Open Source and other Free
This is an annotated list
of some open source or free software which I have found useful.
(I'm using Fedora 10) is one of several versions of Linux which can be
downloaded from the Internet at no charge. I have been using this for
years (since Fedora Core 1) and have had very few problems.
For those who want a simple, compact and efficient Linux environment, Ubuntu is worth a look. It comes with the Firefox browser, Evolution e-mail, OpenOffice, and much more.
There are many other popular distributions of Linux as well, including openSuse and Knoppix.
If you need to run Linux programs under Windows, andLinux provides a version of Ubuntu running under the coLinux kernel.
Conversely, if you need to run Windows programs under Linux or Mac OS-X, try Wine.
It simulates every version of Windows from 3.1 to Vista, but not every
program will run under Wine. I use it mainly to run Google
Sketchup on Linux.
Now that disk drives store hundreds or even thousands of gigabytes, it can be a challenge
to find something you wrote last month or last year. Google Desktop
changes all that, and it's now available for Windows, Mac, and
Linux. Desktop will index all your files and e-mails so that you
can locate items with any name or any content within seconds.
The Windows version also includes a toolbar with many handy widgets
("Gadgets"), but the Linux version just has a Quick Search Box which
appears when a hotkey combination is pressed. The default hotkey
is Ctrl+Ctrl, meaning that you press the Ctrl key twice (sort of a
double-click). If necessary, you can easily change it to some
combination of simultaneous key presses (such as Ctrl+`).
Google Desktop works best if you have a moderately fast machine (above
1 GHz) and plenty of free disk space to store the index files. It
takes a few hours to complete the initial indexing, but after that Desktop
incrementally indexes your files.
Home Office Software
Open Office does word processing,
spreadsheets, presentations and more. I have used this for
and find that its native files are very compact. However, it
also read and write files compatible with other popular office
programs (even the dread .docx format), and
can output PDF files as well. Available for Linux, Windows
Mac; a commercially supported and slightly fancier version for Windows and Linux is available as Star
Web Page Design
After using Mozilla Composer (now part of Mozilla Seamonkey) for several years, I am now using KompoZer which is a
newer Mozilla-based tool. KompoZer is available for Linux,
Mac. If you can use a word processor, you can Kompozer. It produces very clean HTML code that works
recommend building web pages with
Open Office (or worse yet with Microsoft Office) because the resulting
difficult to maintain.
There are many programs which automatically build photo
galleries for the web. I use Album from Dave's Marginal
Hacks. This is a Perl script which can be run under
Unix, Linux, Windows, Mac, and probably other systems as well.
Any e-mail address displayed in plain text on a web site is
start receiving "spam". There are several ways to protect
that. Although this site still uses Email Protector, I'm switching over to reCAPTCHA. The idea in both cases is to encrypt the actual address, and reCAPTCHA adds a mini-Turing test to filter out bots.
Last but not least, web pages need quality control.
I use the free online W3C
Markup Validation Service
to check the HTML and the links on each page. That avoids bad
surprises, such as a page that works only with certain
Note however that the W3C link checker will flag Email Protector's
encrypted links as invalid. I've had no trouble with the
practice, since the image file shows humans what address to use.
(GNU Image Manipulation
Program) is a sophisticated program for drawing, editing, and
transforming bitmap images; it is comparable to Adobe Photoshop
During the years I've used Gimp, it has constantly improved, with the
addition of features such as forward and reverse perspective
tranformations and increasingly powerful color adjustments.
When I wanted create a 3-D model of a
now demolished Victorian house,
POV-Ray was the answer. Others have produced far more complex
realistic images, some of which can be seen on the POV-Ray home
page. Versions are available for Linux, Windows, and Mac.
If you need to solve systems of equations, invert matrices,
integrate, differentiate, or run complex mathematical models, Octave or Maxima
might be just what you need. Octave resembles Matlab and is
primarily directed at finding numerical solutions, while Maxima is more
like Mathmatica, with strong symbolic math
capabilities (though it will provide numerical solutions as
well). I've only recently begun to use these, but the
possibilities look intriguing. Octave is available for Linux,
Windows, and Mac, while Maxima is available for Linux and
Windows. (Maxima is written in Common Lisp, so it should be
readily portable to other architectures.)
Telescope magazine's web site has an extensive list of free,
shareware, and open source software for astronomy.
Last updated May 16, 2009