What you need to know about free software

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After the WhatsApp privacy debacle, many app users, in a mass exodus, downloaded Signal. Signal, while providing better privacy, is also open source software. Open source is a type of license that a developer can opt to make the source code of their application free and publicly available to anyone on the Internet to use, modify, and publish. The fact that Signal is open source gives the app more credibility, but for many the same fact has raised a lot of questions. While some questioned the security of the app, based on open source code, others leaned into the ethics surrounding software ownership and sale.

Open source software is essentially based on collaboration between developers. Open source software engineers publish their code online because they want other developers to modify and improve it. The most famous example being the open source Linux operating system and its plethora of derivations and distributions. If an app is open source, anyone on the internet can access it and understand how an app is coded on the backend. But by the nature of the code remaining free, even if hackers discover a potential bug that they could exploit, there will likely be plenty of hackers (good hackers, who will find security holes for the sake of reporting them to others. developers) who’ll find these vulnerabilities too. And since the code is open to anyone, community fixes and bug fixes can be developed and distributed very quickly. This ensures that apps also remain under constant community watch and that any malicious data transfer or privacy breach can be immediately identified by an online coding community.

But one of the main advantages of open source software, due to the nature of the practice, is that it will always be free. Open source code means that anyone with a little experience in compiling code can create an executable from the source code and set it up for free. Open source software also has many developers who volunteer their time to update, maintain, and support their favorite open source software. In a nutshell, open source software is and always will be free, and it benefits from a massive online community of coders, pushing and enticing them to tackle security and privacy issues. Great! Do I have to register?

Well, not everything is perfect in the land of open source. While you would be more secure and support a community of developers who believe in free software and collaboration, the quality of open source software tends to be hit and miss to say the least. While there are great examples of good open source software like Ubuntu, LibreOffice, GIMP, and Blender, not all open source software tends to be good. Plus, as the biggest software companies have hired professionals who look at all aspects of design, development, marketing, etc. Of software, open source software tends to be developed by independent developers, sometimes on their own, who do not have access to the resources that many large software companies do. This means that they usually need at least a moderate amount of troubleshooting to keep everything running smoothly and occasional bugs appear from time to time.

However, all is not a mess and there are some great examples of quality software that you can use to support the community. Mozilla Firefox is an excellent, fully open source browser with a special focus on privacy protection. Technically, Google Chrome isn’t open source, although the kernel it’s built on is this: Google’s Chromium Project is an open-source version of Chrome without all of the Google bells and whistles. Mozilla, on the other hand, is owned by a foundation that revolves around the privacy protection supported by open source software. Mozilla, in addition to Firefox, is also developing Thunderbird, an email client that replaces Apple Mail, Outlook, and Windows Mail. Thunderbird is also open source and one of the most popular and trusted email clients.

On the productivity side, LibreOffice is an excellent office suite. Just like Microsoft Office, LibreOffice comes fully equipped with a word processor, spreadsheet editor, presentation creator, and database manager. LibreOffice is also well designed and looks great with a top-aligned ribbon design that looks good although very similar to Office. LibreOffice is also open source and free. Celtx is also a great open source scripting tool that replaces Final Draft on Mac and Windows systems.

While there are plenty of options for both office and home users, creative professionals are where the shortcomings of open source software become more evident. Any creative pros who uses Adobe apps will complain a lot, but would never trade Adobe apps for an open source option. Just because open source software in these categories isn’t bad; in fact, over the years, programs like GIMP, Inkscape, and Blender have become powerful alternatives to their Adobe counterparts. GIMP is an open source image processor, while Inkscape is a vector illustration tool and Blender is used for 3D modeling. All of these programs have increased in complexity and functionality and in 2021 they are very close to what Adobe programs can do.

Either way, Adobe remains king when it comes to creative production software. Not only because of the quality of these products, each individual software works seamlessly with each other and with their files. Many creative professionals will work on a variety of different programs for specific tasks and with Adobe’s software catalog they usually have well-designed, developed, and professional software for all of these tasks; getting different components to work well together is paramount in creative workflows. While Adobe apps are great, they don’t come cheap and for $ 52.99 / month they better be perfect (which, unfortunately, aren’t). This is why even though I have encountered bugs, crashes, and freezes with GIMP and Inkscape, they are more understandable when they are free.

There is also a lot of smaller open source software out there like Signal and if you look a little bit you will find open source alternatives for almost any application you use. You might even be using a few open source apps right now without even realizing it.


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