An Introduction to Free Software – part II
In my previous article, I tried to explain some of the basics about free software. The short version is this: Free software are applications created by communities of programmers around the world which usually give it away for free to help people work (or study or whatever) with security and without needing to pay for software.
In this article, I am going to introduce you to some of the most popular software applications around the world, so you can take a look and get more familiar with them.
Are you used to chat using your browser? I mean, while you are on your Gmail or Facebook account? Then you need to take a look at Pidgin. It allows you to connect to almost every chat protocol out there, including Facebook and WhatsApp (the latter through a plug-in). It also allows you to protect your chats with something called the Off The Record plugin. I will write about that in the future.
Are you a Skype lover? Free software offers one great alternative to Skype for video-conferencing and Internet calls. It is called a SIP account (SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol —yes, I know it sounds technical, but you don’t need to be a technician to just use one!) First you get a SIP account on websites like Ostel or LinPhone; and once you configure it in your computer (use Jitsi or LinPhone for this) with your user name and password, you are ready to go!
Note that SIP telephony is not compatible with Skype, but on the bright side, it is 100% private, unlike Skype!
Now and then someone will send us a document in Portable Document Format (or PDF, for short). While Acrobat Reader is free, it is huge too! Try Sumatra: a free, small, to-the-point PDF viewer instead.
Music and videos are part of everybody’s life, so we all need a software which just opens everything… even YouTube videos! Well, VLC is the free software application that does that. You can download it here. And remember, FLAC music has better quality than any MP3 (more about that in future articles).
To study or work
Microsotf’s Office is a sort of de facto standard for students and office professionals alike, but it has two major drawbacks: its cost (US$ 70 a year for the cheapest version!) and its compatibility. Yes, if you use Microsoft’s Office suite, you may have a software most people use, but definitely not a computer file everyone can read or edit properly. That’s the ugly side of proprietary software: you need the same software somewhere else to edit the original.
Free software solves this with a few alternatives: the most popular are LibreOffice, OpenOffice and the Calligra Suite. They not only use an international file standard (Open Document files —an ISO standard) which makes their results more compatible worldwide, but they provide a few interesting innovations too. Take a look at them, you may end up switching like I did.
Have you got some graphic stuff to do? Choose your poison here, amigo. Free software offers you the following to unleash and explode your creativity:
- GIMP and Krita as Photoshop replacements
- Inkscape as Corel’s Draw or Adobe’s Illustrator replacement
- Synfig Studio as a Flash replacement
- Blender as a replacement for Premiere or After Effects
- Scribus as a replacement for InDesign
Doing your maths, you may end up saving over US$1000 by switching to free software alternatives. How does that sound?
Speaking about savings, free software also offers solutions for those who want to control their money in personal and professional environments. They are called kMyMoney and GNUcash. I use kMyMoney at home and —let me tell you— after a month or two writing down all your expenses cent after cent, you will clearly notice how you are spending (and wasting!) money, and thus take measures about it. It is highly recommended.
Well, with this you certainly have a good starting point to begin exploring free software and what it can do for you. If you like the applications, you can start using them little by little until finally switching when you feel ready to do so. No one says you can’t have MS Word and LibreOffice Writer in the same PC, so keep both if you feel happy with that. Remember free software is about freedom, after all. You choose.