As part of my day-job, I provide support and training to a number of non-profit organisations. Because almost all of them face great challenges in their budgets, I’ve taken to delivering Open Source Software seminars and giving out copies of TheOpenCD (which is only for Windows), along with a little report on OSS I wrote detailing the philosophy behind the movement and mini-reviews of the most popular applications.
The latest issue of MacAddict has a small section on OSS, but it occurred to me that I’ve not seen anything like TheOpenCD but for Mac OS X. It really is a shame, seeing there’s so much quality software out there that runs perfectly well on the platform (owing much, no doubt, to the Unix roots of most OSS allowing easy porting to OS X). So I started wondering, if I were compiling the Ultimate OS X Open Source CD, what would I put on it?
Because of the availability of so many applications, it’s hard to make a “one size fits all” CD-ROM, so like TheOpenCD, it must be a sampler, the best or most popular of certain common categories. Since most people wouldn’t have the need or expertise to use server-side applications, I’d concentrate only on client-side programs. Plus, since the object is to place this gear on a stand-alone CD-ROM for easy installation, I wouldn’t include excellent Fink-based applications like GnuCash or Scribus, which need a network connection and a nerd’s touch. With those caveats, here’s the CD-ROM that I would create.
- Mozilla Suite: This Internet mega-suite includes a great browser, a full-features mail and news application, an HTML composer, an address book, an IRC chat client, and more. Even though it’s a bit of a beast, it still runs at a nice clip on my 5-year-old G3 Powerbook Pismo. Secure, powerful, extensible. Stay away from the Netscape Suite: they essentially take an older (and buggier) version of Mozilla, slap AOL logos and unneccessary gear on it, and release it to the populace as a familiar brand.
- Mozilla Firefox: Unless you’ve been walled up inside an Appalachian shanty with no access to technology news for the past few months, this app should need no introduction. Broken off from the main branch of the Mozilla suite, this is a slimmed-down, flexible, highly-secure, kick-ass web browser that has hundreds of extensions available and that offers tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, NO Active X controls (that’s a good thing), live RSS feeds, and excellent bookmark management features. That’s not even mentioning all the high-end power user goodies.
- Camino: A super-Aquafied browser that provides some healthy competition to Firefox. Ironically, it also uses Mozilla’s Gecko engine, and is found at the Mozilla site. Some differences: a streamlined bookmark editor; a more simplistic interface and preferences; more Aqua “widgets” for a consistent look and feel; and integration with the OS X Address Book, Rendezvous and Keychain. Downsides include the inability to use Firefox extensions (or, at least, the last time I looked).
- Mozilla Thunderbird: Ah, I see a trend here… Again, this is broken off the the Mozilla suite trunk as a stand-alone mail client. Fast, user-friendly, and loaded with great gear like spam filters, virtual folders (including saved searches), excellent IMAP support (more rare than one might think), and some quality security features to save your ass when you’re too distracted –or inebriated by holiday grog– to be completely aware of the task at hand.
- Cyberduck: Not exactly Transmit, but a quality (S)FTP client that takes advantage of OS X technologies like Keychain and Rendezvous. I’ve had a number of problems with the dozens of FTP clients I’ve used over the years, and thankfully this is one of the better ones. If you don’t know what an FTP client is, you probably don’t need one; but if you do, then this small and capable (and free) program is certainly worth a try.
- nvu: While not yet ready for prime-time as of this writing, many of this website development program’s kinks will be worked out in the near future. This isn’t Dreamweaver or FrontPage, and it will assume some knowledge of web development methodologies on the part of the user, but when you need to construct a website fast, or update one already on a server somewhere, this is a very viable solution easy at hand. I’ve already used it for a few projects, and am impressed with its capabilities. Spun off from the Mozilla (HTML) Composer project, and funded (at least in part) by Linspire.
- XChat: This Unix IRC chat client is not only available on OS X, but actually looks like a real Aqua client. A little complicated, which belies its power-user roots, but it’s the only client you’ll ever really need.
- Fire: Got friends on MSN, AIM, ICQ, Jabber, Yahoo!, etc. Then grab this, instead of using a dozen different applications.
- Adium X: The newcomer on the Instant-Messenging block, with the ability to speak to all the aforementioned services as well. Dozens of add-ins, themes, and toys to play with. Plus, the icon is a cute little duck.
- XFactor: *cough* P2P *cough*
- Azureus: *cough* ultimate BitTorrent client *cough*. [Perhaps I should include a legal disclaimer here?]
- NeoOffice/J: This is essentially the OpenOffice.org suite, but wrapped up in a Java wrapper. “Uh oh,” I hear you say, “that’s gotta be slow.” Actually, it isn’t… this runs at an acceptible speed even on my ancient and memory-deprived Pismo. There’s a slight performance hitch over the standard OpenOffice.org suite, but barely enough to be noticable. The great thing is that you don’t even need Apple’s X11 to run this: the Java seems to provide a windowing interface for it that fits well into OS X. You get full access to all OS X fonts, true Aqua menus, full integration with Finder and Mail, native language capabilities and more. Of course, all the OOo gear is there: word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager, HTML editor, drawing application, database tools, native PDF export, etc. For more details about what it can do, check out the OpenOffice.org site.
- Abiword: Sometimes you don’t need an 800-pound gorilla like OOo or MS Office to help you write a letter to your mum. If your word processing needs are light, but you need more power and features than what TextEdit provides, check out the Aquafied version of Abiword. While it’s still in active development, it can probably do everything you need.
