But actually, not really. Open source developers have the freedom – in fact, enjoy the freedom – to develop for any OS, including Windows. Many of the downloads on this list are available for both Linux and Windows (and Mac, too, while we’re at it). The open source Firefox, for instance, is a model of cross-platform promiscuity, at home in the universe of Linus Torvalds, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs. Pretty wild, when you think about it.
In fact, if you do some real deep thinking (and we recommend you do), you’ll realize this list is a signpost for the future. In the years ahead, the boundary that contained open source will continue to dissolve. As open source apps are increasingly used by Windows and Apple platforms, the concept of open source will keep on evolving from its niche status to a leading (dare we say, dominant?) concept. It’s been a long time a-comin’.
Here then, are the apps that are leading the charge. Browse the full list (it starts below) or jump right to a given area:
Blender provides a highly advanced set of tools for rigging, animating, shading, modeling, and rendering 3D animations. It’s so powerful that it’s even been used by animators working on blockbuster Hollywood films. Tons of help and support are available, and the user community is very active.
Another alternative for 3D animation is Art of Illusion. This Java-based program doesn’t offer nearly as many features as Blender, but has a simpler interface that may be easier for beginners to handle.
This cross-platform sound recorder and editor let you record up to 16 channels at once, import and export a variety of audio file formats, edit with unlimited undo, add special effects, and more. It’s available in more than 20 languages.
Juice receives and saves podcasts so that you can listen to them at your leisure. It supports most media players, and it’s been downloaded more than 2.5 million times.
Frinika is a java-based music workstation that allows you to record and edit sound, add special effect, and mix in synthesizer sounds and drum beats. Unlike many other sound editors, Frinika lets you do everything from your existing PC without the need for extra hardware or equipment.
Aqualung plays audio CDs, internet radio streams, podcasts, and nearly every audio file format in use. It also offers the unique option of eliminating sound gaps between adjacent tracks.
Turn your PC into a drum machine. DrumTrack allows you to create and record your own drum score, including incorporating samples from nearly any audio file type. One note of caution: this app is aimed at hobbyists, not professionals.
In addition to Thunderbird and Firefox, Mozilla also makes a calendar application. If you use Thunderbird for e-mail, Lightning adds calendar functionality similar to Outlook. If you don’t use Thunderbird, the Sunbird stand-alone calendar gives you most of the same functionality, except that it doesn’t integrate with e-mail meeting requests.
If your New Year’s resolution is to make better use of your time, Rachota can help. It makes it easy to track the amount of time you spend on each project, and it can create html reports so that you can see where all your time went.
3. Tea Timer
Tea Timer lets you use your PC as an egg/tea timer and alarm clock. Set alerts to remind yourself to attend a meeting, eat lunch, etc. You can also run up to six timers at once, alerting you when your tea is steeped, your food is ready, or whatever.
Tabbed browsing, search suggestions, and a host of other features make this open source browser a perennial award-winner. It’s also really easy to customize with thousands of add-ons.
K-Meleon uses the same Gecko rendering engine as Firefox and also integrates the popular tabbed browsing feature. However, it’s the only browser that lets you use your Internet Explorer favorites and Opera Hotlist along with Firefox or Navigator bookmarks. K-Meleon also utilizes mouse gestures, is easy to skin and customize, and loads really fast.
Joomla claims to be “one of the most powerful Open Source Content Management Systems on the planet.” It’s also incredibly easy to use, making it possible for novices to get started adding content to Web sites, intranets, and extranets.
Designed with scalability in mind, Drupal can handle content for everything from small personal blogs to large community-driven Web sites. Key features include role-based permissions, personalization, searching, templates, version control, as well as a unique “collaborative book” feature.
Short for eXtensible Object Oriented Portal System, XOOPS began as a portal development tool and morphed into a full content management system. It’s driven by a MySQL database and includes personalization, user management, and support for multiple languages.
This relational database management system (RDBMS) takes up very little disk space and is very easy to use—even if you’re not a DBA. But don’t let the small install size fool you; Firebird is a fully-featured database that can handle millions of records with hundreds of concurrent connections.
