State of my FOSS

I am a huge proponent of the Free / Open Source Software movement. I love the communities surrounding free and open source software, attempt to contribute where I can, and continually advocate for more openess in development. Software is one area in which cloud thinking can truly, fundamentally, improve the status quo. More companies need to get behind this movement, and with Unity’s announcement that their 5th installment of their platform has a ‘free but limited’ component, we’re going to start seeing more of a move in this direction.

As Linus Torvalds puts it: “Technology is a social project, it’s what makes people able to agree on issues.”

Here is the current state of my FOSS, current to February 2017.


The operating system -sets things up

Linux -> replaces MacOS or Windows
my variety: Arch Linux

This one is fairly self explanatory. The version of Linux I use is called Arch, and I prefer the XFCE desktop environment, which is very light and out of the way. If you are transitioning from Windows, Mint is a much easier experience (Ubuntu would be my other recommendation.) The reason there are multiple ‘flavors’ of Linux is simple, it’s open source. Anyone who would like to, can get at the code and develop new branches of it. If you are interested in knowing every single piece of software that runs your computer from the ground up, you should try Arch (experienced Unix operators only.)

The biggest hurdle to overcome here is the concept of Graphical User Interface installs. Though there is a component of this to any Linux Distribution the real power of Linux is in learning the command line syntax. Being able to quickly open a terminal and type a few commands to get what you want is really, very powerful. The other challenge is in finding software that works ‘out of the box’ on your machine. The rest of the stuff on this list will work wonderfully, because it is designed with open source in mind, and Linux is top of that list. Most games and commercial software, however, aren’t as nice playing with Linux. Fortunately there are workarounds, like WINE, which take a little effort to set up correctly, but run most Windows programs wonderfully.


Essential Software – Gets the work done

Libre Office -> Replaces Microsoft Office Suite

Okay, I have to get the boring one out of the way first, you have to have Libre Office. Does what Office does. If you are an Office power user, you’ll probably find something to quibble about here, but I seriously doubt it. Obviously this is not a cloud version like the newest Office products, your mileage may vary as to that being a pro or a con. Also, this does not have a mail component, but people only use Outlook because they have to (work email), anyway.

Scribus -> Replaces Adobe InDesign / Microsoft Publisher

I hate Publisher, so I didn’t want to put that up there, but a lot of people don’t know any better, because InDesign is so expensive. Welcome Scribus, a desktop publishing software that does what you need. No more wrestling with Publisher to put a text box where you want it, or have to recreate stuff that you’d like on a template page, and no subscription. Best of both worlds. This is a really powerful program, and as a previous InDesign power user, I can tell you, you won’t miss a thing. Top that off with great documentation and a decent Open Source community, and this program is gold.

Geany -> Replaces {text editor}
If you aren’t jumping to Linux, then NotePad++ is your go to for a text editor. If you are, then you’ll have more of a headache than it’s probably worth trying to install NP++, so go with Geany. Lightweight, straight text editor with a few hattrick function. Easy to manipulate to a useable GUI editor, if you aren’t in for a jump to Emacs or VIM (it’s okay if you aren’t.)

VideoLAN VLC -> Replaces Windows Media Player (and just about everything else media wise.)

I debated about where to put VLC Media Player, but it’s an essential enough software that it belongs here. Forget about downloading codecs for crappy, resource hog media players. VLC gets the job done fast and efficiently. Even if you aren’t interested in pursuing the rabbit hole of FOSS, you need to download this program. If you have a media file format, VLC will play it. Period.


Web Software – Gets you connected

I should note here that if you are not developing in Python, you’re missing out.

MariaDB -> Replaces MySQL

This is a fun one, because MySQL is technically ‘free’ but isn’t open source, and that’s why there is MariaDB. If you need a database manager, I recommend Maria over MySQL, primarily because it is a drop-in replacement with more features. The creator of MySQL (Michael Widenius) created MariaDB after seeing how Oracle closed up MySQL after they purchased it, so this is a version of his creation that is sure to stay open source.

Flask -> Replaces {Content Management System}

Flask is a robust application of python for website development. If you know python, you can do just about anything in this that you need to. The alternatives are Rails for Ruby (not bad, but steep curve for learning) or PHP (yuck).

Synfig Studio -> Replaces Adobe Flash

Although Synfig Studio is a fullish featured vector program, the real power lies in its ability to animate graphics for web export. I don’t include it in the 2D art as much as here for the use it has as an animation program over a strictly art program. If you are interested in 2D animation, this is a must have. If you’d like some spiffy, moving graphics for your website, this is a solid choice.


2D Art and Photo Editing Software – Makes stuff pretty

The GIMP -> Replaces Adobe Photoshop

The GIMP is a pinnacle example of Open Source Software. One of the best communities out there, a cohesive concept of what they are making, and countless script additions to fill needs the community has for the program. The learning curve for this program is no more steep than for Photoshop, and there are any number of reputable places to learn about it online. If you’re transitioning from Photoshop, I recommend this setup tutorial to make GIMP comfortable for you. If you aren’t, I still recommend reading that article for the ‘set to single window’ step, because that’s going to make your life a lot easier. This program is a must for ‘higher end’ image editing without the cost of a subscription to Adobe.

