Monday, June 17, 2024

Open Source Projects: 15 To Watch

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Within the past few years, the software movement known as “open source” has gained serious traction over its proprietary cousins. As it has taken hold of the mainstream, many of these applications – like Firefox and Thunderbird – are used everyday, without a second thought as to their origins.

But what about the apps that are headed toward center stage, yet are still under development even though they demonstrate considerable promise? Here’s a survey of some of these programs, including what they do and how they’ll affect open source as a functional alternative in the future:

1) CNR
CNR touts itself as a one-click delivery of a “standardized process for finding, evaluating, installing, and updating desktop software for the most popular Linux distributions, both Debian and RPM based.” It plans to debut in the 2nd quarter of 2007.

Without question, CNR has to be one of the most controversial software installation tools to ever come down the pike. Disliked by Linux purists because of its ability to distribute proprietary software to Linux users, this is most definitely an application to that will be making waves.

Once CNR finally releases its code into the wilds of the open source community, some serious changes will take place overnight. The two most important changes: the legal (in the US) distribution of audio/video codecs, and the first potentially successful attempt at standardizing software installation among a number of Linux distributions.

Reasons to watch this open source project: It enables more software choices, regardless of licensing, and the ability to install codecs legally without fear of violating IP rights here in the US. Also, it standardizes software installation. Designed for Linux only.

2) Kdenlive
Like proprietary non-linear video editors, Kdenlive is easy to use once you get the hang of its basic functions. Having said that, there are still a number of special effect features that would be nice to see come into play eventually. Regardless , Kdenlive is light years better in the realm of usability than some of the more mature Linux video editing options out there today.

Perhaps Kdenlive’s best feature is the simplicity of drag-n-drop video, audio and special effects. Undo any mistakes made with the utmost of ease and of course, and use a simple to follow time line that takes this software from novelty to useful. The application is a model of multi-track simplicity.

Reasons to watch this open source project: It allows true non-linear editing for home movies and video podcasting. Offers consistent feel to the layout thanks to a real time line for editing and continued signs of development progress. With a little more polish and some extra features added, this could be a viable alternative to Adobe Premiere Elements. Designed for Linux only.

3) Ardour
Think of this as Audacity for the professional audio engineer. In short, this is a pro-level audio editing application.

Taking this further, you might see this as your own home recording studio. Ardour comes complete with critical features such as multichannel recording, non-destructive editing, a powerful mixer, timecode synchronization, and hardware control from surfaces like the Mackie Control Universal. This is potentially the most powerful audio application to ever be released into open source to date.

One thing that seems clear is that Ardour is targeting those who are used to professional proprietary alternatives. And short of a small learning curve, this app may in fact give many of those alternatives a run for their money.

Reasons to watch this open source project: As demand for more affordable alternatives continues to surface within the ranks of budding musicians and audio engineers, Ardour will attract more interest. Yes, even ProTools is under fire from this application. Designed for OS X and Linux only.

4) DemocracyPlayer
At its most basic, Democracy Player is an Internet TV viewer. Designed to allow the end user full control over what content they would like to watch, subscribe to and set playlists to work with, DTV has only begun to reach the mainstream marketplace. And of course, having access to a “TV guide” to catch up on the newest shows certainly does wonders for adding longevity to the application.

Shows can be downloaded by free subscription thanks to the integrated podcast downloading abilities. A unique feature of Democracy Player in contrast to iTunes is its support for bittorrent hosted programming. This alone makes this a “must have” application for many users.

Reasons to watch this open source project: Advanced “episode/program” management, playlists, bittorrent support, Hi-Def support, full screen options and an easy to navigate show programming guide make this a fantastic alternative to closed source options like iTunes. Designed for OS X, Linux and Windows.

5) Jokosher
Still very young, Jokosher will provide a very nice alternative for those who are looking to go pro with their audio work, but may not yet be ready to step up to Ardour.

Where Jokosher stands out beyond other audio applications is that it provides for easy inclusion of a fantastic new GUI. This allows the ability to distinguish one track from another with the help of icons and other visual references.

Reasons to watch this open source project: Feels like Audacity with regard to simplicity, but has a full set of features and seems to be more fun to use from a visual perspective. That said, there are also reports that the ability for storing audio settings for each type of instrument in your mix will be an upcoming option for the project. I for one, am looking forward to this day. Designed for Linux only.

6) Wied
A simple to use, easy to configure wireless card support utility that offers front end help with WPA, WEP encryption, along with the ability to hop from one network to the other with ease. I also like how Wicd supports existing commands given to Linux users such as ifconfig, iwlist, iwconfig, and so on.

Getting things setup is relatively easy – start with a clean profile and simply enter the pertinent information for each network you would like to connect to. I do see some confusion with the complete lack of any real documentation or help from within the forums, but I am sure this will change as Wicd continues to mature.

Reasons to watch this open source project: With a little love and care, Wicd could become the networking tool that we had expected to see with GNOME’s network-manager. Considering its ability to work with all of the popular encryption schemes, I believe we will continue to see Linux users migrating over to this as an alternative for those who have been struggling with WPA and network-manager. Designed for Linux only.

7) Gparted Live CD
Manage and clone partitions, plus a whole lot more. The GParted Live Cd provides the end user the ability to have Partition Magic-type control without the cost, or needing to have an OS installed to run it. My favorite feature is having the ability to “clone” an existing partition to a back-up drive with right-click simplicity – it’s fantastic!

On the flip side, however, this does require downloading the bootable ISO file, burning a CD and then booting from it. Even though GParted is available to most Linux distributions as a software package, it still remains much easier to use from this Live CD instead for cloning and partition management.

