The free and open-source tools I use the most (that non-Linux users can also use)

After the call for tools, what can you get today?

Free software, as defined by the Free Software Foundation — their office is halfway between old 25 and new 24 — is

means software that respects users’ freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”.

Open-source software is software which has code you can review; no hidden “black box” blobs. These aren’t the same thing, even though one often defends the other, and one kind of software is often the other. (But some defenders of one camp will also pick apart the other with a zeal that might be called religious. We won’t be getting into that here.)

In any case, both free and open-source software (together, FOSS) have defined meanings and a set of defined obligations though a family of licenses, the ramifications of which are not particularly clear to newcomers, thus I am suspicious when a non-software project is described as “free and open source” as fuzzy branding and jargon.

Here are the tools.

  • Firefox. Yes, the browser. You may be using it already, and it has developer tools and add-ons (not necessarily FOSS) I use. 
  • LibreOffice. Word processing, spreadsheet, presentation (a la Power Point) and other tools. Makes PDFs natively. I use it daily at work and home. A fork (offhoot project) of; the development community seems to have sided with it.
  • VLC Media Player. Plays just about anything you can throw at it, including streams and converts between formats.
  • Inkscape. A vector graphics editor, analogous to Adobe Illustrator. It’s what I’ve used to make the flaming nectarine, the double rings and other oddments.
  • KeePassX. Password creator and manager. Can’t live without it.
  • Brackets. An HTML editor, in rapid development. I’ve not created any sites with it — I don’t write sites from scratch anymore — but I have been noodling with it, and looks promising. A proper review when I use it more.

What’s needed across platforms? (Please comment if you know one that’s cross-platform and free and open-source.)

  • PDF reader (though there’s a plugin for Firefox)
  • a good low-distraction text editor (like iA for Mac; I use UberWriter)
  • FTP client (though there’s a plugin for Firefox) Filezilla, see comments.
  • color themer (can use certain web services)
  • photo manager
  • score editor (for that new hymnal)

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


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