Best of Open Source Awards 2013

Bossie Awards 2013: The best open source desktop and mobile software

InfoWorld's top picks in open source desktop productivity, utility, and mobility

The best open source desktop apps and mobile platforms

When Microsoft forgot to put a Start menu in Windows 8, who came to the rescue? That's right, open source did. Just download and install Classic Shell (one of this year's Bossie winners) to put that Start menu back where it belongs. Open source has a replacement for your Microsoft Office too, of course. But then, open source has a replacement for everything. 

Firefox OS

Mozilla's experiment in creating a mobile device platform from its existing browser and software ecosystem is just now taking off, but the concept alone holds a great deal of promise for those tired of Google's more closed-ended, proprietary-service-driven approach.

Firefox OS is a response not just to Android, but to Chrome OS as well, and while it's good to see a few carriers and device makers getting behind it, we're more excited about what will come when the hacker community digs their fingers into it. We've already had a little taste: Check out the Firefox OS simulator for Firefox itself.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

Chromium

The world at large knows it as Google Chrome, but the open source world knows it as the Chromium Project. Google's experiment to create a better, faster, stronger browser served as the incubator for Google's V8 JavaScript engine (the core of Node.js) and the Blink rendering engine.

Omitting Google's branding and integration code, Chromium is not only popular with many security- and privacy-conscious folks, but is the version of the browser delivered in many Linux distributions. The project shows no sign of slowing down and has become the core of Chromium OS, Google's intriguing (if limited) attempt to deliver a Web-centric personal computing device.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

Firefox

Despite the continued success of Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox remains a major influential force in the browser world, not least because of the project's unflagging devotion to the ideal of an open, nonproprietary Web. Each revision -- now rolled out monthly -- adds refinements to the browser's speed, security, support for HTML5, and platform-specific improvements. For example, as of Version 23, H.264 video decoding is accelerated in Windows via DirectX Video Acceleration 2. Firefox also sports more granular Do Not Track settings than Chrome does.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

Classic Shell

Over the years, Microsoft has taken what used to be a decent UI in Windows and made it as confusing and unhelpful as humanly possible. To repair the damage, get Classic Shell. It has components for the Windows Start Menu, Windows Explorer, and Internet Explorer.

Bring back a gaggle of useful features, such as the Up button in the Explorer toolbar.  For that matter, bring back the toolbar in Internet Explorer! Make the All Programs start menu item function like the old cascading menu from Windows XP.

All the UI tweaks can be turned on and off individually via the Classic Shell preferences. Classic Shell's own toolbars are customizable to give you the features you need most.

-- High Mobley

Android

To paraphrase an Elvis Presley album title, 900 million devices can't be wrong. Android 4.2 and 4.3 heaped a slew of new features into the OS, such as a gestural keyboard, multiuser modes including restricted profiles ("kid mode"), tons of improvements to the way Wi-Fi works, and smarter data-usage controls. Hardware wasn't ignored either: Bluetooth Low-Energy, HDMI mirroring, and OpenGL ES 3.0 are all supported now as well. It might be a while before Jelly Bean shows up on your favorite phone or tablet (isn't that always the way?), but it will be worth the wait.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

CyanogenMod

Even if stock versions of Android have improved by leaps and bounds, carriers and handset makers continue to shoehorn much of their own, well, junk into Android phones. Not only that, but experts who itch to tweak their Android experience to the nines are often left out in the cold.

CyanogenMod helps these folks scratch such itches. A regularly updated alternative build of Android, it's jammed to the gills with under-the-hood options of every imaginable kind. Users have even reported better battery life and reception strength compared to some stock ROMs. Be warned that CyanogenMod is not for amateurs. You'll need to root your phone or use a phone with an unlocked bootloader.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

OpenOffice

After OpenOffice passed into the hands of Sun, then Oracle, many feared that the free productivity suite was on its way to the boneyard. Happily, this turned out not to be the case, as OpenOffice 4.0 proved to be a solid step forward from its predecessors -- and a good sign that the Apache Foundation's stewardship was all for the better.