- GanttProject: Well, this was a very pleasant suprise. I had resigned myself to using an old version of Microsoft Project under Classic mode for my project management needs before I found this compact but speedy Java application. This will pump out pretty Gantt charts in PDF, HTML, JPEG and PNG formats, suitable for almost any PM use.
- FreeMind: Mind-mapping software, also written in Java, that will help you expand and connect your thoughts.
- Mozilla Calendar: This is available in a number of forms. A stand-alone –but alpha– version of it is Sunbird, or you can also download it as an extension for Mozilla, Firefox or Thunderbird. It provides a good calendar with multiple views, a task list, multiple categories, alarms, and more. The ability to synchronise with any old FTP server is great if you use multiple machines. Now, if only there was an easy way to hot-sync with a Palm, I’d be all set.
- Other software: With the switchover of many offices to web-based productivity suites, including groupware and ERP/CRM solutions, the natural haunt of the Open Source geek (that is, the server room) is becoming more and more vibrant with regard to software options. However, since these are generally not client-based applications, except in a browser, I’ve decided not to mention them here. (Well, I lied… take a look at the power of Compiere.)
- The GIMP: Once of the first Open Source “killer apps”, this graphics application is comparable to Photoshop in many ways. Although the interface is fairly unique and takes a little getting used to, the learning curve brings quite a lot of benefits: layer-based editing, hundreds of filters, dozens of cool Script-Fu (like Photoshop Actions), powerful scriptability, transform tools, easy animated GIFs, node-based path editing, and most of the tools available in Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro and others. This is not to mention that you’ll save a bundle over its expensive commercial competition. The new version 2.2 has many improvements over 2.0, including a more streamlined interface, bug fixes, and better previews for tools and filters. The only downside is that it doesn’t allow CMYK editing; this is generally not a problem unless you are heavy into print production.
- Blender: A truly kick-ass 3D editing and rendering program. While this can’t quite compete with the likes of Maya or Houdini, it’s getting there. The downside is that the learning curve is just as difficult as almost any other high-end 3D application; the upside is that you won’t have to fork out a few thousand dollars. Aside from the typical 3D editing tools, Blender also has animation, physics, and a neato 3D gaming engine built into it. If you poke around, you can probably find a bunch of high-quality video demos of work that people have produced, ready to burn to DVD for your viewing pleasure. Don’t forget the copious documentation and the video tutorials.
- VLC: Damn, I’m impressed with this cross-platform application. There’s nothing worse than downloading video files from the Net and not having the right programs or codecs to play it. This has played every file I’ve ever thrown at it, even VCDs and DVDs. Especially handy if it’s a Windows Media file or an obscure format. It even plays full-screen QuickTime files better than Apple QuickTime Pro, in my experience (and without the $40 USD cost). You can also give MPlayerOSX a spin if VLC doesn’t turn your crank.
- Audacity: This audio editor is not only easy to use, but it can also import/export many file formats and use lots of professional plug-ins. Simple but powerful.
- jEdit: A Java-based editor that’s actually fast and useful, and not just for programmers. This is comparable to the old and venerable BBEdit in many ways. Great for text files, HTML, coding, LaTeX, and almost anything else you’d need a text editor for. It has a good macro facility, and there are plenty of plugins available for extending it to meet your needs. A little slow to start, but once it’s going, it’s quite speedy (even on the aforementioned Pismo). Integrates well with OS X, including the Dock.
- Eclipse: Big honkin’ Java-based editor/IDE/whatever-you-want. Use it for editing code, HTML, LaTeX, text, etc., etc., etc. Nice tree-based project/file management, and there are plenty of add-ins to make it do almost anything. Not exactly user-friendly, but very powerful.
- Fink: Although you can download many of the more popular OSS applications as standard OS X packages, this poses several problems. First, many apps use multiple libraries, some of which don’t come standard on OS X. Second, many apps are updated very often, and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of them. Third, removing them from your system can be problematic –just like any other app– since OS X doesn’t provide any type of software package management. The solution? Fink, the Open Source package management system. Using FinkCommander, you can pick and choose whichever applications you want, and it will handle the rest for you, including deleting unused programs and libraries. Keep in mind that most applications handled by Fink will either run in the Terminal or use Apple’s X11. Either one is a bit of a deviation from the standard Aqua experience.
- Emacs: While Emacs does come with OS X, it’s only a command-line version. You can also get a pretty good Aqua version of Emacs that allows OS X-style menus and multiple windows (er, “frames”). If you don’t know what Emacs is, and you’re not a true geek, back away… back far, far away. For wannabe-geeks, start down the path to true masochism at the Emacs Wiki. (Regular readers know that I love Emacs, and am only kidding. Well, sort of kidding.)
- NetBeans: If Java programming is your thing (or learning it), you can’t do much better than NetBeans, which is now owned and operated as an Open Source project by the fine folks at Sun. I know people that use it for far more than Java work (including writing HTML and text), but they’re certainly alpha geeks, in the truest sense of the word.
- Celestia: Wow, this is beautiful. If astronomy is your thing, give this application a spin. (The main site is being rebuilt; check out its page on TheOpenCD for some more info and screenshots.)
I’m sure that I’ve forgotten lots of other applications, including some that are OS X-only. (I spend nearly half of my day in Linux, so cross-platform apps are the ones that normally occur to me). Any others you can recommend?