Once the lockdown took effect I decided to focus my bewildered mind and take a look at some interesting software that’s crossed my path over the last couple of years. During the standard working week I rarely get the chance to take an in-depth look at this software, but, with projects on hold and our clients all setup to work from home, I decided to spend some time delving deeper. There’s lots of open source software available that’s been tried, tested and is often as good – even better – than the expensive propriety software available…
The four applications I looked at are Gimp, Libreoffice, Jitsi and OpenStreetMap. Here are our conclusions…
GIMP – The Free & Open Source Image Editor
Actually, Gimp isn’t new to any of us – Invicta Linux has been using it in preference to Adobe Photoshop for some time. The major difference between these two is that Photoshop is proprietary and costs a fair bit to purchase or subscribe to while GIMP is open source software and happens to be free, too!
GIMP is available for GNU/Linux, Mac, Windows, Unix and more operating systems. Whereas, Photoshop is available for Windows and Mac only. GIMP is a far more lightweight and portable application, even being able to be run from a USB drive.
As a very feature-rich solution for photographers and amateurs alike, GIMP can do almost anything that Photoshop can. Highly recommended so far.
Available to download from: https://www.gimp.org/
Libreoffice is one of the most popular MS Office alternatives in the world, so this may be an application you are already familiar with. For those who aren’t it’s a full-featured Office suite which made its name for being quick and easy to use.
We’ve actually been using Libreoffice for quite a long time to be honest, but since the latest Nextcloud update, which introduced online file collaboration (Google Docs style) using Onlyoffice we’ve been comparing and contrasting between the two and taking a closer look at our long-time office suite of choice.
Libreoffice fully supports all MS Office formats and does away with the overly complicated ‘ribbon’ format Microsoft have jumped to in recent years. As you may be able to tell I’m not a huge fan of those ribbons.
Office suites are crucial for all businesses and we think it’s a travesty that more Government offices and educational establishments regularly cough up a fortune in Microsoft licences, when they could be using LibreOffice for free. That’s our taxes they’re squandering!
Give it a try – you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Available to download from: https://www.libreoffice.org
Another “you probably haven’t heard of it” videoconference app, Jitsi Meet is an open-source platform that lets you easily meet online by simply navigating to the site and clicking on “Go.” If you’re more technically inclined, you can build your own Jitsu server, but most people will be happy with the quick web version, which offers many features found in more well-known apps, such as chat, session recording, and the ability to “kick out” unruly participants.
Up to 75 participants (up to 35 for the best experience)
Public or private chat
Can blur the background (currently in beta)
Integrates with Slack, Google Calendar, and Office 365
Now, I’ve so far avoided those endless remote meetings so popular in lockdown so I’ve not become reliant on Zoom or Skype. Nevertheless I heard about Jitsi from my father who uses it for his flying club meetings. I haven’t had much direct experience so far but I like that I don’t need to create a new login with a new password, I just set up a room, send the ID out and am ready to go. It’s simple. It’s free and it’s more secure.
Available to download from: https://jitsi.org/
While watching Youtube recently I heard about OpenStreetMap, a community lead mapping project that has the reputation of being by far and away the most accurate mapping service. I, obviously, haven’t had much reason to plan trips yet but it looks quick and easy to use. It doesn’t appear to completely replace your professional mapping software of choice but as part of trip preparation it’s something I’ll use every trip to check road changes, names and potential alternate routes.
OpenStreetMap is also very useful for cyclist and those who use public transport – the maps are detailed and easy to read and have specific maps for those who rely on bicycles or public transport.
Now, when we were out and about, we used Google Maps almost everyday for real-time traffic information and as my main navigation app. It is a great mapping service. But although it’s free of charge, there is a certain cost associated with using Google mapping services. The cost of privacy and loss of control over what we see on the map. At the end, Google is an advertising company and it uses our geographic search results and location information for marketing purposes. It also chooses which data are relevant to you rather than displaying on the map what is actually around you.
Accessible at: https://www.openstreetmap.org/
I’ve spend varying amounts of time with these applications but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised. These apps either have or will become critical parts of my working day. They are definitely worth looking at. Why not give them a shot and let me know what you think?
Kieran Chakravorty is Open Source Evangelist and Director at IT Support Specialists Invicta Linux.