PostgreSQL is an enterprise-class database that prides itself on standards compliance, including conforming with the ANSI-SQL 92/99 standards. Key features include Multi-Version Concurrency Control (MVCC), point-in-time recovery, asynchronous replication, nested transactions (savepoints), online/hot backups, a sophisticated query planner/optimizer, and much more.
This PHP tool that makes it easier to administer MySQL databases over the Web. It can create and drop databases, create/drop/alter tables, delete/edit/add fields, execute SQL statements, manage keys on fields, manage privileges, and export data.
This C++ integrated development environment (IDE) includes support for GCC-based compilers, integrated debugging (using GDB), support for multiple languages, code completion, and a customizable syntax highlighting editor. Linux-lovers can use it with Cygwin to get that Linux look and feel.
If you’ve struggled through setting up an Apache server with MySQL, PHP and Perl, XAMPP can make the process much, much easier; you simply download and extract one file, and you’re ready to go. The Windows version comes with a smorgasbord of apps, including Apache, MySQL, PHP & PEAR, Perl, ProFTPD, phpMyAdmin, OpenSSL, GD, Freetype2, libjpeg, libpng, gdbm, zlib, expat, Sablotron, libxml, Ming, Webalizer, pdf class, ncurses, mod_perl, FreeTDS, gettext, mcrypt, mhash, eAccelerator, SQLite, and IMAP C-Client.
This WYSIWYG text editor offers several upgrades over Notepad that makes it easier to write code. Specifically, it features user-defined syntax highlighting, syntax folding, auto-completion, search and replace, drag and drop, multiple documents, and more.
This java-based text editor provides auto-indent and syntax highlighting for more than 130 programming languages. It’s highly customizable and has a long list of plug-ins that make it even better.
16. Little Wizard
If you’re the kind of parent who believes children are never too young to learn how to code, check out this development environment for the grade-school crowd. Using only the mouse, Little Wizard users learn about programming concepts like variables, expressions, loops, conditions, and logical blocks.
This no-frills app can attach to any running Windows process and detect memory leaks. It groups leaks together by call stack for easier debugging.
As you might guess, Stickies lets you create virtual post-it notes and place them on your desktop. Support for the app is nearly non-existent, but it’s so intuitive you won’t miss it.
Ever wish you could save the items you cut or copy to the clipboard? Ditto does just that. It extends the capabilities of the standard Windows clipboard, letting you search and paste previously copied data.
Tired of staring at the same-old blue or blue-green Windows login screen? The Login Desktop Gadget lets you put something useful in its place, like weather info, stock tickers, etc. It also lets users run some applications without logging on.
With this handy deskbar, you can run a Google or Yahoo search without first opening up a browser window. Plus, it includes a number of shortcuts (for example, include the # sign after a name to locate a telephone number) that make searching even faster.
Love Lego building blocks? The topBlock screensaver builds a tower of Legos or wireframe blocks whenever your computer is inactive.
If you like the “My Pictures Slideshow” screensaver in Windows but aren’t sure you want ALL your pictures to be used, Karsten SlideShow lets you control which photos or video clips are used in your screensaver. You can also create a slide show to be used as your desktop wallpaper.
This accounting, ERP, and CRM software for medium-sized businesses is now available commercially as OpenMFG, but you can still get the free PostBooks version, with or without commercial support. Both versions both multi-currency support, advanced reporting capabilities, multi-layer security, and integration with wireless barcode scanners for inventory control.
CentraView includes contact management, salesforce automation, customer relationship management (CRM), document management, group calendaring, and more into one package. It’s Java-based and can be accessed from any standard browser.
H-inventory helps IT managers track hardware inventory and helpdesk incidents. It’s less than a year old and still has a way to go, but it already includes a number of useful features.
Mozilla’s Thunderbird is a completely customizable e-mail client. It also makes it easy to organize your messages and boasts some of the toughest security and privacy protection available.
Magic Mail Monitor makes it easy to check multiple POP3 and Web-based accounts from a single interface. Anti-spam features include configurable filters, friends list, and partial message loading.
File Transfer Apps
This FTP, FTPS, and SFTP client features an Explorer-like interface that should be familiar to most Windows users. It’s not pretty, but it’s very functional and fast.
WinSCP provides FTP and SFTP transfer capabilities, as well as some basic file management abilities. It offers an easy-to-use GUI, translations into several different languages, and SSH-1 and SSH-2 support.
