Warning This is a long post, so either have 10 minutes to spare before you start reading it, or to summarise, open source is great, free, and you can get a free open source application for any common application on your PC today.
Having downloaded the most recent versions of FireFox and Thunderbird, and again thanking the Internet community for creating such great applications for free and as open source, it got me thinking.
Can I replace all standard paid for software (bar the OS, and I'll cover that in a second) on my machine, with a free open source version?
Obviously to make this interesting you can extend the question a bit and say, open source software that will have the ability to work with my existing files, and have a relatively similar feature set to the paid software. I set off on a voyage of discovery. (I haven't included the OS in this little adventure, because quite frankly I'm too used to the way Windows works to try and even begin to make sense of Linux. Plus I don't like messing with my OS too much!
So to cut a fairly long story short here is a table of the software I use on my machine, or like to have on my machine as a web developer, and the open source equivalent I have found.
OpenOffice.org is quite simply amazing. It is a complete open source replacement for MS Office, and is, in my opinion a lot better! Features like being able to convert documents to PDF within the software, a better looking interface, improved support for XML files, stunning. But it is not just a word processor, it has the lot, spreadsheet, presentations, database, drawing etc, all for free and open source. From what I've seen they all work with existing MS Office file formats (Access would need a little cajoling using the ADO connector I think, nothing major), and all seem much better than the MS offering. I'm a convert, and I didn't have to pay for it. It is beyond me why more businesses don't use it, apart from wanting MS support I guess? Next time you're about to shell out to get MS Office on your PC, don't and get OpenOffice.org instead! Go, do it now!
So on to FireFox and Thunderbird. FireFox you don't need to get unless you are fed up with IE as it comes free with Windows. However thunderbird you do need to get, as it makes managing your email and rss feeds as easy as Outlook does, for nothing! Get it.
Onto the more specialised web developer stuff now. I've used Adobe Photoshop on and off for a few years now to produce the odd logo and graphic for various websites, but now I need no longer use it, as there is GIMP! Despite the unfortunate (but I guess intentional) name this is great! Its free, works, does everything Photoshop does that I need it to do, opens and works with psd files, and did I mention its free!! Also, if you are really used to the menu and layout of Photoshop, you can get a GIMP version, called GIMPshop, that recreates GIMP but with the Photoshop menus and options. That's the beauty of open source software you see, if its not quite how you want it, change it! So that's Photoshop taken care of.
UltraEdit is a tool I use to write code at work and at home. Whilst it is very good, you have to pay for it, and I don't like that. So the free open source solution is Notepad++. I've only really fired this up a couple of times, but from what I've seen its great, plenty of features that UltraEdit has, with some improved ones, like block management (indents and matching braces etc for you techies reading this). Especially good is the wide variety of syntax highlighting it comes with, especially for my .net and xml / xsl work, which UltraEdit is lacking in places. You never know, I might even use it in place of UltraEdit, we'll see...
Anyway that is my round up of open source software to replace all the common software found on a PC. As you can see I succeed in my original mission (hurray), you don't need to pay for anything these days, just get broadband and download it, legally! Hopefully this will have given you enough information to spur you on to investigate and download / sample some of these applications, and will help you save some money in the long run too! For now I've got all these applications installed, so if you don't want to install them yet but have any comments or questions then let me know. I'll do my best to try things out, answer questions, and post sample documents.