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:

Although a commercial version of UNIX, Solaris is free for personal or educational use. It can be directly downloaded or can also be obtained on CD or DVD for the cost of media, shipping, and handling. Solaris currently supports SPARC and x86; earlier versions also supported PowerPC.
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One of the most useful things to put on any machine is a browser. After all, much of the documentation for free software is available online on the web! Fortunately, there is a bevy of free browsers available.

Safari runs on Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Windows Vista and is a solid standards-compliant browser known for quick rendering of pages.
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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.)

Scribus is a free desktop publishing application that runs on Linux (and most other UNIX-like systems).
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Like PostgreSQL, GNU SQL is an advanced database application that will run on most UNIX-like machines.
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SubEthaEdit is a text editor with a twist -- it is designed for collaborative work over an intranet or even over the Internet. It is available for Mac OS X only.
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The Sunbird application is meant to serve as a companion to Firefox and Thunderbird; it handles iCalendar data and general tracking of to-do items, meetings, appointments, and other scheduling information.
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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 scanner to a UNIX-like or OS/2 system.
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Sodipodi is a drawing program, more similar in concept to Illustrator or CorelDraw than PhotoShop.
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Sound Applications

Ranging from simple audio CD players to powerful sound waveform editors, sound applications can be used for entertainment or work.

A SID player for MS-Windows, Mac OS, UNIX, AmigaOS, OS/2, and BeOS.
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A full-featured tracker application allowing the editing and selective combination of different sound samples on different tracks for UNIX-like machines.
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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.

ShowMe TV
The ShowMe TV suite actually consists of two free programs that can be used independently. ShowMe TV Receiver is a typical multimedia player application; it can play numerous types of movies, animations, sounds, and more. ShowMe TV Transmitter is used for broadcasting digital video and audio over a network. ShowMe TV is available only for Solaris.
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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.

Stuffit Expander
Stuffit Expander is a program that is capable of undoing most of the encoding / packaging done for downloading / e-mailing. It will work on most flavors of MS-Windows, Mac OS (both X and classic), Linux, and Solaris. It has the ability to unzip, unstuff, ungzip, unbzip, uncompress, uncompact, unarc, unlharc, unrar, uudecode, untar, and disentangle several other processed formats besides.
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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 game of duelling wizards; predates Magic: The Gathering but plays in a somewhat similar manner. Runs on any UNIX-like system, and even has rules for playing with just pencil and paper.
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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.

Scratch is an educational programming environment developed at MIT.
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The Simple DirectMedia Layer is an engine used primarily to build games, but can be used for any application needing portable graphic manipulations. It supports UNIX-like machines, Windows NT, Windows '95 / '98, Mac OS, BeOS, OS/2, and more.
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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.

Sunfreeware -- Freeware for Solaris
A collection of hundreds of different software packages for Solaris systems. The software packages themselves vary from productivity applications to games.
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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.