Open source software provides computer solutions for the student budget

Sonjiala Hotchkiss and Sonjiala Hotchkiss

Students and others can download many useful programs free of charge. Software producers sometimes release word processing suites, web browsers and image manipulators and other programs as open source software.

Open source refers to the fact that the source code of the program is available for viewing and even changing for those who know programming languages. With normal software, the source code is reduced to the zeros and ones of computer language before it reaches the consumer.

Three useful programs for students include Firefox, Open Office and GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). All these programs are available for free download.

Firefox is an open source web browser. It is the second most popular browser after Microsoft Internet Explorer. These days some type of browser software comes pre-installed on most computers though it’s not generally open source. Firefox has various advantages, such as it is more customizable and generally more up to date as far as keeping up with changes that affect the way web pages display. Firefox is available for download at http://www.mozilla.org.

Open Office has a word processor, a data base, a spreadsheet, a presentation maker, and a program to display math formulas along with the ability to save in the Microsoft Office formats. Open Office opens Microsoft Office documents, although there may be an occasional glitch with a complex document. The software is available for download at http://www.openoffice.org.

As far as pictures, almost everyone is going digital these days. GIMP is an incredibly powerful image editing software. It has many of the functions that you would find in a product such as Adobe Photoshop. It’s easy to grasp the basic picture editing functions, but there are so many features in this program that you may want to purchase a book such as “Grokking the Gimp” which explains the features in more detail. GIMP is available for download at http://www.gimp.org.

The above-mentioned software is available for free download. Not all open source software is free and almost all are released under some type of license that reserves some rights for the original producer as well as lists restrictions on how the software can be used and distributed.

Most open source programs are released under one of two general types of licenses. The GNU type licenses allow the program to be used for free. Users may alter the program, but their alteration must be made available to the public under a GNU license. The BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) type license allows free use of the software with the added option of allowing programmers to charge for their additions to the basic software.

If you’re living on a tight budget, open source software provides users the opportunity to keep up with the latest in computer developments. Many professionals make the decision to live open source as a matter of principle. Whether your motivation stems from principle or paycheck, open source software may provide the computer solution you want.