The best part of the OpenOffice suite is the word processor, an almost perfect clone of Microsoft Word.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Stop paying for important software

March 23, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   We're too much in love with bling. If it looks expensive and costs even more than it looks, we want it.
   No wonder the economy is in such a mess. Isn't it time for a break?
   So sit back, breathe deep and start downloading. I've got some free, Open Source ways for you to get your everyday tasks done without spending a cent. In recognition of the big surge in Apple's Mac sales, I'll make sure Mac users get their freebies, too.
   Let's start with the granddaddy of anti-bling, the outstanding replacement for Microsoft Office known as OpenOffice. You only need to know two things about OO: It's about as good as software gets these days, and it's free.
   The best part of the OO suite is the word processor, an almost perfect clone of Microsoft Word. It's so good and so bug-free -- something you can't ever say about Word -- that I've switched to it for all my work. When a professional writer tells you a word processor is good, you know he's not just blinging you.
   Get OpenOffice for Windows and Linux from www.openoffice.org. For Macs, get the NeoOffice version (same software, different name) from trinity.neooffice.org.
   Windows Media Player might seem free, but you only get it if you buy Windows. And it's quirky enough to make you wish for something that just plain works. Enter VLC, the best media player around. VLC will play ANY movie or sound file, and it won't bug you with questions about whether you have permission to play something. (C'mon, Microsoft. Give us a break.)
   There are versions for Windows, Linux and Macs. I use all three and nothing comes close. Go to www.videolan.org.
   Want to copy that new DVD to your video iPod? Can't be done, you say? It most definitely can, for free, whether it's a commercial movie or just a home-video disk. Just use HandBrake. It's available for Windows, Linux and Macs. Get it from handbrake.fr.
   You might have heard of Google Earth, which lets you zoom all the way from space right down to your own backyard. It's cool. It's free, too, but it's not Open Source -- in other words, it's not freely adaptable, easily improved and designed to be shared. But your friendly neighborhood space agency has an Open Source competitor for Google Earth, called World Wind.
   World Wind uses NASA's own images and is spectacular. Right now it's only for Windows, but other versions are on the way. Get it from worldwind.arc.nasa.gov/.
   If you're a TV fan, you already know the bling HD TV can bring to entertainment. But you can use Open Source software to watch TV shows through the Internet. The secret is Miro, available for Windows, Linux and Macs. You can play TV shows and videos full-screen, too. Get Miro from www.getmiro.com/download.