Some Free Software

A Guide To Free Software

This page is meant to serve as a guide to free (and almost free) software. For those unfamiliar with the concept of free software, one of the first thoughts might be "Sure, you get what you pay for...". In the case of free software, this is not true. There are numerous free software packages maintained by people who do it for the love of the science. There are also numerous free software packages maintained by universities and various educational facilities. There are even free software packages maintained by non-profit organizations set up for the purpose of creating, maintaining, and distributing free software (the most important of these is the Free Software Foundation headquartered right in Cambridge; their site is a good visit with lots of information on the principle of free and open source software). In all of these cases free software packages are often better than similar commercial versions costing hundreds of dollars. In most cases the maintainers of free software are also users, so they have good reason to keep the software bug free. The next question might be "Why haven't I heard of them before?" The answer is that since they are free, they don't spend money on advertising -- it is not a reflection on their quality.

In any case, the Internet is full of freeware, shareware, and software that is available for just the cost of the media, shipping, & handling. Other variants exist, too; some software authors provide their software freely but request that users make a donation to a particular charity. Other authors just request that users send them a postcard or a coin from their local area. Other variants (like crippleware & nagware) also exist.

This page will focus primarily on high quality freeware. If you know of something that we're missing, please let us know by . You may also find our open source software collection to be of interest.

Operating Systems

The first stop in obtaining free software is picking up an OS. Sure, your computer probably came with one pre-installed, but it was hardly for free -- typical pre-installed OSes actually cost you well over $100 in the machine purchase price. Plus, the free OSes are often more capable than the ones pre-installed. Finally, unlike some of the commercial OSes still being purchased, the free OSes are all Y2K clean. What do you do? Either request one of the free OSes be pre-installed when you initially buy your computer, or follow the instructions on your computer's software agreement to get a refund for the price of your pre-installed OS prior to using your computer. The following are some free (or nearly free) OSes:

BeOS is not much like UNIX, making it nearly unique in this list. While traditional BeOS is also commercial and cannot be freely downloaded, there have been recent efforts to make a BeOS work-alike called variously OpenBeOS and Haiku. Traditional BeOS supports PowerPC and x86., but Haiku currently supports only x86
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Office Software

Most people need at least some of the software traditionally used in the office. Such software includes word processors, spreadsheets, text editors, and database programs. (Note that simple drawing programs will be covered elsewhere.)

BBEdit Lite
BBEdit Lite is a free version of the popular BBEdit text editor. The BBEdit family of editors is often listed among the most frequently used tools for web page composition. It is available for Mac OS (both classic and X) only.
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Graphics Applications

Ranging from simple drawing programs to full-featured 3D image manipulation systems, graphics applications fill diverse needs including: presentations, modeling, animations, etc.

Blender is used for 3D modeling and animation. It is available for Windows '98, Windows ME, Windows XP, Windows NT, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, and more.
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While utilities do not typically fit comfortably into any of the other productivity categories, they are indispensable. They include programs to convert between text and binary (like implementations of uucode and bcode), programs to package or separate files (like implementations of tar), and programs to handle compression in its different forms. Odds are good that you'll need some of the programs from this list in order to successfully install many of the other programs on this list.

bzip2 is a compression program much like gzip. It includes software for both compressing and decompressing and handles just the bzip2 format, typically the most efficient format in common use (somewhat more efficient than gzip and hqx, much more efficient than zip).
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More coming soon...

The above list should get you started. More will be coming soon; we'll be adding in some games plus a few general sites offering all manner of software. What else would you like to see? Don't be afraid to let us know and we'll try and add it to the list.