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7 MORE Open-Source Alternatives to Proprietary Software: Desktop Applications

Articles in Computer Software | By Louis J. V. Cicalese

Published 6 months agoWed, 08 May 2019 17:49:15 -0700 | Last update 6 months agoTue, 14 May 2019 10:43:19 -0700

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We all know about the best open-source software that can be hosted online, but what about the best free and open-source desktop applications? Here’s a breakdown of free programs that allow you to create and edit documents, images, text, 3D graphics, and more, and how they compare to their analogous proprietary applications.  

GIMP (vs Photoshop)

GIMP is a raster graphics editing software similar to Adobe Photoshop. It allows for free-form drawing, the editing and manipulation of photos, and converting files to other formats. Most people agree that Photoshop is more powerful and offers more precise pixel manipulation than GIMP, but this distinction is only really important if you are editing photographs or other images professionally. For most purposes, GIMP is just as good and has several advantages over Photoshop.

The first benefit that GIMP offers is that it is, of course, free to download. While a great piece of software, Photoshop costs $9.99 per month (or more, depending on if you buy it as part of Creative Cloud) and, as mentioned, GIMP is just as good in almost every situation.

Although GIMP is less powerful, the benefit of this is that it’s also a much smaller program. If having sufficient memory on your PC is a concern, GIMP takes up a lot less space. The toolbar and workspace in GIMP are also very customizable.

For more information on the differences between GIMP and Photoshop, follow this link. If you want to know how to build cool infographics using GIMP, check out this guide.

Inkscape (vs Illustrator)

Whereas GIMP is great for editing raster graphics, Inkscape is a nice open-source editor for vector graphics. Although it has some limitations, for many purposes Inkscape can serve as a worthy alternative for Adobe Illustrator.

Inkscape uses scalable vector graphics (SVG) as its primary file format but is compatible with other formats as well. It has many different drawing tools and text tools, and overall is a good substitute for Illustrator. Since it is free to download, Inkscape is clearly the more economical choice of the two.

Despite Inkscape’s many benefits, Illustrator does have more features and is the industry standard for a good reason. One downside of Inkscape is that it cannot output files in CYMK color profiles, which is bad if you are designing something for print. Additionally, some basic tasks on Inkscape can be oddly unintuitive.

Although it might be worth it to invest in Illustrator for consistent professional use, Inkscape has everything you need for any personal projects.

LibreOffice (vs Microsoft Office)

A free and open-source alternative to the Microsoft Office family of programs, the LibreOffice suite consists of the following:

  • Writer - A word processor (similar to MS Word).
  • Calc - A spreadsheet app (Excel).
  • Impress - A presentation program (PowerPoint).
  • Draw - A vector editor (Visio)
  • Math - Can be used for creating mathematical formulas which can then be incorporated into other programs in the suite, such as Writer or Calc.
  • Base - A database management program (similar to Microsoft Access).

LibreOffice is the successor to OpenOffice, and improves on it with its superior support for MS Office file formats, such as DOCX and XLSX. Depending on the version you buy, Microsoft Office 2019 costs anywhere from $69.99 to $439.99 per year, while LibreOffice is completely free, and available on all major operating systems.

One occasional issue with Writer is that it doesn't scale super well for larger or more complicated documents and tends to lag. Some of the other LibreOffice apps may have similar bugs. You've been warned! 

Vim (vs Notepad or whatever)

Notepad is fine as a text editor if you just want to jot down a few notes and the open source Notepad++ is a nice unofficial successor to it that retains its barebones nature while adding some useful features (but is unfortunately only available for Windows).

There are other good open source text editors (such as Gedit), but the one that stands above all others is Vim, which can be downloaded here. Released in 1991, Vim is so good that it is still considered one of the best text editors out there.

Vim is available on all major platforms, and really shines when it comes to its brilliant keyboard-driven efficiency that means you don’t have to waste precious seconds reaching for your mouse. It has tons of built-in shortcuts, and you can customize your own as well. Vim has a bit of a learning curve, but the end results are well worth it.

Where other text editors walk, Vim sprints. Where other editors hop along, Vim soars. If you want to learn more from a guy who really loves Vim, check out the articles here and here.

As an honorable mention, Brackets is a text editor made specifically for web developers. It has a lot of useful features and shortcuts, as well as a simple user interface that makes it easy for beginners to pick up. The open source code for Brackets can be found here.

SumatraPDF (vs Adobe Acrobat)

It is difficult to find a FOSS PDF editor as robust as Adobe Acrobat. While very good free alternatives, applications such as PDF-XChange Editor and Foxit PhantomPDF are not open-source.

If you want to go with a truly open-source option, your best bet is probably SumatraPDF. It’s a very fast and lightweight application that supports tabbed documents and lots of keyboard shortcuts. It’s also capable of opening many more types of files than just PDFs, including Open XML, DjVu, XPS, CHM, ePub and Mobi (ebook formats), and CBZ and CBR (formats for comic books). The GitHub download page for SumatraPDF can be found here.

The major downside of Sumatra is that it is really only a document viewer, and lacks the sophisticated tools and features for editing PDFs, so it is not truly a substitute for Adobe Acrobat (or the free proprietary software mentioned above). It’s also only available for Windows. However, if you for whatever reason need an app for opening and reading lots of obscure file types, SumatraPDF might be the right one.

If you want to learn about PDFs and why fonts are tricky, watch this video:

BitWarden (vs LastPass)

Although many people haven’t started using them, password managers are an invaluable tool for people who don’t want to have every one of their accounts broken into.

Dr. Mike Pound on the subject of password managers:

LastPass is probably the most popular password manager progress and, ranging from $0 to $6 per month depending on the plan, is fairly affordable. While LastPass is a fairly good service, the FOSS alternative BitWarden works just as well or better.

BitWarden is lighter, smoother, and has a cleaner interface than LastPass, while still having all the features you need. It has a free version, but you can also buy a paid version. Because it is open-source it is easy to review BitWarden’s security.    

Bonus: Mike Pound videos discussing cracking passwords and choosing good passwords.

Blender (vs Autodesk Maya)

Autodesk produces some phenomenal applications for producing 3D animation, including Maya, but they are also hella expensive. Blender, on the other hand, is free and open source just like every other goddamn item on this list. While less powerful in some ways than Maya, Blender is the perfect tool for start-ups and amateurs who need access to quality animation software.

Blender can be intimidating to learn at first but is fully capable of producing photorealistic renders and complex models. Its quality speaks for itself, as it has been used to create plenty of professional grade animations. It can even be used to render the pengwings from Madagascar:

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Louis Cicalese is a person who has written about the hacker known as 4chan, the hacker known as 2channel 5channel, lesser-known search engines, CSS color namesLeeroy Jenkins, hiring Kermit the Frog impersonators and various other topics.


Account created 11 months ago.
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