Here are five free, legal programs I use, love, and think you’ll like too.
Mozilla Firefox and Ad-Ons
By now, most people know about Firefox. Firefox has been my browser for years. My favorite thing is how customizable it is. I can change just about everything in Firefox. My favorite ad-ons are: AdBlock Plus, which gets rid of annoying ads on YouTube and other video sites, as well as all pop-ups, and a research citation organizer.
- Faster than IE or Chrome
- Easy to install
- Fully customizable
- Private browsing supported Cons
- Sometimes an update slows things down for a day or two
I need office software for my freelance work, but I haven’t used Microsoft Office since before college, thanks to OpenOffice (now called Apache OpenOffice). Open Office is a complete office software package. It includes word processing, spreadsheets, presentation and a drawing program.
- Easy to install
- Intuitive interface
- Will do just about anything MS Office will do
- Ability so save in MS Office document formats
- If you’re used to the tabbed format in MS Office 2003 or later, it may take some getting used to.
While OpenOffice does have templates available, they are often hard to work with when I’m doing something like brochure design. Scribus is a dedicated desktop publishing software package, and I use it for all my publication design tasks.
- As powerful as MS Publisher
- Easy to install and use
- Can save in Microsoft document formats
- Like OpenOffice, the interface may be a bit unfamliar to those used to Publisher.
Where to Get It: Scribus Home Page
User Guide: User Guide Online
Bonus Resource: Keven Pugh’s Getting Started with Scribus YouTube Playlist
The GNU Image Manipulation Program
This one is the first piece of Open Source software I used, way back in my college days, and I still use it today. It’s an image manipulation software package designed to work with bitmap-based images (the most commonly used form of image; all digital cameras save images as some form of bitmap).
- Much more powerful than other free (or even low-cost) image manipulation software packages available
- Easy enough for beginners, powerful enough for skilled artists
- Able to save in every common image format as well as Photoshop native file format
- Not as powerful as Photoshop
- While you can do most of the advanced image effects you can do in Photoshop, it will take more time and more steps.
This last one is software I don’t think most people who aren’t professional artists or serious hobbyists would need, but it’s still good enough that it warrants a place here. Inkscape is a vector image manipulation program (similar to Adobe Illustrator), and I use it when I design logos that need to be used in a variety of publications.
Vector images are based on math, not on pixels, and can be re-sized to any size without losing image quality. Inkscape lets you create and manipulate vector images and export them as bitmaps.
- The computer does the math for you; you don’t have to break out a calculator to use this program.
- Lots of functionality
- Very easy to make images a specific size
- Can save in standard vector formats (like Illustrator "ai" file format) and export at bitmap files (like Jpegs and PNGs)
- Lots of tutorials available online
- May be confusing for those used to Illustrator
- Like all Vector image programs, there’s a learning curve for those not familiar with vector images.
This is a guest post by Melanie from Greeley, CO
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