NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, March 2007
Shopping For free and Open Source Software
Written by Bill Wayson,
Member of the Channel Islands PC Users Group, California

bwayson@gmail.com (click to email author)

By the time you read this, the holiday shopping season will be over and many of you will be trying to figure out what to put on your new computer. It seems fitting, then, to make a few suggestions of programs you will find in your Web browser-based shopping center, the Mall of Free and Open Source Software, or the Mall of FOSS. All of the suggestions made here are suitable not only for users of Linux and BSD, but also for Windows diehards. In some cases, other operating systems, such as the Mac and Solaris are supported. So fire up your computer and head on out to the Internet highway. Oh, and you can leave your credit card at home, for the goods at the Mall of FOSS are priced most attractively: free.

The holidays are really meant for the child that resides in all of us, and all children want to have fun. So spice up your PC with some fun items. Start by stopping at the Really Slick Screensavers Web site at http://www.reallyslick.com/. Here you will find out-of-this-world, mesmerizing screen savers that range from “psychedelic” to “nauseating.” One includes great sound effects. They all perform best with hardware-based video acceleration, but that should not be a problem with recent hardware. Once you see these, you'll never go back to the flying Windows or pipes again.

Web browsers
Is your gift recipient still using Internet Explorer? Head on over to http://www.mozilla.com/ to get Firefox for him or her. Firefox is a great Web browser with such features as tabbed browsing, configurable security, extensions that provide additional features, and themes that change the look and feel. Firefox version 2.0 was released Oct. 24. Or you can shop for a newer browser, Flock, at http://www.flock.com/. Flock is based on the same page rendering engine, Gecko, that the Mozilla family of browsers is built around. But Flock focuses on sharing and connecting with other people online, with enhanced support for blog posting, RSS feed integration, photo posting on Yahoo Flickr, and saving your bookmarks on the Internet for sharing between all the computers you use.

Instant messaging
Maybe your giftee spends time in the world of instant messaging. If so, get Gaim, a multi-protocol instant messaging (IM) client, from http://gaim.sourceforge.net/win32/. Gaim will work with several different protocols, including AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, Jabber, ICQ and others, so it could become the only IM client anyone needs. If someone prefers the more traditional Internet Relay Chat (IRC), consider getting Xchat (http://xchat.org/windows/) or Kvirc (http://www.kvirc.net/) for them.

Juice Receiver
Has someone on your holiday giving list complained about using iTunes on Windows? That person may enjoy receiving an open source replacement, Juice Receiver, available at http://juicereceiver.sourceforge.net/. It has access to many of the same podcast indexes that iTunes provides, as well as a number of indexes that it does not.

Bittorrent for file swapping
If you have diehard computer geeks on your list, they most likely share files with their friends. The standard file- swapping protocol is bittorrent, and you will find bittorrent clients for them at http://www.bittorrent.com and http://www.getazureus.com/. Perhaps they have always wanted to create their own dynamic Web site but have balked at the price of commercial Web server software for Windows or the Mac. If so, head over to the XAMPP for Windows store at http://www.apachefriends.org/en/xampp-windows.html. XAMPP for Windows will give them everything they need to build a robust, full-featured, dynamic Web site, and it is ready to go out of the box.

Does anyone on your list need or want to try a different virus scanner? The shop at http://www.clamwin.com/ has the open source scanner, CLAMAV for Windows, available for you to give. They'll be getting a GUI-based virus scanner, free and automatic signature updates, and scheduled virus scanning.

Outlook alternatives
The shops at http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird/ and http://shellter.sourceforge.net/evolution/ offer alternatives to the Outlook e-mail client. The former site has Thunderbird, an easy-to-use product of the Mozilla project, while the latter provides Evolution, which sports additional support for calendaring and Microsoft Exchange e-mail servers.

Moving on to applications, if there is one on your gift list who does any sort of work with images, ranging from doctoring photographs to graphics for a Web site, you owe it to them to stop off at http://www.gimp.org/windows/ and pick up a copy of the GIMP. Somewhat mischaracterized as the “Poor Man’s Photoshop,” the GIMP provides a large range of image processing tools and plugins, as well as a framework for writing custom plugins. With the GIMP, they’ll be able to do just about anything they'd ever want to do to their pictures.

Or maybe you are looking for something for someone who is into sound recording, someone who perhaps was a Mr. or Miss A/V in high school? They undoubtedly would really enjoy receiving the Audacity sound recorder, editor, and writer. Look for it at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/. This powerful program literally will turn a PC into a full-featured sound recording and production studio. Pair it with a professional-quality sound card, and it is hard to beat at any price.

DVD-capable media players
Many of those on your gift list also want to be entertained, and maybe they'd like to watch a DVD while working at their computers. A couple of DVD-capable media players they would like can be found at http://www.mplayerhq.hu/ — which offers the MPlayer media player — and http://www.videolan.org/ — which offers the VideoLAN VLC player.

Office applications
Chances are the computer users on your holiday gift list use traditional applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and the like. There are several gifts in this category that you cannot go wrong with. OpenOffice.org is possibly the most popular open source office application suite available. The latest version, which can be found at http://www.openoffice.org/, is highly compatible with Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and Powerpoint formats, and all but the most complex of documents can be shared in both directions. OpenOffice.org also supports out-of-the-box export to PDF and Flash formats.

OpenOffice.org is certainly not the only option in this arena. The Abiword word processor from http://www.abisource.com/ is a mature product offering a range of features. Since it is a lightweight user of computer resources, it runs well on older hardware that might bog down under OpenOffice.org, Microsoft Office, and Vista.

GNUmeric, from http://www.gnome.org/projects/gnumeric/, is a nice, mature spreadsheet program that has all the options and features your giftee wants for the spreadsheet work. If someone would like something to help create pretty, Visio-like organizational and flow charts, stop over at http://dia-installer.sourceforge.net/ and pick them up a copy of DIA, a diagramming tool.

PDFCreator, Scribus
Do your giftees need to produce PDF documents? If so, they’ll be grateful to receive PDFCreator, which is available at http://www.pdfforge.org/. PDFCreator works with any application that prints to the Windows printing system, making it easy to create not only PDF documents, but PNG, JPG, TIFF, BMP, PCX, PS, and EPS as well. Or maybe they want to create professional-looking documents like brochures, booklets, or newsletters. For them, take a trip to http://www.scribus.net/ and get them Scribus, a desktop publishing system with many of the same page layout and formatting features you expect to find in the more expensive commercial systems. Scribus also runs on the Mac.

Web page design
Do you have a Web designer on your giving list? He or she might like to receive Nvu (pronounced n-view, and found at http://www.nvu.com/), a WYSIWYG Web page editor that will remind you of Dreamweaver. With its integrated FTP client, it may be all an e-designer would need. Perhaps they prefer to develop their Web pages from scratch (or someone on your list might like to get an advanced text editor). If so, stop off at http://notepad-plus.sourceforge.net/uk/site.htm and pick them up a copy of Notepad++, which is what Windows’ Notepad might be if it consumed strong steroids. It will give your recipient syntax highlighting, auto-completion, WYSIWYG markup, bookmarking, zooming, multi-document viewing, and much more.

I hope this gives you some ideas about which stores to look at for your holiday gift-giving needs. And do not forget the most important person on your holiday gift list: you! If anything here looks interesting as you read about it, make sure to get yourself a copy. The great thing about all the stores offering FOSS software gifts is that they always have a great two-for-the-price-of-one sale going on, the perfect holiday sale.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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