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:

The Hurd
Quickly becoming the most advanced OS on the planet, the Hurd is the GNU Project's OS. The Hurd behaves like UNIX outwardly but has some additional features under the hood. Note though that it is currently still in beta and does not yet support too many different platforms.
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E-Mail and News Clients

For many people, e-mail is as important as the telephone and Usenet news is a handy source of information on numerous topics. They are grouped together here because it is very common for one application to feature both capabilities. Also, even though they're not really the same thing, news aggregators (for RSS feeds) are so frequently equated with news readers (for Usenet), we'll include news aggregators here too figuring that we'd only be adding to the confusion if we did otherwise.

Thunderbird can be used for both e-mail and Usenet news. It is lightweight and secure, and has powerful spam filtering capabilities. It can also work with iCalendar information via a special plug-in.
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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.)

teTeX is a complete TEX/LaTEX distribution for UNIX-like systems.
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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.

The GIMP is one of the best image manipulation / composition applications anywhere; it stands for GNU image manipulation program. While it is true that PhotoShop can do some things the GIMP cannot, it is also true the GIMP can do some things PhotoShop cannot. The GIMP is available for pretty much every UNIX-like OS and Mac OS X.
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A machine's capabilities can be extended with middleware. While a particular application may not be available for free for your platform, it may be freely available to run on top of middleware that is available for free.

Tcl/Tk Plug-in
Will allow the running of Tcl/Tk programs under UNIX, Mac OS, Windows '95 / '98, and Windows NT.
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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.

The purpose of the tar program is to bind quantities of files together into a single file for easier transfer or archiving, and unbind them afterwards when needed. It will work on all flavors of UNIX, most flavors of MS-Windows, and both flavors of Mac OS.
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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 Tool Command Language and its GUI toolkit (Tcl/Tk) are widely used on all flavors of UNIX, all flavors of MS-Windows, and Mac OS. While Tcl is particularly used for integrating other programs, Tk is used everywhere as a general-purpose GUI library used for building all manner of programs in all manner of languages.
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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.

The GNU Software Collection
The Free Software Foundation has made a vast assortment of extremely high-quality software available for free download as part of its GNU Project.
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Tucows Downloads
A large collection of software for Mac OS, all flavors of MS-Windows, OS/2, BeOS, Linux, Newton, Palm, EPOC, and more. The downloader must be a little careful though as not all software on Tucows is freeware; shareware, crippleware, nagware, and commercial software demos also live on this site.
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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.