Money Manager offers many of the most popular features from software like Quicken or Microsoft Money, but simplifies them. Use it to track your bank and investment accounts, set up and track a budget, remind you when bills are due, and more.
Aimed at the small/home office market, TurboCASH is a free, basic accounting package that boasts 50,000 registered users. As a bonus, the Web site offers extensive free help, wikis, and community forums.
Play Texas Hold ‘Em against up to six computer-generated opponents or network with other players from around the world. It’s currently available in 10 different languages with more on the way.
Anyone who’s played one of the Mario Bros. games (and who hasn’t?) will find this project very familiar. It’s a 2D jump and run game where you progress from level to level by avoiding obstacles and collecting coins, mushrooms, and moons.
Hero of Allacrost is a 2D role-playing game where you explore maps, talk to characters, and, of course, fight battles. According to the game designers, it was “made for, and by, fans of old school RPGs.”
SokoSolve includes a library of Sokoban games, a puzzle game where you push (but never pull) crates into scoring position. As you might guess, this app also includes a solver for when a Sokoban game has you completely stumped.
TORCS stands for “The Open Race Car Simulator,” which also describes the game in a nutshell. It features 50 different cars, more than 20 tracks, and 50 opponents, and you can play using either joystick or keyboard.
The project developers claim that Frozen Bubble is “the most addictive game ever created,” and they may be right. This simple puzzle-style game was originally developed for Linux, and this Windows version has a few limitations (notably no full-screen capabilities) but feels and plays like the original.
Probably the most well-known open-source photo editor, the GIMP also offers some of the most advanced editing features you’ll find in a free application. You’ll need Windows 2000 or later in order to run the most recent version though.
This isn’t the Paint graphics program that comes included in your Windows accessories. Paint.Net is a full-fledged photo editor with features like layers, special effects, Bezier curves, and others that you usually only find on much more expensive software.
Inkscape offers functionality similar to Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw without the hefty price tag. It includes advanced SVG features, such as markers, clones, and alpha blending, as well as the full set of tools you’ll need to create or edit vector graphics.
If you talk with friends on multiple IM networks, Pidgin is for you. It lets you log in to accounts on AIM, ICQ, Jabber/XMPP, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, IRC, Novell GroupWise Messenger, QQ, Lotus Sametime, SILC, SIMPLE, MySpaceIM, and Zephyr all at once. In addition, you can use many of the special features of each network, as well as some Pidgin originals, like Buddy Pounce.
Talk on the MSN network without using an actual Microsoft product. This MSN Messenger clone includes many popular MSN features, including photo display, emoticons, and Webcam support.
12. Miranda IM
Miranda works with all of the most popular IM networks and is smaller and faster than many similar projects. It has a library of more than 350 plug-ins, so you can customize it however you like.
13. Nebohodimo IM
Nebohodimo is a Jabber client that works exclusively on Windows-based mobile devices. It works well when you’re on the go, because it’s designed to stay stable even when your connection doesn’t.
14. World Wind
NASA’s World Wind program offers much of the same functionality as the better known Google Earth, with the primary differences being that World Wind is aimed at the scientific community, and it is truly open source (not just free). World Wind also covers worlds other than earth (currently the moon, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter), as well as offering satellite imagery of the night sky.
Do you use a lot of special characters in your documents or do you translate to different languages frequently? AllChars lets you add accent marks, copyright marks, and other special characters with a couple of easy-to-remember keystrokes.
MisterHouse home automation system interfaces with a variety of hardware to control virtually anything in your house, provided, of course, that you have all the substantial prerequisite hardware installed on your thermostat, lighting, curtains, television, phones, etc. It accepts voice input, so you can say “MisterHouse please turn on the air conditioning,” and MisterHouse will turn on the air conditioning.
Celestia lets you explore the universe from the comfort of your PC. You can fly to any known location in the galaxy and see what the night sky would look from that point at any particular date and time. And if you get bored with the known universe, you can use the plug-ins to create a new universe of your own.
With Apophysis, you can create or edit fractal flames. Fractal flames, of course, are algorithmically generated images. No, they aren’t really good for anything, but they’re interesting to look at, and math buffs love them.
The VLC Media Player lets you play files from an astonishing number of different audio and video formats—way too many to list here. Contributors have also designed lots of different skins for the player, so you can make it look just the way you want.
