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.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....