For those who have not used open source software and would like a definition, click here.
Whether you plan to spend some of your Economic Stimulus payment on a new desktop or laptop computer but don't have a lot to spend on extra goodies, or whether you are a local business trying to find ways to trim expenses on software, the following 15 applications are almost all Open Source. (This means they are constantly being improved and shored up by everyday programmers who believe programs and applications should be freely available to everyone.) All are free to download and/or use. All run on Windows and most also run on Mac and Linux.
Visit your local library to learn what other sites offer free applications or programs for your computer!
1. OpenOffice www.openoffice.org Free office suite with word processing, spreadsheet, draw, slideshow presentation, and database, Exports directly to PDF if desired. Completely compatible with MS Office's Word, Excel, and PowerPoint as well as Starwriter and GoogleDocs.
2. Scribus www.scribus.net Free desktop publishing which allows you to design and print brochures, flyers, etc. Exports directly to PDF. Requires Ghostscript download, which can be tricky (or maybe that was just Lisa that found it tricky!) - visit your library for assistance if needed. You will probably also need GIMP ... .
3. GIMP www.gimp.org Free GNU Image Manipulation Program allows you to edit, layer and manipulate photos and images - just as the name implies. Think along the lines of Photoshop.
4. Paint.net www.getpaint.net Free digital photograph editing software. Makes cropping screenshots and photos a breeze! Saves easily to portable image file formats.
5. Inkscape www.inkscape.org - Open Source graphics editor. Great drawing tools. Fun one for kids to try.
6. Pencil http://www.les-stooges.org/pascal/pencil/ 2D animation software. Allows you to draw, layer - even add a music bed!
7. AutoStitch www.photo-freeware.net/autostitch.php Allows you to "stitch" together several photos into a panorama.
8. Audacity audacity.sourceforge.net Audacity allows you to break down your own music (created or loaded) or other voice audio into sound waves that let you edit down to the slightest hiccup. This is handy for studio musicians, voice-over artists, or anyone who likes to edit their music mixes. Users of SoundForge will find this looks very similar.
9. LilyPond lilypond.org Like to compose your own sheet music? LilyPond is a free, Open Source program which allows you to enter your music information in a language which the program understands and which will give you back elegantly engraved sheet music which can be put into PDF. LilyPond's site offers a ton of help and cheat sheets. If at first it looks too "programmy" to write, I promise you it will soon make sense. After all, if you have already learned the difference between writing a treble clef and a bass clef, this will soon come easily to you, too!
10. Jahshaka jahshaka.org Free Open Source video editing, effects and compositing suite. Improvements are being added all the time. Certainly worth a look for those interested in trying their hands at videography.
11. Blender www.blender.org Free Open Source tool for 3D creation and animation.
12. Songbird getsongbird.com Free desktop media player that finds, collects and stores music. Sort of like a customizable desktop jukebox.
13. SpiralFrog www.spiralfrog.com Free LEGAL music downloads. The site is supported by advertising, and they ask that you re-register every so often. They explain all this on their site. Windows only at this time.
14. InfraRecorder infrarecorder.sourceforge.net Free Open Source CD and DVD burning software. Runs on Windows.
15. Firefox www.mozilla.com/firefox/ Free Open Source browser alternative to Explorer, Safari, Opera, etc. Lots of interesting optional add-ons available.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Beta releases of applications warn you that they might still be working out a few kinks, but the ones we have listed here have stable versions and have been around enough to be considered overall pretty reliable. What are your personal hobby, entertainment, or business application wants and needs? You might be pleasantly surprised by what your local library has available for suggestions!