Robust Software Alternatives For Tough Fiscal Times
Speaking of open source and economic uncertainty…and with all due respect to retail software providers like Adobe and Microsoft…tight finances mean that full-featured application collections such as Office 2007 Professional ($499 MSRP) and Creative Suite 4 Master Collection ($2499 MSRP) vastly exceed the budgetary boundaries of many folks. If you’re among them, consider these more pecuniary-palatable options:
- Office suites (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc): Your timing is good, as OpenOffice v3 was released mid-month and has cultivated impressive download rate statistics…unfortunately accompanied by concerns of developer burnout (an issue which was the crux of last week’s writeup by me) and heavy-handed oversight by corporate overlord Sun Microsystems. Key advancements include default support for OASIS’s ODF (OpenDocument Format) and native compatibility with OS X (X11 no longer required).
- 3D creation: If you’d like to take a stab at replicating the results you saw at a recent CGI-laden Hollywood blockbuster, but your champagne tastes are constrained by a beer budget, give Blender a shot. The program stacks up well against commercial counterparts and was used to create, among other thing, the conceptually obscure but visually stunning Elephants Dream (for the full effect, download and watch a higher-res version):
- Video processing: Blender has some limited video editing capabilities, as does VirtualDub (Windows-only executables, although source code is also available under GPL). Of the various product categories covered in this writeup, video editing is probably the least mature from an open-source standpoint.
- Audio processing: For one- and two-channel source material, Audacity is hard to beat. More elaborate multi-track situations might be better served by Ardour. And although Reaper isn’t open source or free, it is nearly free (especially for non-commercial use), and has an interesting corporate lineage to boot…the founder of Cockos is Justin Frankel, who also developed (among other things) Winamp and SHOUTcast (both sold to AOL), along with the infamous Gnutella peer-to-peer system. Not bad for a 30-year-old who dropped out of the computer science program at the University of Utah after two quarters!
- Still image processing: GIMP has been around for more than a decade, but its cryptic user interface (among other factors) has to date crimped its success potential. Recently-released v2.6 makes welcome improvements in this regard, rendering it a more serious contender to commercial packages such as Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop, along with Apple’s Aperture. Speaking of Adobe, the company has responded to the free-software challenge with a no-cost product of its own, Web-based Photoshop Express.
Got any suggestions for other free (or nearly free) software packages (and no, I’m not interested in copyright-infringing Bittorrent links…)? Let us all know in the comments. Thanks in advance, and have a good weekend, folks!