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In this article I will be suggesting some 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 of these 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 is meant by open source and the use of the word 'free' in connection with open source.

Open-source software

Generally, open source software refers to software that is distributed in a way that allows its users 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 then download, modify and publish their own version (fork) back to the community.

Richard Stallman started his open source crusade in 1980 when a Xerox office printer that was 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 as well as 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.

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