Miro lets you play any video file, save videos from YouTube and elsewhere, and it acts as a BitTorrent Client. It also claims to offer more HD content than anyone else.
InfraRecorder is a Windows-only application for burning CDs and DVDs. It supports dual-layer DVDs, as well as multiple file formats, including WAV, WMA, OGG, MP3, and ISO.
Its name is short for “movie player,” but Mplayer actually plays audio as well as video files. It supports a staggering number of file types, drivers, and languages, and it has an impressive list of awards to its credit.
Want to watch TV on your PC? FripTV is an SDL-based IPTV TV player. It’s still in the alpha stage, so be prepared to encounter a few bugs.
If you create tutorials or presentations demonstrating how to use computer applications, Wink makes that process much simpler. With wink, you can capture screenshots, mouse moves, audio input, and more in a simple Flash animation. Check out the Web site for a demonstration.
Formerly known as Ethereal, Wireshark calls itself “the world’s foremost network protocol analyzer” and “the de facto (and often de jure) standard” for network monitoring. It offers deep inspection of numerous protocols, live capture and offline analysis, multi-platform capabilities, VOIP analysis, and more.
Despite its name, Angry IP Scanner bills itself as a “fast and friendly” network scanner designed to help systems administrators check the security of their networks. Additional features include providing NetBIOS information, favorite IP address ranges, web server detection, customizable openers, and more.
Appupdater simplifies the life of systems administrators by automating the process of keeping multiple workstations up-to-date with the latest versions of software. It’s completely customizable, so you retain control of how often to check for updates, which types of software to update, etc.
10. Pandora FMS
Pandora is a free monitoring system (FMS) for large IT networks. You can configure it to detect and notify you of nearly any event: network hardware outages, Website defacement, even a sudden drop in the stock market.
Designed primarily for small businesses, MyLogon is a Windows applet that allows users to log on to a network fileserver. It allows for simple network account management without the need for expensive software, and it even allows Windows XP Home edition users to connect to a network.
If you’d rather perform network configuration and maintenance activities from the command line instead of a GUI, check out Networking Commands for Windows. This collection of command-line tools lets you use a small list of short, easy-to-remember commands to perform day-to-day systems administration activities.
13. Panic Button
Panic Button adds a small icon to the Windows system tray. When users click it, it takes a screenshot of any error messages currently displayed and sends a message to the helpdesk or system administrator. It’s also handy for anyone with friends or relatives who frequently ask for help with computer problems but never remember exactly what their error messages said.
Like the similarly named suite from Microsoft, OpenOffice offers feature-rich desktop applications including a word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), presentation creator (Impress), and a database (Base), plus a drawing tool (Draw) and a tool for creating mathematical equations (Math). Importantly, the files formats are completely compatible Microsoft Office and other office productivity suites.
The AbiWord word processor is compatible with OpenOffice, WordPerfect, and Microsoft Word, but it’s smaller and faster than all of them. It doesn’t offer as many advanced features as the more popular programs, but it does offer mail merge, auto-formatting, bulleted and numbered lists, spell-checking, and multiple language support.
Scribus is an open-source desktop publishing application designed to be easy enough for beginners to use while still providing the advanced features needed by professionals. Key features include spot color support, CMYK color, high-grade PDF creation, EPS import/export, and color separations.
You don’t need to buy Adobe Acrobat in order to create PDF document. The free PDFCreator can turn any printable Windows file into a PDF files—or a PNG, JPG, TIFF, BMP, PCX, PS, or EPS file.
Currently the most popular BitTorrent client, Azureus offers multiple torrent downloads, upload and download speed limiting, a customizable interface, and more. It’s Java-based and supports 26 different languages.
This is where you can find the official BitTorrent software. The latest version comes with the “Delivery Network Accelerator” (DNA) for faster downloads.
Noted for its reliability, the eMule client works with multiple peer-to-peer networks. It has a large developer base and improves with each new release.
Shareaza works with four popular P2P networks: EDonkey2000, Gnutella, BitTorrent and Gnutella2 (G2). The latest release (December 2007) offers better connectivity, better stability, and better skins.
This popular client for the Direct Connect network has been downloaded more than 35 million times. The interface is easy to use, and it’s 100 percent ad-free.
