One area that writers, musicians, graphic artists, or any other creative type get sucked into is that of spending tons of money on software. Having the tools you need to compete in a digital world is essential for success, but does it have to be expensive too?
The answer is a resounding no. The land of open source software is out there waiting for you to plug into and save money on software. I’ve either been using a majority of open source programs for projects my company Grave Distractions Publications has been involved with. For those of you not in the know, open source software are programs people have agreed to license for free and allow the public to have access to the code. The theory is that using the unlimited talents of the public, these software platforms can grow and evolve into better products.
The down side is that most open source doesn’t look as slick as, or have 100% of the capabilities of their corporately made counterparts. You’re making a time versus money judgment call when going the open source route. You might have to search a little for the particular plug in or add on to make the open source package you’re using sing the way you want it to. Or you might have to get creative and work around the limitations of the program you’re using. If you’re on a shoestring budget, the trade off is generally worth it.
Let’s look at one of my favorite open source programs, Gimp. No, not the gimp from Pulp Fiction… The Gimp is the open source world’s answer to Photoshop. The latest version of Photoshop C4 runs a suggested retail of $699. Since I’m not a technical guy, I can’t speak point by point on the capabilities of Gimp versus C4. I do know that I can manipulate photos with Gimp to suit my needs and still have $699 in my pocket. With a ton of filters and the ability to open up anything from a TIFF file to a PNG, I’ll keep my $699 in my pocket. Gimp is a little clunky on working with text and layers, but with a little trial and error even these weaknesses can be overcome.
Here’s some other open source favorites of mine. Download one and take it for a test drive. Just remember when you hit the big time, at least contribute to the software platform that help get you there.
Audacity is a audio editor and multi-track mixer. For bashing together music and speech for video or podcasting purposes it works well. The multiple tracks are graphically laid out well enough for novices to layer sounds. The package also comes with a number of audio filters to help you get just the sound you’re looking for.
Scribus will take a little getting use to, but you can do all the basics of text manipulation and layouts. Exporting to PDFs or Post Script files is a breeze. When exporting to PDFs on this platform, you may have to go into the PDF optimizer function after your PDF is created. The default Scribus settings do not compress the output PDF, so don’t be alarmed when you see a 32mb PDF that normally would be less than a meg.
Open Office mimics it’s Microsoft counterpart fairly well. I had a full version of MS Office already and didn’t need to go the open source route here. If you don’t have basic word processing or spreadsheets, I’d jump right in. Another bonus to using Open Office is that many of the other open source packages allow for direct importing from this package. Scribus is a great example of a open source platform that doesn’t allow for a Word DOC or DOCX file import, but will import an Open Office file.
Inkscape is an open source vector graphics editor. The package has capabilities similar to Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. Files can be saved in a number of formats including: standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), PNG, Post Script, EPS and Gimp extensions. I was also impressed with the amount of filters that come with the basic download.
Web Site Tracking
Goggle Analytics can give you more information about your website’s traffic than any human would ever need. After a few days of gathering data from Analytics, you’ll be able to precisely tell locations, entry and exit pages, keyword searches, time on site, bounce rate, and other nerdy facts that will help you optimize your web site. Please don’t pay someone for information you can get for free in Analytics.
There are plenty of other types of open source programs out there. Using anyone of these could save you a ton of money. Just be smart and do some testing on the open source package you download. You don’t want to get half way through a project and realize that you’re not going to be able to finish because of a software limitation. Also take a look at exactly where you’re downloading your shiny new package or add-on from. There are unscrupulous souls out there that would embed viruses in an open source platform or add-on, so be sure to have your virus scan on when you download. It still is true you get what you pay for, but in the case of open sourcing you can come out ahead of the game.