Bossie Awards 2012: The best open source desktop applications

InfoWorld's top picks among open source office apps, time-saving utilities, and other desktop productivity tools

The best open source desktop applications
The best open source desktop applications

With so many free and amazingly capable open source desktop apps available, it's a wonder anyone still pays for software. And with OpenOffice and LibreOffice now competing to outdo each other's office productivity suite, the future looks even brighter than the present. Whatever your need (content creation, content editing, helpful utility) or your platform (Windows, Mac, or Linux), you'll find the right tool for the job among these winners.

Ubuntu
Ubuntu

Whether you love or hate Ubuntu's new Unity interface, it's the first genuinely innovative, modern, and original UI to come to an open source operating system. Ubuntu has driven Linux desktop adoption above 1 percent at long last, and Unity is the first step to going well beyond. Ubuntu 12.04 was the second release to include Unity and the first truly mature release of it, and now Ubuntu is hitting the tablet market, where it will be a viable option for users wanting a more powerful tablet than an Android or iPad. Thanks to the less desirable Windows 8 interface, we can expect an even more ascendant Ubuntu in the years to come.
-- Andrew Oliver

LibreOffice
LibreOffice

Before OpenOffice became an Apache project, it was forked by the Document Foundation (custodians of the ODF standard) and developed as an entirely separate suite: LibreOffice. LibreOffice is document-compatible with OpenOffice, so users of one can switch to the other with little worry that their projects will be mangled. The differences between the suites amount to many small but useful features. See this features and fixes page from the LibreOffice project, and this blog post, for a rundown of the newest additions in LibreOffice 3.6. One other key difference is licensing: LibreOffice is still under the old OpenOffice licensing terms (LGPLv3).
-- Serdar Yegulalp

OpenOffice
OpenOffice

OpenOffice -- the well-known, low-cost (as in $0) productivity suite that has provided so many with a viable alternative to Microsoft Office -- was recently placed under the stewardship of the Apache Software Foundation, where it has been updated to version 3.4. Word processor, spreadsheet, graphic design, presentations, math formulas, and database connectivity are all included, along with a broad array of add-ons, such as spelling and grammar tools for several languages. Among the recent changes: much faster startup, AES-256 encryption for ODF documents, many improvements to the spreadsheet app, better PDF output options, and a relicensing of the whole suite under Apache License 2 instead of LGPLv3.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

OpenOffice Templates
OpenOffice Templates

OK, OpenOffice Templates is not really an open source project. It is a collection of user-created templates for OpenOffice applications -- but what a collection! There are all sorts of templates available, from run-of-the-mill presentations and business letters to resumes, Christmas lists, calendars, legal filings, financial analysis, and pretty much any kind of business document you could think of. The site provides a five-star ranking system for each template, and you can list templates by most popular and highest rated. Most of the templates are open-sourced under a BSD, Creative Commons, or GPL license.
-- High Mobley

AbiWord
AbiWord

If you want a word processor without all the overhead of OpenOffice, AbiWord provides basic word processing in a fraction of the space. Its support of document types is limited (it works best with plain-vanilla .RTF or .DOC files), but it handles core tasks well and has a third-party add-on structure for expanded functionality. Plus, users of AbiWord can collaborate directly with one another via AbiCollab, using either the free AbiCollab.net hosted service or connecting peer-to-peer via a TCP link if they're not behind firewalls. Each user can make changes directly to another user's document, with problems like lag between users all accounted for thanks to a distributed change-tracking mechanism.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

Scribus
Scribus

Scribus is to desktop publishing what OpenOffice and LibreOffice are to the personal productivity suite. Most every feature you'd expect from a publishing application is here: importing external documents and images, advanced typographic controls, support for a broad range of image formats, tables of contents, drop caps, advanced text-wrapping and reflowing functions, and more. PDFs produced by Scribus support a full gamut of professional publishing features, from overprinting to archival features. It's a powerful, polished package with just one big drawback: Lack of native support for Pantone colors and other commercial swatch sets means that spot colors must be added by the user. But hey, it's free.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

Chromium
Chromium

Chromium is the open source, unbranded version of Google Chrome -- what there is of Chrome before Google adds its branding and Google-specific bits. The vast majority of it is the Chrome many people know and love: a fast, WebKit-based browser with tons of third-party extensions and a process management system that guarantees an errant plug-in or stuck page won't bring down the whole browser. Chromium is developed on an aggressive schedule. If you want to see where browsers are heading, this is the one to watch.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

