A Penny for Your Apps -- Open-Source Alternatives

Susie Ochs's picture

A Penny for Your Apps -- Open-Source Alternatives


More options. If all you need is a cross-platform, open-source word processor, AbiWord (free, www.abisource.com) also reads and writes Microsoft’s DOC format, as well as OpenOffice Writer’s SXW, Open Document ODT, HTML, TXT, RTF, and others. And don’t overlook TextEdit, which came with your Mac. It looks simple—and it is—but packs some decent formatting options and can save documents as RTF, TXT, HTML, DOC, or XML files. It opens files created in any of the other mentioned apps (Word, NeoOffice, OpenOffice, and AbiWord) with the formatting and styles intact.


Find More Apps Online—And Don’t Forget Online Apps


Buzzword’s gorgeous design makes writing a pleasure.


If you like Photoshop and Microsoft Office just fine, thank you, there’s still a world of freeware for your Mac. Even if you’re not trying to replace a big-budget app, you can still expand your Mac’s capabilities—and your skills—without spending any money. (That said, if you wind up relying on a free app in a major way, many developers appreciate a donation.) Find more at opensourcemac.org, macupdate.com, and versiontracker.com.


Adobe InDesign is the current standard in desktop publishing, but Scribus (free, www.scribus.net) is a solid alternative, although it can’t read or write InDesign or Quark formats (it does support XML, PDF, Open Document, RTF, and HTML). An Aqua app, it doesn’t need X11, but you do need to have Ghostscript 8.5.4 or later installed first to assist with translating formats, and the Scribus install itself is a little complicated (see www.scribus.net/modules.php?op=modload&name=Downloads&file=index for a walkthrough).


Inkscape (free, www.inkscape.org) is a drawing app that requires X11, but the single-window interface is easy to use, although its looks leave something to be desired. If you’d rather have a native Mac app and don’t mind a reduced feature set, Teal (free, www.versiontracker.com) is an entry-level drawing/editing app, but at version pp8 for “public preview 8,” it’s really more like a work in progress (it currently supports PNG and JPEG).


And if you tend to be always online, consider trying some online apps. Your work is accessible from any online computer, and many apps offer handy collaboration features. Just make sure to export a copy of your work to your local machine periodically, especially if you’re going to be offline for an extended time—since the drawback of online apps is that you have to be online to use them. We like Google Docs and Spreadsheets (docs.google.com), the ThinkFree office suite (www.thinkfree.com), Mint for personal finance (www.mint.com), and the elegant word processor Buzzword (www.buzzword.com).




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This feature strikes me as well-meaning but singularly misguided.

First of all, free ist not automatically synonymous with open-source, and viceversa.

Second, there are lots of excellent, invaluable, free Mac apps; most of them utilities. But when it comes to free Office or Adobe Suites equivalents, let's face it: you'd be better off with a cheap Linux box. Gimp, OpenOffice and their siblings are functional, but not yet terribly polished ports from Linux, and relative resource hogs at that.

Under Linux, they shine. Though if you direly need free OS X Office software, chances are your Mac may be getting on a bit, too. The two factors combined make for a less-than-thrilling experience on older PPC Macs.

Consider a simpler approach: identify your precise needs, see if there is a native Cocoa freeware or a solid X11-less Java port, and get shareware classics just for the remnant. (If you have a fairly recent PPC or Intel Mac and at least 1 GB RAM, get iWorks '08. Period.)
So let us see how far just a hard nose and a little money will take us:
- iPhoto + imageJ + Raw Photo Processor: FREE;
- TextEdit + TextWrangler + Smultron: FREE;
- DrawIt Lite: as of now, FREE.
This covers the basics; now a few GREAT but cheap little apps that really can compete if used wisely:
- NisusWriter (Express or Pro), Mellel, or Scrivener;
- Tables;
- GraphicConverter or Pixelmator;
- LineForm or Intaglio.
Many of the above - old mainstays or instant classics - were favorably, even glowingly reviewed on this site and are every now and then promoted at bargain prices.

Gimp, NeoOffice & Co. are noble efforts; they deserve every encouragement (including donations! NeoOffice especially shows how much a couple of dedicated folks on no budget at all can achieve.) But on the Mac, they're not quite there yet.



I have two words to add here: GIMP SUCKS!!!



When I first made the swith to Mac (and never going back) I found www.opensourcemac.org an invaluable resource.



If you're into MATLAB (a Math/Science/Engineering tool) then try out FreeMat. It has a long way to go before its as comprehensive as matlab, but in the meantime its free.



www.thriftmac.com is an excellent source as well



www.freemacware.com is also a great source for mac freeware.

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