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.

Window Managers

The second step is getting a window manager. Most modern OSes separate the window manager from the OS proper. This allows individual users to taylor their environments to their tastes. Making a machine Mac-like, MS-Windows-like, or even Amiga-like is just a matter of dropping in the appropriate window manager. Note that most of the OS distributions above will come with a window manager or two so you can get started right away without going through this step. This step is mentioned here so that when you want to expand your horizons, you'll know where to look. Note that virtually all of these window managers (and many of the other free software packages mentioned later) are designed to run on top of a software package called X-Windows (or "X" for short). Details on how to get X are listed here, too.

The GNU Network Object Model Environment works on top of GTK to provide a friendly graphical interface, going beyond the typical window manager. Many applications require GNOME.
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The GIMP Toolkit works on top of X-Windows to provide even more capabilities.
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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.)

Ghostscript is an interpreter for both PostScript and PDF files. Versions are available for OS/2, Windows 95 / 98, Windows NT, Mac OS, VMS, and most UNIX-like systems.
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Gnumeric is the GNU Project's second speadsheet program and will easily run on most UNIX-like machines that have GNOME installed.
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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.

Makes it possible and easy to interface a digital camera to a UNIX-like system.
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GraphicsMagick is similar to ImageMagick; it provides sophisticated image controls and impressive special effects capabilities for computer graphics work. It is available for pretty much every UNIX-like OS, Windows NT, Windows '95 / '98, and Mac OS.
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Multimedia Applications

While multimedia is somewhat of an ill-defined term, it will be used here to cover applications that are capable of handling a combination of media types, especially video.

Gnash is a free Flash Player application for Solaris, Linux, IRIX, Mac OS X, and other UNIX-like systems. It is part of the GNU project.
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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.

Gzip is a compression program; it will take a single file and reduce the amount of space it requires to make for faster transfer or more efficient archiving. It is often used in conjunction with some flavor of tar. It includes software for both compressing and decompressing, and can handle its own native gzip format in addition to the older compress format. The gzip format is extremely popular online, and tends to be more efficient than the zip format but less efficient than the bzip2 format. Gzip is available for all flavors of UNIX, both flavors of Mac OS, most flavors of MS-Windows, and MS-DOS.
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One of the most popular types of applications for computers, games entertain both the computer novice and pro alike. Not all games are expensive; some of the best available can be found for free.

A black-box type game for most Unix-like systems.
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The classic game Go written for UNIX-like machines, Mac OS, Windows '95 / '98, and JavaOS.
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A great deal of free software has been created to assist in programming. Whole software development environments are available as well as programming languages and simple frameworks to help one get a jump-start on a particular task.

The GNU Compiler Collection features compilers for C, C++, ForTran, Java, and more. They are all extremely high-quality compilers capable of being used for robust commercial development.
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GridSlammer is an engine used to build video games. It supports UNIX-like machines, Windows NT, and Windows '95 / '98.
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Some sites offer collections of software rather than a particular program, and this Free Software Guide would not be complete if it omitted them.

Georgie's Solarcade
Precompiled binaries for Solaris UltraSPARC systems. The binaries primarily consist of games but also feature some utilities.
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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.