The Changing Face of Software

The days of floppy disks and CD-ROMS are well an truly over. Not only can we download most of our software online now, but the growth of the open-source market means we can usually find free alternatives to popular tools. These don’t always have the same features and functionality as their costly counterparts, nor are they as aesthetically pleasing. They do, however, get the job done and provide a cost-effective solution if you can’t afford the full-blown copyrighted software.

Image courtesy of Flikr user TheEggPlant

Image Editing

Photoshop is renowned for being brilliant but prohibitively expensive. GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an open-source alternative that has many of photoshop’s key features. You can use GIMP for image retouching, image composition and image authoring across several operating systems, including Windows, Mac and Linux. is a Windows-only paint program that offers foundation image editing features and is perfect for touching up digital photos.The software enables users to introduce layers, special effects and a range of other tools, as well as make use of the limited undo feature.


Audacity is a free cross-platform audio recorder and editor. As well as recording live audio, you can use it to convert tapes and records into digital files or CDs, edit different sound file formats, splice, cut, copy and mix sounds together and change the speed of recordings. Audacity is compatible with Windows, Mac OS X and Linux platforms.

VLC Media Player is a comprehensive multimedia player that will play practically any file format you throw at it. Music, video, devices, disks, webcams and different streaming protocols are all welcome and VLC often comes to the rescue when you get your hands on those awkward files that none of your other existing software will play. The media player runs on all platforms.

Word Processing and Office Packages

Open Office is one of the most popular open-source office packages around. Available for Mac and Windows, the software is compatible with most other major office suites, and contains Writer, a word processor, Calc, a spreadsheet, Impress, useful for creating presentations, and other office-related tools.

Libre Office is another productivity suite containing word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and database tools that are available for Mac and Windows. Mac users might also enjoy Bean, a word processor for OS that is designed to be as simple and uncluttered as possible.

Chrome OS preview

So what is Chrome OS? Not to be confused with Google’s browser of the same name, it’s a Linux-based operating system, which has been designed to work with web applications. It won’t be available to download, but will only be shipped on certain hardware from Google’s manufacturer partners.


Since it was announced last year, the techie world has been anticipating the launch of the first laptop – but we won’t be seeing that until next year now. Instead a lucky few (developers, early adopters and users who are used to using beta software) will be trying the OS out in a pilot programme that Google says was aimed at people who “live on the web”.

What makes Chrome different to the likes of Apple’s OS and Windows is that it is aimed at those who spend most of their time on the web. “We think cloud computing will define computing as we know it,” said Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive officer. “Finally there is a viable third choice for an operating system.”
Google’s Sundar Pichai said the software is not yet ready because there are unfinished features (Google Cloud Print, for instance, is not stable enough yet) and bugs that have to be ironed out.

Consumer devices are due from Samsung and Acer in 2011. They will be powered by Intel chips but no prices have been announced as yet.
Here’s a list of some of the browser-based operating system’s unique features:

* Cloud-based printing using Google Cloud Print
* Fast startup/boot time (less than 60 second the first time you fire it up)
* Profile sharing: A Chrome OS computer can be shared with others and accessed on other Chrome OS devices via guest profiles.
* 3G access: All Chrome devices will ship with 3G. The 3G is powered by Verizon and there will be no fees
* More security: Chrome OS will use OS-level sandboxing and data encryption. It can also detect malicious code and get rid of the bad code.

All very exciting stuff, however, Paul Buchheit, who developed Gmail and sold his own FriendFeed to Facebook, reckons that Chrome OS will die, or be gobbled up by Android. In a tweet he said: ‘Prediction: ChromeOS will be killed next year (or “merged” with Android)’.