As the resident open source zealot, I thought it might be nice to have a quick rundown of some of the best apps that are free, open source, and cross-platform available to our readers. Experienced users may find fault with me for leaving out their favorite app, but hopefully they will agree that the ones I’ve picked here are deserving of recognition. I especially hope this is useful to those that are unaware of the existence of these applications due to the long shadows cast by the proprietary icons of their respective categories. If you feel I did miss an important app, please let us know in the comments and share your favorites with everyone.
Since all of these applications are open source, they have been ported to a variety of platforms. If you’re a Linux user, you’ll find them a click away in your software center. If you’re a Windows or Mac user, installers for your operating systems are freely available on the appropriate maintainers’ website. If you use BSD, you’re probably smarter than I am and can figure it out for yourself.
Does Open Source mean free?
While there are many intricacies to the terms “Open Source” (which doesn’t necessarily mean ‘free’) and “Free” (which doesn’t necessarily mean “libre”), rest assured that all of the options listed here are licensed such that you may use them and redistribute them at no cost. You even get to read and modify the source code if you like.
If you really want the long explanation, Wikipedia has some wonderful information on Open Source, Free Software, FOSS, FLOSS, and other pedantic quagmires. Also, be aware that there are usually conditions to redistributing *modified* versions of open source applications. So, you will want to consult the individual application’s license for the exact details of how a particular program/source may be redistributed should you make changes to it.
I’ve broken the list here down into the most common categories and picked at least one of the better-known free and open source applications in each category. In some categories I’ve picked more than one, particularly where the function of the applications offer significantly different features or target different users.
As the zealot responsible, the opinions and anti-Microsoft swipes here are my own - so don’t blame the rest of the HotHardware team. And, again, do feel free to suggest any free and open source software I was so blind as to overlook.
We’ll practically skip this category for two reasons: 1) Browser preference has been known to start holy wars, and 2) because nearly everyone is long familiar with the best known option: Firefox. Chrome does not quite meet the criteria of this list as it is not completely open-source. However, the Chromium browser, with which it shares most of its code is both free and open-source.
The beauty of web browsers is that for 99% of the functionality your personal preference doesn’t matter. That’s because they are all written to implement open standards. Very seldom do browsers extend these standards in proprietary ways that break a site's compatibility with other browsers and operating systems (*cough-ActiveX-cough*), except for one closed-source solution that is available on only one operating system.