vault with self-distruct functions. Hope it works out. If you can provide more details, someone here may have an easy answer.

James-SantaBarbara
James-SantaBarbara

I use Audacity and Gimp but not because there isn't another option.

lmac1947
lmac1947

Open Office is an excellent program unless you have to uninstall it. I tried it and decided to remove it. i used Revo Uninstaller, another excellent freebie, and it found that the program's uninstaller left over 2000,yes,2000 fragments in the registry.

aharper
aharper

This reply comes from a Linux shop... but simply using Open Source as a default is dumb. There is a place for closed source software, and there are some titles which are not comparable. I still miss Visio, even though Dia is out there. Dia has got a long way to go, and while I would love to see it move forward, even merging with Libre Office, I really doubt that will happen. For much of what everyone does, the Open Source development and delivery model is best, but some want exclusivity, a company to yell at, or some sort of assurance they can sue someone, even though the EULA will block that. The bottom line is than anyone who closes doors to a piece of software based upon its development model is like someone who votes straight ticket. Yes, it seems like a good idea, but sometimes you just don't get what you paid for. The true power of any process comes when competing models interact. It keeps everybody more honest than if there was a defacto monopoly. Use what works.

maj37
maj37

I am the same way, I use some open source sofware if it is the right solution but not just to say I do. maj

xarin
xarin

I've been using KeePass with TrueKrypt (I'm not paranoid, I promise!) for a long time and both have worked very well for me.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I really can't say enough for the portableapp format. It is to software what the LiveCD is to bootable OS. If you want to keep your system clean, maybe look at the OpenOffice portableapp. I'm not sure if you get full integration (right click edit with menu and such) but you'll get a more clean install and "uninstall" will mean simply deleting the directory.

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