Among the biggest changes in 4.0 is a new properties and formatting sidebar, donated by IBM from its Lotus Symphony project (a now-defunct fork of OpenOffice). It's a thoughtful addition that can be tucked away with a click, and another heartening sign that the new custodians of the suite aren't going to change for change's sake.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

LibreOffice

Not everyone was willing to wait around for the OpenOffice project to right itself. For the disgruntled, the Document Foundation's LibreOffice project was quick to provide the solution. Aside from offering the GPLv2 licensing of the pre-Apache OpenOffice, LibreOffice also features a more regular release schedule (once every six months), unique usability tweaks, and many features and bug fixes ported from OpenOffice itself. For instance, you can enable OpenOffice 4.0's new sidebar in LibreOffice 4.1. Plug-ins written for one suite will generally work in the other, too.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

Pidgin

The Pidgin chat client is compatible with AIM, ICQ, Google Talk, Jabber/XMPP, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, IRC, Lotus Sametime ... everything. It can run on Windows, Linux, and Unix natively. (For OS X, Pidgin recommends sister application Adium.) Pidgin supports buddy lists, file transfers, emoticons, away messages, and nearly 100 languages.

Lots of plug-ins are available as well -- for Facebook, Windows 7 Taskbar integration, text to speech, and audible alerts to name a few. Pidgin's voice and video support is limited to XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) networks, so most people use it only for text chat and file transfer. Its biggest advantage is that it supports so many different proprietary chat networks all in the same application.

-- Joseph Roth

KeePass

KeePass is a password manager that runs on Windows (and Mac OS X, Linux, and BSD systems running Mono). It stores passwords for all of your applications and websites in a single encrypted database, and lets you retrieve them with a single master password, or a key file stored on a floppy, CD, or USB stick -- or both. You can run KeePass itself from a USB stick and lock it to a Windows user account. Among other nice features, it will generate strong random passwords for you.

-- High Mobley

pdfcreator

Creating PDF documents has traditionally required Adobe Acrobat, which is expensive for widespread use. Enter pdfcreator, an open source PDF print driver that "prints" a PDF file from your favorite program such as Microsoft Word or Excel. It's as simple to use as a printer. Just select the PDF Creator virtual printer in your program's print window, tell it where to save the PDF file, and enter a file name.

-- High Mobley

PeaZip

PeaZip is an open source GUI application for file archive management. It's based on other open source technologies such as 7-Zip, FreeArc, and a variety of compression libraries.

Designed to function more like CD burner software than a traditional file archive program, PeaZip is easy for new users, while giving experienced users the options they want. It also supports more than 150 archives and compression algorithms, so it will open any archive file type you're likely to run into.

-- High Mobley

ProjectLibre

ProjectLibre is a Java-based project management solution that gives Microsoft Project a run for its money. Offering a UI similar enough to ease the transition from Microsoft's market leader, ProjectLibre packs in calendars, resource tracking, task management, and cost-tracking tools.

ProjectLibre produces the same familiar Gantt and critical-path method charts that project managers rely on, and its project files are interchangeable with Microsoft Project. It is not yet suitable for multiproject management because support for subprojects and resource pooling is lacking. But this could change soon. New cloud and server versions are in the works.

-- James R. Borck

TeXnicCenter

The LaTeX typesetting language -- a staple in the academic and scientific worlds -- has always been notoriously hard to work with. Hence, the proliferation of third-party tools to make one's LaTeX hacking a little less onerous. TeXnicCenter brings the look and feel of a Windows-native IDE to LaTeX and makes it easy to deal with common editing chores such as navigating to previously declared sections of a document or inserting boilerplate for functions. It also features one-click export-to-PDF to make previewing your results all the easier. Note that TeXnicCenter isn't a WYSIWYG editor. For that, you're better off with something along the lines of LyX.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

VLC

The Swiss (well, French) Army knife of video, VLC can play just about any video format thrown at it, and on a variety of platforms that staggers the imagination. Even badly encoded files that crash other players can be unmangled by VLC. The program can even transcode files between formats or capture video from cameras or the desktop.

The project's emphasis on playing back video streams rather than files means that some file-specific functions found in other players, such as seeking back one keyframe, don't work with VLC's current decoding engine. It can also sometimes take a little guesswork to figure out how to do something, but the sheer number of things VLC can do more than makes up for it.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

Audacity

Audacity is a multiplatform audio editor that can import and export in numerous formats, including WAV, AIFF, AU, FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec), and Ogg Vorbis. Useful to anyone who needs to manipulate audio, from amateur podcasters to professional musicians, it supports a large number of tracks and offers a large variety of special effects.

Audacity's editing features let you reduce noise and distortions, and the program has some of my favorite effects, including fades, wah wah, echo, and distortion. Another fun feature is the reverse effect, which allows you to play music backward just like Pink Floyd and the Beatles did in the '60s. Of course, back then all they had was four tracks and a thousand times more talent.

-- Joseph Roth