It’s not hard to find computer electronics in any household in this day and age. Desktops, laptops, smart phones, and tablets are used in our daily lives. You are using one right now just reading this article. Unless someone printed you a hard copy and you’re reading this on paper…which would be odd.
The problem with all this hardware is we need software to make it functional. If we want to do word processing, gaming, budgeting and expense tracking, or picture editing, we need software to help us accomplish that task. This software can add additional costs to our budget beyond what we originally spent for the computer (or phone, tablet, etc).
This only gets worse as we have moved along technologically. Originally, you bought a program and could use it for as long as you wanted. After a couple of years down the road, a new version might come out and you could upgrade if you wanted. Or you could simply continue using your original program and be all retro and what not.
Then the time intervals for new software releases started decreasing. A new version for a lot of programs would start making its way out every year. For some software, like tax software, it made sense. They were trying to automate more of the process and tax laws changed every year. Others were just forced to up their release schedule to keep up with their competitors.
In order to keep up with the new demands of frequent updates, most companies had to switch to a yearly license model. Now even after you buy the product, you need to pay an annual fee just to continue to use it. That is the price to continue to receive updates to software that you used to get for free.
Fortunately for us consumers, we have alternatives to help to keep software and its licensing fees from sucking away too much of our hard earned money.
Open Source Software
Open source software kicks off the start of our list and is my starting point when looking to save some money of software programs. Open source is a method of software development where the source code is made available to the public. Anyone who knows programming is free to take the code and tweak and develop it as they see fit.
This lets ideas mature and develop really well because of the massive collaboration that occurs. Instead of just having a dedicated team of developers brainstorming, you have the entire world*. It is hard to beat that amount of collective brainpower.
Now, some of you might be nervous at this idea. If anyone can make changes, doesn’t that leave open the possibility of nasty worms and viruses? Luckily, open source projects usually have a dedicated team that has a vetting process for any changes that are submitted to the main distribution. This lets them look over any newly submitted code for anything suspicious. Other developers also serve as a safeguard since the source code is always available to view and they spend a good amount of time combing through the code looking for bugs to squish.
The best part of open source programs is that they are free. You don’t have to worry about dropping money on the initial purchase or any recurring license fees. You are free to donate money (if you wanted to) to help support the project and keep the servers running. As most of my fellow bloggers know, servers don’t run on good will alone.
Software Products and Open Source Software Alternatives
Now that you have a good idea of what open source is and how it works, what products are available to us. Here are some examples of open source software that are available.
Office Software: Microsoft has been the dominate player in this area and many of us use their office suite in our daily lives. Open Office, Libre Office and Google docs are all alternatives that you can use for free. All of them provide alternatives for Word, Excel, and Power Point.
I have not used Google Docs much but have used both Open Office and Libre Office. They are very similar and have both been more than enough for me to complete my school work. They even can even save files in the Microsoft format so I can transition between them without any headaches.
Budgeting and Finance: If you are looking to keep track of your expenses and want to do so offline, GNU Cash might be a good option for you. It uses double entry book keeping to help you track all your expenses. It also has some small business accounting features as well. While not as robust as Quicken, it can get the job done.
Photo Editing: Photoshop is a great tool to help you spruce up your pictures but it is also crazy expensive. Gimp is a nice alternative that gives you a lot of power to edit photos without the hefty price tag. That nice little micro symbol coin I have is something I created using Gimp.
CAD Drawing: I don’t think anybody wants to pay the price of AutoCAD just to make some woodworking drawings or home renovation schematics. Luckily we can turn to products like Google Sketch Up or LibreCAD to give us what we need without breaking our wallet.
Content Management Systems: If you are not familiar with the term. Content management systems are what web developers use to create and manage their websites. The heavyweights here are Adobe Dreamweaver and Microsoft Publisher. There are other systems out there like Joomla and Drupal that provide an open source alternative for the tech savvy. For others, there is good old WordPress. Yes, all you bloggers out there are making use of open source goodness and might not even realize it.
There are many others for a whole host of products. You can find a comprehensive list of open source software on Wikipedia. I wanted to stick to products I’ve actually used and could give you an honest opinion of. That is all for today. Stay tuned for part 2, which takes place IN SPAAAACCEEEE. Well, not really, unless you count cyber space.
Have you ever used open source software? What are your thoughts on it? What open source programs do you use that you think deserve to be mentioned. Leave your thoughts below.
*Well, at least the coding literate world that chooses to participate.