Gallery makes it easy to add lots of photos to your Web site. It automatically creates thumbnail images and allows you to add captions, titles, and/or watermarks to your pictures before you post them online.
Like Gallery, Coppermine manages online photo albums. It’s a little more difficult to use, but also offers more features than Gallery. For example, Coppermine includes multimedia support, bulletin board integration, and an e-card creation feature.
Sometimes a single photo can’t capture the grandeur of a particular scene—that’s where Hugin comes in. Hugin makes it easy to combine multiple, overlapping photos of a single location into one huge panorama.
FeedReader boasts “the most comprehensive podcasting support available today,” but it keeps the interface basic enough for novices to use. While the basic product is free, only the older versions are truly open-source with the code available for modification. Upgrades to the FeedReader Connect and FeedReader OEM products are available for a fee.
2. RSS Owl
This platform-independent RSS reader is easy to use and comes in a variety of different languages. The latest version has improved Owl’s searching capabilities, and it now displays a pop-up when you have new feeds to read.
There’s really no need to pay those annual subscription fees for anti-virus protection. ClamWin Free Antivirus offers excellent protection against viruses and spyware at no charge. It includes automatic updates to the virus database, scheduled file scanning, and integration with Windows Explorer and Microsoft Outlook.
If you have trouble keeping track of all your passwords, give KeePass a try. It encrypts all your passwords and stores them in a database which you can unlock with one master key—that means just one password to remember instead of dozens.
Before you donate that old PC to charity, make sure you completely remove all your personal information from the hard drive. Even if you delete your files, a knowledgeable person could retrieve some of the old information. Eraser makes sure that can’t happen by writing over the old information with random data.
Storing sensitive data on your PC or a flash drive? TrueCrypt can encrypt all or part of your hard drive or flash drive so that thieves can’t access it—a must for anyone who travels with a laptop that contains personal financial or business information.
Another option for digital encryption, WinPT (Windows Privacy Tools) contains a number of different applications in one multi-lingual package. In addition to digital encryption, it also allows users to digitally sign documents.
OpenFirewall includes both a kernel-mode and an application-mode firewall to provide two lines of defense against attacks. Unlike the Windows integrated firewall, it checks both inbound and outbound traffic for potential problems.
9. Moon Secure
Moon Secure uses the Clam antivirus engine, but adds a second heuristic engine and an enterprise real-time scanner. It’s not there yet, but the developers are aiming to create a true enterprise-class open-source antivirus tool.
This degrag tool’s claim to fame is its incredible speed. It has a small footprint and the unique ability to defrag your drive while you are booting up.
Get control over the Windows startup process. Startup Manager lets you decide which programs load at Startup—potentially speeding up the process.
Wondering how in the world you managed to fill up 80GB worth of hard drive space? HD Graph lets you see the reasons in a flash by drawing a multi-level pie chart that details how much space each directory and subdirectory is consuming.
Want to speed up your PC? Windows Powertools contains 16 utilities for improving your PC’s performance in one convenient package. Utilities include Cache2Trash (for deleting temporary files), DiskCheck (finds and resolves disk errors), Defrag (defragments your drive), Kompressor (compresses your hard drive), and more.
The normal Windows shutdown procedure from the Start menu works fine most of the time, but Kshutdown adds a lot of extra features. Most useful seems to be the delay option which lets you shutdown or restart your system at a later date or time.
This file compressor supports the 7z format to pack files into a smaller package than can be achieved with either the ZIP or GZIP formats. If you prefer, 7-zip can also create ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2, and TAR files and de-compress from nearly all compression file formats.
This graphical video editor let you edit WMV, FLV, RM and MPG files. The features are pretty basic, but you can edit, join, or split movies to your heart’s content.
Calling itself “likely the most popular DVD backup software worldwide,” DVDx converts your DVDs into (S)Video CD, DivX, or Windows Media files in order to save file space. The Ultra Edition, available for a fee, can handle copy-protected movies, though, of course, you should only use it if you have legal permission to copy those movies.
Handbrake does just one thing—converting DVDs to MPEG-4 files—but it does that one thing pretty well. It’s still in the early stages of development, but the latest version has greatly improved performance and fixed some of the bugs that hindered earlier versions.