When we think of open source software, generally we think of a desktop environment that supports the same principles. But what about those people who prefer using Windows, yet want to try out some open source software to see what all of the fuss is about?
To address this, Ive put together twenty of my favorite open source applications for the Windows desktop. Then to make things interesting, I offer up the proprietary cousins for each application in comparison.1) 7-Zip Not to be confused with any of the other countless unzip programs out there, 7-Zip is unique in how it balances simplicity with format unpacking options. 7-Zip will pack/unpack anything from the following formats: 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2 and TAR. If you are looking to simply unpack software, then the list gets a bit longer: ARJ, CAB, CHM, CPIO, DEB, DMG, HFS, ISO, LZH, LZMA, MSI, NSIS, RAR, RPM, UDF, WIM, XAR and Z compression formats.
From the proprietary side of the fence, I point you to the popular WinZip program. Supported packing formats appear to be: ZIP and ZIPX. Anything beyond this is a mystery due to the feature list neglecting to elaborate on any other available formats.2) Filezilla Despite being my favorite FTP on my Linux desktop, if I was ever asked to use Windows again...this would be my FTP client of choice. Supporting options like FTP and FTPS, Filezilla is the FTP utility that I install on all of my PCs. Keeping my website FTP logins straight is also a snap, thanks to the included site bookmarks feature.
While I haven't used the software in recent years, I believe the closest proprietary cousin would have to be SmartFTP. Based on my understanding, SmartFTP offers the same features plus a few others not included with Filezilla. If you're looking to get FTP over SSH though, youll be looking at SmartFTP Pro edition. Did I mention Filezilla does this for free?3) VLC Why bother with downloading tons of codecs and half a dozen various video players when VLC does the job out of the box? While not visually as "sexy" when compared to other video players, I've found that VLC will play anything I throw at it. Audio, video, whatever -- it just works. Even more surprising is what appears to be possible support for Blu-ray playback thanks in part to the libbluray library project.
The most common proprietary alternative is going to be Windows Media Player (WMP). After looking on the WMP website, I was able to instantly see its limitations. For instance, if you lost your DVD decoding software somehow, you will be buying it again if you want that DVD playback functionality. Secondly, the WMP website is rather vague on what is offered for Blu-ray support. Seems the advice given is to use the "Blu-ray troubleshooter," whatever that is supposed to do. Digging further, it turns out that Windows 7 doesn't natively support Blu-ray playback, so one must "get" the codec to make that happen. Better add this to your shopping list.4) Thunderbird with Lightning Calendar extension Since most people are moving onto Google-based email and calendaring solutions anyway, Thunderbird is fast becoming a smart choice for Windows users looking for a strong email client. To use Google Calendar with Thunderbird however, one must toss in this add-on along with something called Lightning. The bundled Thunderbird installation provides a fairly decent open source Personal Information Manager (PIM) solution that would be my choice if were using the Windows desktop for any length of time. Besides built-in Bayesian spam filtering, I love how simple it is to export/import data from Thunderbird into other mail clients. Back-up is also simple. Thunderbird is awesome because I can export the data to ANY of the other platforms from Linux to OS X, with ease.
So what is the general choice for Windows users looking to run a proprietary PIM option? Well, you can go strictly email with Windows Mail. Or you can cough up the money for Microsoft Outlook instead? Assuming you can get past the fact that moving data from their PST file format into something compatible with other software is impossible, it does offer a more enterprise friendly solution than using Thunderbird w/Lightning. That said, unless you're relying on Microsoft Exchange support, I'd stick with Thunderbird myself using this option for better MS Exchange functionality.
5) Pidgin Not that I use instant messaging (IM) all that much these days due to its disruptive nature, but when I do it's always with the Pidgin IM client. What is so awesome about using Pidgin is that it supports video chat when connected to Gtalk through the Jabber protocol. In addition to being able to use AOL, ICQ, MSN and other IM protocols with this messenger for text messaging, I enjoy the fact that Pidgin allows me to run them all at once if I choose to.
If I had to be fair and select the best proprietary cousin, it would have to be Trillian. Like Pidgin, Trillian provides Webcam support through both Yahoo! and its own network. What I didn't see listed was support for Gtalk though. Google reports Trillian Pro (paid edition) as supporting GTalk using the Jabber protocol. This will give you text chat only.6) InfraRecorder For burning CDs and DVDs with an open source solution, this is the way to go. It's simple to use, reliable and makes short work out of any data you need to write to CD or DVD type media. The only downside is the lack of support for Blu-ray.
Nero Burning ROM is likely the most comparable proprietary alternative. It provides all of the same as the open source solution shared above, with the exception of including Blu-ray support. The obvious downside of course is that unless you still have a copy of the software that came with a recent DVD or Blu-ray drive, you will be buying Nero as it's not freely available otherwise.7) The GIMP While perhaps not being a favorite among those who use graphics editing software for a living, for the rest of us, Gimp provides some fantastic functionality. Having used Gimp much more than any other similar software, it's difficult for me to fault it for anything. Gimp makes general editing and photo touch-ups very simple. And any filters of functions I find missing are almost always available as a plug-in somewhere, should the need arise.
As you might expect, Photoshop is the most commonly used alternative to Gimp. Once you get passed the pricing for this software, it provides the same functionality found in Gimp along with other filters not provided. For myself personally, the only thing I've ever found more compelling about Photoshop vs Gimp was the better text manipulation tools. Gimp could use some work there, but is otherwise a better value in my household.