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:

Another free variant of Berkeley's UNIX, NetBSD supports a far broader selection of hardware than FreeBSD. It supports x86, PowerPC, SPARC, Alpha, 6800, MIPS, and more. It is similar enough to Linux and FreeBSD that typical users would have trouble telling them apart.
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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.

One of the most popular browsers in use today, Netscape is also one of the most feature-rich and offers the most advanced JavaScript support of all the browsers. Be sure to also take a peek at Mozilla to learn about future Netscape directions and try out upcoming betas. Netscape will run on most OSes, including Windows '95 / '98, Windows NT, Windows 3.1, Mac OS (both classic and X), Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, IRIX, Digital UNIX, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, OS/2, and more. It can be used for both browsing the web and gopherspace.
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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.)

The Nirvana Editor is another extremely popular text editor. NEdit is currently available only for UNIX-like machines, Mac OS X, and Windows NT.
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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.

The classic NetHack game will run under most UNIX-like OSes, Mac OS, OS/2, MS-DOS, Win 3.1, Win '95/'98, Win NT, and Win 2000.
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The classic space battle game Netrek will run under most UNIX-like OSes, Mac OS X, and Win XP.
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An action puzzle game for Mac OS X, and most MS-Windows and Unix-like systems.
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An arcade type game for most UNIX-like systems.
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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.