I recently bought a netbook, after not having a portable computer for a few months. It came pre-installed with Windows 7, which doesn’t usually matter to me because I like to replace the native OS with Ubuntu or another Linux-variation. This time I decided to keep Windows on it because there are a few things I want to do that require either Win or Mac OS, like using iTunes or streaming videos with Netflix. Nothing vital to my existence but I’d like to be able to watch free movies legally or update my iPhone now and then.
However, my desktop computer runs Ubuntu. What’s the problem? Well if I want to be able to take files back and forth, it helps to have the same programs on both. Luckily there are free open-source options which run on Ubuntu and Windows.
Before I started installing new software on my netbook, I went through and got rid of things I knew I wouldn’t need. It’s better to start with a clean slate, I think. First I deleted the desktop icons for programs I wouldn’t be using, like the Ebay shortcut, and the one for Norton Anti-Virus. While that second one may seem important, it’s connected to a program which is only free for a trial period, so I had no intention of keeping it. Once the desktop was cleared, I used Windows’ “Uninstall Software” function to remove anything I didn’t want. With Win it’s better to work within the framework of the operating system whenever you can. I also deleted the trial software for Microsoft Office; I wouldn’t be using that either.
Wait! You’re probably shouting. How can we live without Office? We need it for document and spreadsheets and things. Fear not, there is another way.
LibreOffice is my favorite free office software. It creates all of the same document types as Windows office, including .doc files, Excel-style spreadsheets, multimedia presentations, and even includes an Access-like database. It will Track Changes (so important for editing), and even lets you create PDFs. The software is open-source, which means it’s frequently beta-tested and updated by the people who are actually using it every day, not employees of a company looking to sell you the next version.
If you’re interested in making your own hacks, you can! It’s a public license, so if you can think of a way to make it better, there’s no copyright telling you not to try. And while there is a built-in help feature, like you get with most software, LibreOffice goes well beyond that to offer all kinds of help through their website including mailing lists, forums, IRQ channels, and a user-built Wiki.
What else did I install?
VLC – Easily the best free multi-media player. From the website:
- Plays everything: Files, Discs, Webcams, Devices and Streams.
- Plays most codecs with no codec packs needed: MPEG-2, DivX, H.264, MKV, WebM, WMV, MP3…
- Runs on all platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Unix…
- Completely Free, 0 spyware, 0 ads and no user tracking.
- Can do media conversion and streaming.
I can tell you that it does indeed do all of those things, and very well. It’s simple to use, and includes the ability to adjust video, sound, and playback to suit your needs. You can download free skins if you want to change the look of your player. Like LibreOffice, VLC also has a full support center.
GIMP is excellent open-source image manipulation software (think Photoshop, but free). Enhance your photos, create digital drawings, and create custom interfaces to give you only the tools you need for the job you’re doing. Exports to standard image formats such as TIFF, JPG, GIF and more.
It includes support for common art hardware, like drawing tablets and USB controllers. Plus it has great little tricks built in to make your life simpler. My favorite? Save a file with a .zip extension and GIMP will automatically compress it for you. It may not replace your top-of-the-line professional software if you’re a working artist – it’s missing a few things like Pantone swatches or native support for CMYK – but for anyone who wants a good free alternative and doesn’t need to go pro, GIMP will work for you. (If you do need a more advanced illustrator program, check out Inkscape, an open-source vector drawing program.)
Scribus brings desktop publishing into the land of the free. It will create high quality, publisher-ready PDFs, and includes “color separations, CMYK and Spot Color support, and ICC color management”. I’m currently adapting my publishing process to include Scribus, and I think this will result in my being able to create an even better product.
Before you spend money on your next software purchase, do a quick Internet search to see if there’s a free version that will work for you. Whether you use your computer for blogging, gaming, podcasting, self-publishing, writing, drawing, or tracking your finances, there is great software available that won’t cost you a thing.
Note: all of these programs have Mac, Linux and other versions as well.