Jim's Open Source Software Pages

Free yourself from commercial software

FOSS for Windows

The best way to introduce yourself to free, open source software (FOSS) might be in stages. Many of the essential FOSS applications are available not only for Ubuntu, but also for Windows, allowing you to compare FOSS and its commercial counterparts side-by-side before making any drastic changes.

A good starting point is to try the Firefox Web browser and the Thunderbird e-mail client, both from Mozilla. Another popular free-to-use browser is Chrome, from Google. although it is not true FOSS, because it uses proprietary media tools. (Should you choose to go with Ubuntu, you can use Chromium, the true FOSS variant of Chrome.) Of the two browsers, Firefox has more add-ons available, while Chrome is a more natural fit if you're going to use the many free Google utilities.

Thunderbird includes an address book function and an add-on for calendar and task management, although it's not the equal of Microsoft Outlook. So far, FOSS for Windows doesn't have a real competitor for Outlook.

A FOSS office suite for (almost) everyone

LibreOffice opening screen
LibreOffice opening screen
LibreOffice Writer
LibreOffice writer

Another essential application is a good office suite. My choice is LibreOffice. It's a well-integrated suite that includes applications for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations that will open all your Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files and save to those file formats. That means you can exchange documents with your contacts who want to stick with commercial software.

Switching to LibreOffice isn't as easy for users of Microsoft Access. FOSS database applications are not cross-compatible with Access; the only solution is to export/import data tables and recreate queries and forms. If you're willing to put in the work, LIbreOffice Base is a true relational database application that integrates smoothly with the other LibreOffice components.

LibreOffice Draw is an excellent general-purpose drawing program that exports to nearly every graphics file format you can think of. Draw is more versatile than Microsoft Paint. That's just as well, since Paint is being discontinued.

Graphics and media player alternatives

If your graphics requirements go beyond general purpose, you can install GIMP, a raster graphics alternative to Photoshop, Inkscape, a vector graphics alternative to Illustrator, and Scribus, a desktop publishing alternative to InDesign. Their user interfaces aren't as pretty as those of their Adobe counterparts, but they get the job done. To make your computer Adobe-free, Ubuntu includes Evince, a FOSS document reader, to replace Adobe Reader for PDF files.

To play media, install the VLC media player for files, discs, webcams, devices, and streams.

That's probably more than enough to begin your comparison of FOSS and commercial software. If you want to take it further, a search of the Internet will turn up FOSS applications to help you with a wide variety of tasks.

Please send questions or comments to jim@jimgreene.com

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