Firefox
Firefox

Mozilla's Firefox remains an immensely popular browser, thanks largely to its culture of third-party add-ons and extensions for both developers and casual users. Mozilla's long-term focus on users' freedoms has sometimes put Firefox at a disadvantage in terms of advanced feature support (HTML5 video codecs, for instance). But the browser remains both relevant and up to date, with support for a broad gamut of HTML5 features and continued improvements in speed and stability.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

GIMP
GIMP

The image editor that's most often tossed around as a free replacement for Adobe Photoshop, GIMP gets you most of the way there, thanks to its proliferation of useful tools and third-party add-ons. Its interface is still quirky and messy (though a good deal of the mess has been cleaned up in recent years), and many individual features found in genuine professional-level image editors are missing, such as Pantone swatches or native support for CMYK. But no other program in its class has achieved such widespread use, support, or porting to various platforms.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

Inkscape
Inkscape

The open source equivalent to Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape is a vector drawing program with features to rival commercial applications in the same space. Text objects, polygons, gradients, tablet/pen support, and exporting to many common formats (PostScript, PNG, and SVG, among others) are all included. Advanced features include the ability to edit Inkscape documents as raw XML -- a great way to fix drawings that are broken or incorrectly imported -- and the ability to place text along paths or shapes, along with other detailed typographic controls. As with Scribus, the biggest missing piece is support for commercial spot-color systems like Pantone, but this can be worked around.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

CamStudio
CamStudio

Anyone who has wanted to record whatever's happening on their screen for the sake of a demo or a tutorial will appreciate CamStudio. It allows you to record part or all of a screen, a specific window, or even a roaming region that follows your cursor. The resulting video file can be saved in .AVI format or converted to Flash's .FLV format for easy reuse. CamStudio is missing a few features, like the ability to zoom in and out during recording, and it supports only a limited range of codecs to record to, although you can address this via third-party codec packs. Version 3.0 of the program, a total rewrite, is in the works, so look for that soon.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

Audacity
Audacity

This multiplatform audio recording, editing, and conversion application can import, export, and manipulate sound files in just about every format in common use. Audacity includes whole battery of common effects (noise reduction, limiting, "auto duck"), and common audio plug-in types (VST, Nyquist, Audio Unit, LADSPA) are also supported. The program's biggest drawback is the interface. It's rather clunky when working with multitrack audio, for instance, and some of the tool behaviors take getting used to. But the gamut of useful features far outstrips the limitations.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

VLC
VLC

This multiplatform media player application uses a road cone as its icon, but a Swiss Army knife would be more fitting. VLC plays just about any file format and any media type you can throw at it, and it can add subtitles on the fly from external files. It's also self-contained. No additional codecs need to be installed, although on Windows it can make use of native system codecs where needed. VLC can also work as a streaming client or server, a transcoder (though the interface is still clunky), and even a media library system.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

KeePass
KeePass

Forgotten, insecure, or dangerously redundant passwords are all in the past with KeePass. This multiplatform app stores passwords in a heavily secured database with top-grade, independently vetted encryption. Once you've placed your passwords into the "vault," you need remember only the database password and nothing else. Third-party plug-ins add integration with everything from smart-card readers to online file-sync services like Dropbox. A handy password generator lets you devise passwords and see at a glance how many bits of security they provide.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

7-Zip
7-Zip

A Swiss Army knife of an archive tool, 7-Zip is mainly for Windows, but ports exist for just about every other platform of consequence. Aside from reliably opening most archive formats in use, 7-Zip also compresses to a few common formats, including its own highly optimized, open-architecture 7Z format. Even file system archives like ISO, UDF, and SquashFS can be cracked open with 7-Zip, making it a handy way to pop open the contents of a disk image for adding to a bootable flash drive, for instance. CRC-32, SHA-1, and SHA-256 checksumming is also included. It's hard to imagine a rescue disk or system utility folder without it.
-- Serdar Yegulalp

WinDirStat
WinDirStat

"Where did all my disk space go?" WinDirStat shows you with easy-to-read graphics that depict where disk space is being allocated on one or more volumes, turning maintenance and disk cleanups into a game instead of a chore. (Small wonder the progress-bar icon for the program is Pac-Man!) File types can be color-coded for easy distinction, and the resulting map can be shown with or without free space as part of the picture. Right-click a region in the map to zoom in on folders or files, start a command-line prompt in a given subfolder, or perform mass cleanups via user-defined automated actions.
-- Serdar Yegulalp