What Do You Want to Do Today?

The open source movement has hit the 21st century full force.  Gone are the days when you have to pay hundreds of dollars for software to meet your productivity needs.  From typing a Microsoft Office compatible document to testing the security on your network, there is an open source product out there for virtually everything you could want to do if you know where to look.

Here is a list of some of the products that can be used on an every day basis to meet the needs of even the most sophisticated user.  Best yet, they are free.


Productivity

OpenOffice.orghttp://www.openoffice.org  Have you ever had a deadline that required you to work on office documents or spreadsheets at home?  But who wants to spend $600 of their own money on a copy of Microsoft Office Professional?  Enter OpenOffice.org.

OpenOffice.org is a cross-platform compatible office suite.  That means it can work on Mac and PC and even Linux installations.  Create documents, spreadsheets, drawings and presentations easily.  And it still has the easy to use toolbar that Microsoft did away with in Office 2007.

The application itself has the ability to open, create and modify Microsoft Office compatible documents.  If you created the document in Office, you can generally access and modify it in OpenOffice.  And the system used the Open Document Format (ODF) to maintain the document’s ability to me modified in any standards based editor.

The GIMPhttp://www.gimp.org  Besides Office, one of the most commonly used applications is graphics editing.  There are a variety of commercial applications out there from Adobe Photoshop to Paint Shop Pro.  But why spend hundreds of dollars to retouch your photographs or to create new artwork?

For average users, The GIMP provides the much of the same functionality and tools as Photohop.  Multi-layered editing, transparencies, airbrushing and effects are all easy to use.  If you know how to use Photoshop, you already know how to use this free open source application.  And it works on any operating system.

 


Security Tools

Comodo - http://www.personalfirewall.comodo.com  How many times have you experienced downtime on your computer because it had been taken over by popups and spyware?  Have you ever been in the unfortunate position of your computer being taken over in a botnet?  Does identity theft scare you?  It should.

Comodo provides a free tool to help improve your feeling of security.  It provides protection from Trojans, hackers and a variety of security threats.  Unfortunately, it only works on Windows 2000 and later, but Mac and Linux users already have other free tools built in to the system to protect themselves.  Windows users need to pick of the slack left behind by Microsoft’s lack of security consciousness.
  
ClamAV – I am loathe to say it, but no computer should be without virus scanning.  There may be a lack of virus threats on Mac and Linux, but it is only good etiquette that they protect the Windows users they correspond with from viruses that could be forwarded on from other Windows users.


Mac OSX – http://www.clamxav.com

Linux – http://www.clamav.net

Windows – http://www.clamwin.com

Cain & Abelhttp://www.oxid.it  Here we start getting into products that could be questionable on some networks.  In fact, both McAfee and Symantec detect this free product as a “Potentially Unwanted Program” and deletes it automatically.  Ironically, Symantec sells a product with similar functionality called LC5 (lOphtCrack 5) that performs many of the same tasks but is not detected as malware.  When a vendor starts detecting and removing competing products without checking with the user, it is time to save some money and move to a different vendor.

Cain & Abel gives you the ability to audit users and resources on your network.  Do you have a teenager that has set a password on their login to prevent you as a parent from seeing what they have been doing?  Cain & Abel provides an easy to use mechanism for cracking that password without your teenager’s knowledge. But it is not just a windows password cracker.  It allows you to capture passwords for websites and email so that you can proactively monitor your child’s Internet use.



Untanglehttp://www.untangle.com  Since my last write-up on this product, version 5.0.1 has been released.  According to their wiki, there is not upgrade path to this latest version as of yet.  But if you have a spare unused computer sitting around, this software will give you all of the benefits of a business class IT security solution.

From spam filtering, to phishing blocker, to firewall to web use monitoring, this software gives you the ability to both protect your network from intrusions and monitor all traffic on your network.  For the home user, you can review the sites visited by your family and control access to types of information viewed.  You can use it to either monitor activity or actively block access to pornography or other undesirable Internet content.

For the business user, this one software package reduces the number of servers that you need to use to protect your network and control undesirable activity on your network.  The primary business class network that I monitor received over 3000 spam messages per day.  On weekends, this jumps to 10,000 spam.  This equates to 92% of all email being spam that users must filter through and delete on a daily basis.

Of course, for businesses, I highly recommend the purchase of the support subscription.  This allows you to integrate the device into your existing Active Directory infrastructure, provide remote access and receive immediate support for issues.

Nessushttp://www.nessus.org  Nessus is one of the primary tools in my security arsenal.  It contains definitions of the latest security vulnerabilities (the same attacks that hackers would launch against you to gain access to your network) so that you can test your network security and locate deficiencies. By using this software, you can better target your security efforts.

 


Communications

Pidginhttp://www.pidgin.im Formerly known as GAIM, this product allows you to connect to a variety of instant messaging systems so that you can have all of your IM contacts in one place.  It eliminates the need to open multiple applications to communicate with all of your friends and associates.  It is lacking some of the functionality of the proprietary IM systems such as Windows Live Messenger, but for pure communications, it make for easier organizing of your contact lists.

Trillianhttp://www.trillian.cc/ Trillian is another fine instant messaging application.  There is a commercial offering for the Pro version, but the free version should work for most users.  It allows you to integrate not only all of your IM clients, but ICQ and IRC as well so chat and IM become one application.  There is currently a beta program for the next version named Astra.  It can take months to be invited to test the beta, but from appearances, it should be worth the wait.  I have not used the application myself, but I know of others that are more than pleased with their testing. 

 


File Sharing

Azureushttp://azureus.sourceforge.net  When people mention file sharing, they automatically think of it as a means to illegally download music, movies and applications.  Some member states of the EU have even gone so far as to legislate against the use of file sharing protocols such as BitTorrent.  While it is true that a lot of illegal use can occur, BitTorrent still serves a very legitimate function.  Many in the Open Source community do not have the ability to host CD images and allow thousands of downloads.  Bandwidth is just too costly.  But when you need to find a current version of Knoppix or even the 21 CD set of Debian 4.0, there is nothing like using BitTorrent to connect to the hundreds of others that are downloading the same information so that you can obtain a copy faster than any single server can provide.Azureus is my client of choice for BitTorrent downloads.  While I am not too fond of the newer client, it retains the capabilities of older versions under the Advanced tab.  It is cross platform compatible which means that I can use it on my Mac, Windows or Debian boxes without having to find different applications for each OS.  

Filezillahttp://filezilla.sourceforge.net/ While not technically “file sharing”, Filezilla is by far the best application that I have seen for accessing files stored on remote systems.  Most people are somewhat familiar with FTP and HTTP downloading.  Whenever you click on a link to an application on a web site, you are using one of these protocols to download the file.  But these protocols do not offer any form of security.  In fact, they send passwords in plaintext which is just wrong.What if you want to securely download a file from your home computer?  What if you want to allow your users to access files remotely while not opening up to the world?  Filezilla is the only application I would recommend for accessing secure FTP (sFTP) sites.  The native drag and drop functionality makes copying websites to your server a breeze.  And everything remains encrypted over SSH tunnels.