Krita -> Replaces Adobe Fireworks / Illustrator (sorta)

Krita is a nifty, quick paint program. You can make of it what you will, it isn’t as powerful as GIMP at image editing, but allows you a lot of freedom to get art on the digital canvas. It doesn’t vector as well as Illustrator, so that’s why I don’t give it full marks for that component, but it more than holds its own in its field. If you are a digital artist, this is a program you should have in your arsenal.

Inkscape -> Replaces Adobe Illustrator

Inkscape is a vector graphics program which works, in a very basic way, like Illustrator. It is lacking in some of the functionality that I’d like to see in a vector art program, but is useful enough that I haven’t had any problems switching to it over Illustrator full time. If there were an open source community that I’d like to throw my hat in to programming for, this would be it. It has a decent following, but kinda falls through the cracks with programs like GIMP and Krita on the market. If you want some great tutorials to get you started, I recommend Nick Saporito. The biggest advantage is the vector images, but most people needing to make those are in a pipeline, and will have one of the commercial programs for it. Technically, this is a necessary addition to any serious digital artist’s 2D FOSS tool bag, though your mileage may vary based on your desire to profit from your art.

IrfanView -> Replaces {image viewer}

While IrfanView is technically only a media viewer, there are some powerful extras hidden in it that make it very worthwhile for artists. Primarily, it is very useful for metadata analysis. Always remember, as an artist, to save your work with metadata, and then check it against this program. You can also check your favorite images for their metadata here, and get some insight to the artists, hopefully.

Digikam -> Replaces Adobe Lightroom

With this library organizer you can do virtually all of the stuff you could in Lightroom (that you actually needed to, anyway) and then export to the more powerful editors for actual work. Organize your libraries, edit metadata, skim through your project folders, etc. Definitely worth a look to keep the workflow clean.


3D Art and Game Programming – Makes fun stuff

Blender -> Replaces Maya / 3DS Max / Unity (sorta) / Adobe After Effects & Premiere (sorta)

Blender is probably my personal favorite from this list. This plucky 3D graphics render program is a lot of bang for a single piece of software. If you aren’t into 3D rendering, the video editing tools are still good enough to pull your attention. I’ve been able to do nearly all my learning about how to use this program (with a tremendously steep learning curve for those not used to 3d rendering) online for free. The resources are out there, and the community is fantastic. Add to this, the fact that you can write scripts in Python for the program, and you have me sold. The game engine is not half bad, it probably can’t compete with Unity (also free) yet, but it is open source.

MakeHuman -> Procedurally generate human models

MakeHuman exports to a format useable by all 3d rendering programs, and dramatically reduces setup time for people images. Incredibly valuable for 3D artists who aren’t great modelers, but want to make images of people.

PyGame -> Versatile game coding for python

PyGame is a great framework for creating simple games in Python. Combined with other resources, it can be a really powerful engine builder, and it plays very well with Blender.


Video Editing and Prep –Making it look good everywhere

Kdenlive-> Replaces Adobe Premiere / MovieMaker

Kdenlive (I have no idea how to say that) is a full feature video editor for Unix systems. This one won’t work on Windows, so you’ll have to find another alternative for that OS. This program does what Premiere does, and it does it well. It even feels faster on the render times, though I can’t say that with perfect experience. The biggest bit you’ll be missing out on with this, and the others in this post, is Adobe’s interconnected functionality. Not being able to just plop an editable AfterEffects composition in here is tough, but manageable.

Natron-> Replaces Adobe AfterEffects

Iniria (a research group in France) has hit a homerun with this sole replacement for AfterEffects. Natron does what you’d hope for in AfterEffects style. Kinetic Typography, moving images, quick transitions, all with a nodal editing system. I’m becoming a huge fan of this program, and am only not using it in my regular pipeline because I already have so much set up in Adobe.

Handbrake-> Replaces {Media Encoder / Compressor} and AdobeEncore (sorta)

Another French entry here, Handbrake gets a crack at every video that I output, even from commercial software. The compression alone is worth the effort to try this program out, but it also converts videos very handily between formats, and transcodes if you take the time to learn the closet space in this one.

MakeMKV-> Rips video from DVD to make MKV files.

MakeMKV is an indispensable tool to rip DVDs and BluRays to digital files. The legality of doing this is all in what you do with them. I have a media ‘server’ at home with our DVDs ripped out to it, so the kids can click and play. You can get short clips from movies to use elsewhere, just be careful for the copyrighting. My most common use for this, however, is in getting a video presentation for display that I’d rather have digitally than in a solid format. Works every time.


Sound stuff – It’s easy on the ears

Audacity -> Replaces Adobe SoundBooth

Audacity is indispensable for sound editing, this is a must have. From songs, to sounds, to recordings, and it is full featured, with plenty of plug-ins to hit all the varied file formats you might want.

OpenMPT ModPlugTracker -> Digital music creator.

Bring back 8-bit sound with ModPlugTracker. This incredibly open software allows you to create ‘instruments’ and alter them to the sounds you’d like them to have. Obviously, you could go much further than simple sine and saw waves, and have full orchestral instruments, but some of the fun here is just getting back that 8-bit sound vibe.

MuseScore -> Write scores directly to digital

MuseScore is a beautiful piece of software that is a true gift for music nerds. If you know how to read and write sheet music, you can do it digitally with this amazing program, and it has a ton of ‘built-in’ instruments to sample your music live while writing. It’s a click and drag program, so all the overhead of learning is really on the music theory side.

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