Open-Source Programs for Training, Learning and Writing

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This article describes open-source programs that can be used on Linux and other operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS. Although these programs are ones that I have found useful for learning and training, they are widely used for many other purposes.

This is not a ‘Top 10 Best Programs for…’ article. These programs are ones that I use for particular purposes. Some programs are pre-installed on some Linux versions, such as Ubuntu.

What is Open Source?

Before I start listing some open source programs, I think it would be a good idea to attempt to clarify what open source means and the use of the word ‘free’ in connection with open source.

Open-source software

Generally, open source software refers to software that allows its users to have the freedom to use, study, distribute and modify that software. It can also be used for commercial purposes. The production of open-source code is meant to be a collaborative effort where programmers improve upon the source code (a human-readable computer program) and share the changes within the community. Code is released under the terms of a software licence. Depending on the licence terms, others may download, modify and publish their version (fork) back to the community.

Richard Stallman started his open source crusade in 1980 when a Xerox office printer installed on MIT’s Artificial Intelligence laboratory’s network started jamming, and people’s print jobs were not getting through the network. Richard was a programmer, not a mechanical engineer, so he thought of a software solution where a message would be sent to the users asking them to come and clear the paper jam.

Although Xerox had provided the printer free of charge for testing purposes, it had not provided a copy of the source code. So when Richard looked at the software, it was just an unintelligible stream of ones and noughts. This was about the time when companies started introducing proprietary software so that they could also make money out of the software and the hardware. As well as making the code difficult to access, they also introduced ‘time bombs’, which, after a set period, the software stopped working unless a purchased licence code was entered into the program.

‘Free’ and ‘Open’

Free and open-source software (FOSS) or Free/Libre and open-source software (FLOSS) is openly shared source code licensed without restrictions on usage, modification, or distribution.

‘Free’ versus ‘Free’

Confusion abounds around using the word ‘Free’ because free means ‘without charge’ in common usage, but in open-source development, free refers to the freedom to use, study, distribute and modify the software. For example, ‘being free to speak’ is different from a ‘free beer’.

So, it is possible to have software that is free of charge but not open source, like Microsoft’s Edge browser. It is also possible to get software that is both free of charge and open source.

Open-Source Programs

The following are suggested programs which are both free of charge and open source.

Web Browser

Mozilla Firefox is a free, open-source web browser. It is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS.

Email Client

Mozilla Thunderbird is a free, open-source, cross-platform email, news, RSS and chat client.

Office Suite

LibreOffice includes several applications: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector graphics and flowcharts), Base (databases) and Math (formula editing).

Although LibreOffice’s default format is the open document format (ODF), you can also open, edit and save documents in Microsoft’s formats.

Image Editor

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a cross-platform image editor for GNU/Linux, OS X, Windows and other operating systems.

eBook Reader

Calibre is a free, open-source, cross-platform eBook set of tools which, in addition to providing an eBook reader, Calibre includes an eBook library and editor as well as the ability to download news from the web.

Video Editor

Shotcut is a free, open-source, cross-platform video editor for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Audio Editor

Audacity is a free, open-source, cross-platform audio editor for Windows, Mac and Linux, licensed under GNU GPL.

Code Editor

Although the Eclipse Project was originally created by IBM in 2001, the Eclipse Foundation was created in 2004 as an independent not-for-profit corporation to steward the Eclipse community.

Although the Eclipse IDE (Integrated Developer Environment) code editor was originally developed for Java, there are now C/C++ and PHP IDEs. You can also combine support for other languages into any of the default packages.

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