These Are a Few of My Favorite Free Things

I'm a big fan of open source software.  First, duh, it's free.  But I also like the concept of access to implementation files, although I've never taken advantage of that myself.  The more popular open source software can be better supported than the commercial alternatives with incredibly rapid release cycles and hoards of developers and QA people.  On the other hand, most times the commercial alternatives have more robust features and documentation.  But then you remind yourself that open source costs you nothing but time and you usually find that you can live without the features and docs.

My favorite open source titles are below.  I use this software regularly in my job or my personal life and I can vouch for its function, reliability, and usability.

Open Source
  • GIMP - Virtually every image that I've published on my blog and my Picasa Web gallery gets processed in some way with GIMP.  That's about as ringing endorsement as I can give it.  I won't claim that its a Photoshop killer (Photoshop is the industry standard for a reason) but it's quite capable.
  • FreeFileSync - This is a really well-specified file synchronization tool that I use to efficiently copy files to my backup drives.  It's easy to use and supports several synchronization schemes, including custom ones that you can configure yourself.  I've tried several commercial alternatives and FreeFileSync is better than all of them.  Highly recommended.
  • TaskCoach - More often than not, Microsoft Project is too much, but your calendar task list is too little.  TaskCoach is perfect for these situations.  It supports hierarchical tasks, dependencies, effort tracking, resource allocation, reminders/alerts, and attachments, yet it's dead simple to use.  Its pretty much ideal for personal project management.
  • FreeMind - A freeware mind mapper application.  For the uninitiated, mind maps are notational diagrams that depict relationships between things.  If you've ever seen a cop movie where the detective is pinning photos and notes to the wall and connecting strings between them, you've seen one.  They're great for taking notes, organizing thoughts, working out hierarchical designs (web sites, for example), or anything where you're trying to organize complicated information.  The advantage of doing them in software is the ability to quickly re-organize the map and add/delete/modify items, enabling you to interactively work out your maps rather than just document them.  The commercial software standard is MindManager, and while FreeMind isn't as robust feature-wise as that application (especially with regard to integration with other software), it is very capable and not at all limiting with support for all different types of tagging of information, linking to files and web pages, and attachments.
  • PDFCreator - This software allows you to create PDF documents by printing from your other software.  So any document, presentation, spreadsheet, whatever, can be turned into a PDF by just doing a File > Print.  One warning though:  By default, PDFCreator installs a very annoying adware toolbar on your browser!  This would normally be enough to make me not want to steer people to it, but it's easy to disable and PDFCreator itself works better than other freeware alternatives in my experience.  To disable the adware toolbar, do an "advanced" installation and de-select the "PDFForge Toolbar" and/or "MyStart toolbar" options.
  • KompoZer - This is the freeware alternative to Adobe Dreamweaver, the WYSIWYG HTML editor.  If you want to create web sites without having to futz with HTML tags, and you don't want to pay Adobe the ransom for Dreamweaver, this is your tool.
  • FileZilla - Eventually every power web surfer needs an FTP client.  This one is easy to use and feature complete.
  • Firefox - There are lots of options for browsers and they're all free.  I'm still a fan of Firefox, but that's probably more out of habit than defensible preference.  That said, its a good stable browser with a lot of features that I like, including tabs, password management, and synchronization of browser data (bookmarks, passwords, preferences, etc.) between my various computers.
A couple other tools I use that aren't open source, but do have free versions available:
  • Google Drive - A wonderful tool/service to synchronize files across machines on the Internet (say, between your home and work computers) and share big files with others without having to e-mail them.  If you combine Google Drive with FreeFileSync, you also have a free and simple online backup capability.  Google Drive is free for 5GB of storage.  Additional storage space is pretty reasonably priced and can be shared with other Google products, if you use them.  My only complaint:  The Google Drive client stops synching after my laptop goes into hibernate mode, and has to be re-started.  Annoying, but easily dealt with.
  • Skype - Get enough of your friends on Skype and never pay for phone calls again.  The rates for making long distance calls to non-Skype users or land line phones is also very reasonable, especially international calls.


  1. thanks for this. Great resource. I'm not familiar with much on here, except GIMP, which has been VERY handy to me at work. I've used it to make journal quality pdf images for science articles.
    The other items look intriguing, especially that mind mapper thingamabob.
    I'd have to live in a cave to not be aware of Skype, and I have used it. But I much prefer emailing my friends because I'm a writer and not a talker. It would be perfect for phone calling my parents but they are older than technology's comfort zone, and I haven't been able to talk them into it.


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