Tech Savvy Alternatives to Commercial Software Benefits Students

By Travis Boren, reporter

Students looking for alternatives to commercial software would benefit from checking out open source options.

Open Source is a term used to refer to software published under a license like the GNU General Public License, which focuses on the legal requirements to guarantee a piece of software remains free. One of the requirements is that the code used to write the program must be published as well, hence the term open source.

Open source software is community driven: those who use the software contribute to its design and development. A person with enough motivation can customize a piece of software to their own liking, or gain the help of the community to see changes implemented.

Commercial software benefits from being an industry standard, but commercial enterprises can fail and languish on the whims of unknowable corporate interests as when Adobe announced that it would discontinue support of Flash by 2020, leaving artists and developers who specialized in the platform with an uncertain future as they develop new skills.

Students who wish to guarantee that they are not beholden to the whims of corporate interests would benefit to looking into open source alternatives.

An alternative to the Microsoft Office suite is called LibreOffice. LibreOffice is a fork of the OpenOffice project that is actively supported on Windows, OS X, and Debian distributions of GNU/Linux.

The interface of LibreOffice’s Writer program looks more like Microsoft’s Word did before the 2007 redesign based on ribbons. Writer has the same functionality as Word, and although the menus seem a bit more technical, they give more direct control over formatting making it easier for novice users to guarantee that proper formatting has been followed.

LibreOffice also includes a tool for spreadsheets called Calc, a tool for simple vector based desktop publishing called Draw, for presentations called Impress, and a formula editor called Math.

Writer and Draw both have robust tools for the creation and editing of PDFs, but are unable to completely replace Acrobat because they do not replicate the creation of fill-able fields.

LibreOffice supports the same file extensions as Office, while also supporting open formats that meet community standards of safety that Microsoft is more often than not willing to ignore.

An alternative to Adobe Photoshop lies in the equally powerful GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). GIMP looks vastly different from what people come to expect from Photoshop, making its user interface the largest barrier to entry.

GIMP is actively supported for Windows, OS X, and several GNU/Linux distributions.

Despite the different interface, GIMP offers the same functionality as baseline Photoshop, even supporting most drawing tablets out of the box, with workarounds existing for the few drawing tablets not supported natively.

GIMP can serve as a painting software in the same way as Photoshop, even supporting the same brush presets. For those who cannot conquer the barrier created by the difference in user interface, a GIMP fork exists called GIMPshop which more closely replicates the Photoshop experience, even renaming tools to more be more closely in line with the nomenclature that Adobe implements.

As with LibreOffice, because of the open source nature of GIMP, it supports the same file extensions that Photoshop does.

An alternative to Adobe Illustrator comes in the form of Inkscape. Inkscape is a vector image software that can be used for professional quality artwork and web design. Inkscape serves as a feature for feature match for Illustrator with the option to modify functionality through community driven extensions.

Inkscape is currently supported for Windows, OS X, and Debian distributions of GNU/Linux.

When looking for an alternative to Adobe InDesign for more complex desktop publications, the go-to open source option is Scribus. Scribus has been in development since 2001 with constant community feedback.

Scribus is currently supported for Windows, OS X, and various GNU/Linux distributions.

Scribus supports some unique features that you will not find in other proprietary software, such as the ability to emulate different types of colorblindness to guarantee the accessibility of your publications. The Scribus file format is resilient against data loss allowing for easier recovery of corrupted files.

For web developers, an alternative to Adobe Dreamweaver is invaluable. For those with a programming mindset, an alternative can be found in Aptana Studio. Aptana’s interface is similar to traditional development engines, allowing for programmers to find a comfortable home with a visible file structure that helps maintain large scale projects.

Aptana is currently supported for Windows, OS X, and has been tested in some Debian based GNU/Linux distributions.

Web developers more design oriented who value a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get approach will find more comfort in BlueGriffon. BlueGriffon’s user interface more closely resembles Dreamweaver making for an easier transition for those used to the software.

BlueGriffon is currently supported for Windows, OS X, and the Ubuntu distribution of GNU/Linux.

While commercial software serves as a standard in most industries, small businesses and freelancers do not have the resources that large corporations do, so the use of free software that serves the same functionality and purpose as non-free software can be a welcome alternative.

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