“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” - Isaac Newton
The idea of isolated creation is vanishing. In its place, a collaborative Internet-linked world takes shape. This is good news. The more people are allowed to participate, the better humankind's creations will become, and the greater and more numerous our resources will be.
The so-called Web 2.0 played an important role on collaboration. Open source software, however, is to me one of the most interesting creations that this new world has come up with. Program packages created, bug-fixed and maintained by people, for people. Free, and very often more efficient that their commercial counterparts. Here is a brief list with some of my favorites, all of which I use or have used in the past.
- OPEN OFFICE: Yes, it is like Microsoft Office. Spreadsheets, its own version of the popular Word, databases, ... Some options may be in a different place, but everything is there. And if it is not, it probably will be in the next release. You would have to wait longer (and certainly pay) for Microsoft to update their package.
- GIMP: For all your image manipulation and digital retouching needs. Much like the popular Photoshop.
- INKSCAPE: For those more into vector graphics, here is the alternative to Freehand, Illustrator or CorelDraw.
- BLENDER: Excellent 3D package, just as 3D max, Softimage, Maya, etc.
- CLAMWIN: Scans your computer for viruses, just as Norton or Panda would. Only, more discreetly and without Panda's spooky voices talking to you all the time.
- AUDACITY: A great simple-looking yet powerful sound editor.
I even, not long ago, found a way of finally writing a script without having to worry about the format at all, celtx. Of course, I use it now.
All I can say is that if any of these fall within your area of interest, you HAVE to try them. If not, well, why don't you try to run a search for “open source” for whatever your interest are? Why not? You might be surprised. Have a taste of open-source software, at least. In most cases, it's a most rewarding experience of discovery. In the unlikely case that you don't enjoy it, well, you can always go back to the old conception of “paying for your software must mean that it is better software”.
I am so happy to be living this technological revolution.
By the way, if you want to understand better how open source software develops, or if the consequences really are the fall of empires like Microsoft's, I would recommend a fascinating book called Wikinomics (of which, not surprisingly, a wiki, editable version of is available on-line too).