5 must-have open source apps for Windows, Mac, and Linux

… and they won't cost you a dime.

mac win lin

Open source apps for a cross-platform life

Many, if not most, people, myself included, run a heterogeneous environment, picking the appropriate operating system or platform for the job. To have some level of consistency in my cross-platform workflow I choose applications that I can run on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. And it’s icing on the cake if these applications are open source.

Here, then, are some of the best open source and free apps I've found for my heterogeneous environment.

web browser

Chrome

What good is a computer without the internet? It's about as good as a car without gas. There are two leading open source web browsers: Firefox and Chrome. Both browsers do a decent job, but Chrome's support for technologies like HTML5 and Flash and the availability of extensions that add more functionality set it apart. Chrome is available for all three platforms and once you log into your Gmail account, your passwords, bookmarks, Chrome apps and other configurations will be automatically synced across all your operating systems and devices.

theater

VLC

QuickTime on Mac OS X can’t play a lot of media formats, and the same is true for the default media player on Windows. In Linux all major players are capable of playing a wide range of formats, depending on the distribution (some distributions, due to licence and patents, can’t pre-install codecs; in those cases users have to install such packages to play media). The easy fix to this problem is VLC, an open source media player that can play virtually any media format. In addition to playback, VLC has a lot of lesser known features such as video conversion, online video download and audio ripping. VLC is available on all three platforms and is a very resource efficient and easy to use player.

mailbox

Thunderbird

If you have more than one email address you know what a pain it is to switch between them. And if you are traveling and occasionally go offline, then it becomes difficult to manage emails. The best answer is to use a dedicated email client. Not only you can use it offline, but you can also easily switch between accounts and even move emails between accounts. Thunderbird is by far the best email client available – better than Apple's Mail and Microsoft's Outlook. It’s available for all three platforms and it’s functionality can be expanded with extensions.

gimp

GIMP

We all need to manipulate images once in awhile. And while Photoshop is the best image editing software around, it is more powerful and more pricey than what most of us need. Enter GIMP. As with Photoshop you can use external filters and presets on GIMP to expand its capabilities. But if you're not a professional photographer and all you need to do is resize or enhance the occasional image, GIMP is more than adequate.

typewriter

LibreOffice

LibreOffice is the best open source application to create and access ODF (Open Document Foundation) files, making it the obvious choice for anyone who wants to create documents that will last forever and not be lost due to compatibility issues.

To me, this is serious business. I wrote stories back in 1997 that I needed to be stored forever, but thanks to Microsoft’s use of non-standard formats, I am unable to open the stories that I saved in Microsoft’s .doc format back in those days. And Apple's Pages is no better. There have been many cases where the users of Apple Pages were not able to open older documents as they were not compatible with the latest Page software.

Because ODF is an international standard, I'm not at risk of being locked out of my own documents. And since LibreOffice is available for free I consider it an obvious choice for Mac, Windows and Linux users.