Reasons to watch this open source project: Even though one might consider this more of a bootable Linux distribution, the fact that it is centered around GParted should be enough to get people to keep a close eye on it. When you examine just how easy this makes partition cloning, you would be foolish to allow this to slide underneath your radar. Runs off of a Live Linux disc, yet backs up a multitude of partition types. OS Independent.

8) Second Life client software
Once Linden Labs decided to take their client application and make it open for the world’s developers to dive right into, the virtual world truly took on a “life” of its own. Cross platform, and allowing people real opportunities to grow, earn money and even make new friends, Second Life’s open source client is on the verge of what Linden Labs is sure will be a virtual explosion.

The virtual world itself could be considered “open source” to some extent, considering how the participants/residents are free to live virtual lives openly, with complete freedom. It encourages you to build, explore and even develop your open source virtual products and software.

Reasons to watch this open source project: It’s ever changing, always growing. Also, considering the open nature of the community surrounding this virtual world and the software used to participate, I believe that the inclusion of open source standards will be coming to other aspects of the Second Life world. But in the meantime, the development of this application has been rather impressive. Designed for OS X, Linux and Windows.

9) Virtual Box
Virtual Box maintains an overall feel to that of Parallels, and this provides for a level of familiarity should the end user consider making the switch to the open source option.

Virtual Box offers a complete solution for running a virtual PC within their host operating system. This can prove to be a fantastic way to try out new operating systems, testing out beta releases or simply keeping your hands on any legacy software that you cannot currently run from within the host OS.

Reasons to watch this open source project: Cost – it’s free to utilize. Also, the fact that Virtual Box honestly provides a GPL friendly alternative to the other virtualization options out there. It’s frequently updated and they appear to have the user’s hearts in mind with each release. Designed for OS X, Linux and Windows.

10) Automatix
This application alone gave Ubuntu a huge shot in the arm with regard to usability back when Ubuntu Dapper was still plugging along in competition with other distros. But since this made drivers and codecs a snap to install, this became a “must have” application for a number of Debian variants.

Access codecs and other patented property can be blocked by the end user should they choose to not have access to these items. But truth be known, even here in the U.S., this is where most Ubuntu users are reaching out for access to the restricted codecs and other patented property.

Reasons to watch this open source project: Taking the virtual “buggy by the reigns,” Automatix has already begun to show their interest in adding proprietary software distribution along with the open source options they already provide. To some limited extent, I see them taking on Linspire’s CNR directly in the coming months. Designed for Linux only.

11) Envy
Envy is a video driver installation utility that helped to take the pain out of installing NVIDIA and ATI drivers for thousands of Ubuntu and Debian users alike. Always under constant development, the creator of this project has been able to provide a real model of open source software efficiency.

To me, what stood out the most was the level of support the creator of this utility offers. It’s almost beyond comprehension how much time he has invested in helping people get their video card issues straightened out.

Reasons to watch this open source project: Utilities like Envy, quite frankly, make or break Linux adoption for the new user. And because of the success rate that people have had with Envy instead of using Ubuntu’s Feisty restricted option, which has a mixed success rate, new users will be giving the Linux platform a second chance – all thanks to Envy.

12) Conduit
Conduit yields the unique potential for solving synchronization frustrations for users needing to maintain an exact duplicate of those same email messages, files, bookmarks contacts and even Webserver data on more than one PC.

Some other cool features that were released with version 0.3.0 include the ability to now sync Nautilus preferences, Fspot photos, iPod music and iPodNotes and improved two-way sync support as well. Again, this is still very much a beta product.

Reasons to watch this open source project: The single biggest reason to keep an eye on this program is because of how quickly they are moving forward with feature additions. Seriously, I see Conduit being the first to actually crack the Evolution PIM (personal information manager) puzzle for better synchronization with your PocketPC/Blackberry. Designed for Linux only.

13) Jabbin
Call Google Talk users who are using Windows, that’s what sold me on this program. Setting up the program is fairly straight forward and I myself have had success with placing and receiving Google Talk voice conversations many times.

Reasons to watch this open source project: Jabbin keeps to a fairly active release schedule, appears to maintain their funding with the use of ads on the main website and – perhaps most importantly – is listening to the needs of their users. Another item of interest is the desire to make Jabbin a Video communication tool as well. Video Skype, anyone? Designed for OS X, Linux and Windows.

14) Gfreqlet
Designed to provide Ubuntu users with a cleaner method of working with the frequency and CPU usage of your notebook, Gfreqlet is a must have asset for any Ubuntu user running off of a notebook battery.

Reasons to watch this open source project: Considering battery updates and technology changes, I believe it will be up to programs like Gfreqlet to make sure Linux users have maximum GUI access to the usage their notebook CPUs gobble up with daily use. Designed for Linux only.

15) Referencer
Understanding that being able to locate documents is not always enough, Referencer empowers the end user to take document organization up a level. By allowing you to import existing bibliography files or simply create and tag existing ones, I see Referencer becoming a must have for those wishing to stay organized.

For anyone who submits articles or is trying to keep a variety of documents in play, using an application like this presents some very interesting possibilities. Adding over three hundred documents presents no problem at all. It’s a metadata dream come true when dealing with more documents than time in my opinion.

Reasons to watch this open source project: With new document types beginning to roll out, and Open Office expressing promises to maintain usability on this ever-changing file format front, I believe we will see Referencer sticking to the forefront of these changes to make sure that as new formats are released, you will be able to keep them straightened up within a tight BibTeX file format for easier manageability.

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