Anyone who knows me knows that I hate pirating. By pirating I am mostly referring to the practices of using illegal software and downloading illegal music, and only slightly referring to the practice of running around the world on ships looking for loot and treasure while eating eggs and pickles and saying "Aurg matey." In one sense I am equally opposed to both, but seeing as everyone uses software illegally and only a few true pirates still exist, of which I personally know none, I tend to voice my opposition to the former piracy more than the latter.
Even though I hate using illegal software I hate, almost as much, spending a ton of money on software. It annoys me that I should buy two copies of Microsoft Office if I have two computers at home and may occasionally want to use it on each. Some software companies are more generous than Microsoft and they allow you to install your software on multiple computers if you will only be using one at a time. That makes sense to me, but in the end I still have to fork out the money for the software.
Enter Open Source. Open Source is a licensing standard built on the notion that software should be free. Why programmers buy into this idea I'll never know, but being a non-programmer myself I like it. All Open Source code is available to anyone to download and change as long as the software they create is also Open Source. The finished product can be downloaded by anyone and used for anything (unlike Student licensed software that cannot be used for commercial purposes). Since its conception scores of programmers have jumped onto the Open Source band wagon and a lot of great software packages have been developed. Listed here are the few I use on a daily basis.
FireFox is a web browser built on the old Netscape browser code. They tightened it up quite a bit and made it a lot faster. Since it is not made by Microsoft it is not integrated into Windows so it has fewer virus threats than Internet Explorer. In addition, FireFox has a huge user base that writes plugins for it. The two plugins I use most give me the weather report on the bottom of the browser and an icon that I can click that will use Internet Explorer to browse if a page isn't setup for FireFox. There are plugins for everything and they work great.
ThunderBird is made by the same people as FireFox. It is an e-mail client like Microsoft Outlook. I have it setup to check my three different e-mail accounts (including my yahoo and hotmail accounts - this is done through a user generated plugin) and it keeps track of all the blogs I read. As soon as I get an e-mail, or a blog I watch gets a new post, I get a message from Thunderbird (also enabled through a user created plugin) that alerts me. It works perfect.
Gimp is designed to rival Photoshop. Since the digital photo market is developing so quickly right now I must admit that Gimp is probably about 2 years behind. Even still it can open and save Photoshop files and it has all the basic and many of the advanced tools that have made Photoshop the standard. It is a little tricky to learn, but then again so is Photoshop. It is designed to be a professional photo editor so it is high on power and speed, but low on user friendliness. It has two major shortfalls. The first is that it cannot open the RAW files from professional cameras. This has been alleviated by a programmer who made the UFRaw utility. This is like a plugin (it can also stand alone) to Gimp and it can open all the standard RAW formats. This has helped me put off Photoshop for at least another 6 months. The second problem is that it only works in 32bit color and everything now is in 64bit (I think - maybe it only works in 16 and everything is now 32). I don't know what kinds of problems this creates, I suspect it just doesn't have the full range of color. I have used Gimp since college and it can still do everything I need.
NVU is a web page creator. It is not as powerful as Dreamweaver, it is more like Microsoft FrontPage. It builds basic web sites intuitively without any knowledge of html. When I was writing a help file for my last job I used this program for everything. NVU and Gimp together give you everything you need to create a web site and images from scratch.
WordPress is one of a host of Open Source web utilities. It is the program that generates and upkeeps this blog. It has a lot of features and, like everything open source, tons of great plugins. The way the comments post on my page was setup using a plugin. I think that web tools are the strongest open source category. I have seen Open Source programs successfully used (by myself or people I know) to build a web shop, a discussion forum and, as I said, this blog.
Open Office was originally Star Office Suite by Sun Microsystems. I suspect they could not compete with Microsoft Office so they went open source. What that means for us is an entire Office Suite for free. They have been continually updating it and adding features so it can still do everything you would typically use Word, PowerPoint, Access, or Excel to do. It can open and save all the Microsoft formats so you do not lose the ability to send and receive files from the unconverted. Since this was originally a consumer product it has a great help file and it has been very stable for me. They just released Open Office 2.1 this year and it has all the features I was looking for that almost tempted me to upgrade my Office 97 to Office XP. Since it is free I have it installed on everything I own so I can easily transfer files between all my computers and work wherever I want.
If you are using pirated software give these a try, especially Open Office. They are better for your wallet and your soul.