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03 April 2012, 12:32

Cross-Platform Essentials

Some of the best open source apps for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux

by Chris von Eitzen

If you run more than one platform at home, work or school, having the same programs available across all of your systems can make migrating or switching between them just that little bit easier. In Cross-Platform Essentials, The H takes a look at some of the best open source applications that can run on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

No matter which platform you choose, default operating system installations typically include a variety of stock or standard applications; however, all too often, they simply lack features or may just not be quite up to the required task. For example, on Windows, users are greeted with Internet Explorer out of the box and, on Mac OS X, Safari is provided – for a number of users, the included web browser is typically the first thing to be replaced.

Free and open source software (FOSS) offers users a choice. No matter what category of application – from browsers and email clients, to office suites, multimedia and graphics – the chances are there is a FOSS solution out there to meet your needs. While most users will have already heard of some of the following applications, we hope that we will still be able to introduce readers to a few new programs to try out.

If you prefer to see what some of the applications we'll be discussing look like in action first, check out the slideshow below.

Web Browsers

Firefox logo When it comes to open source programs, Firefox is probably one of the first that most people think of. Since its initial release in November 2004, Firefox has won a number of awards and gained browser market share at Internet Explorer's expense. Based on the Gecko layout engine, it includes support for state of the art web technologies, offers tabbed browsing and is heavily customisable. With free add-ons, users can add new features and functionality, from mail notifiers to web development tools. Extensions can also be used to change its appearance, including button layout, with a variety of themes. For those with multiple systems running the browser, Firefox Sync allows users to synchronise their bookmarks, history, passwords and open tabs with other copies of Firefox.
(Download – Licence: MPL/LGPL/GPL tri-license; however, it is worth noting that Mozilla's projects will be switching to version 2.0 of the MPL)

Chrome logo Compared to Firefox, which saw its initial release in 2004, Chrome is a relative newcomer from Google at just three years of age. Chrome, which refers to the graphical user interface frame of the browser, uses the WebKit layout engine and offers a minimal user interface. Using a Google account, users can sync their bookmarks, settings, add-ons and more between Chrome installations on any supported platform, including some Android-based smartphones and tablets. While not completely open source, Google has released much of Chrome's source code, including the V8 JavaScript engine, as the Chromium open source project.
(Download – Licence: BSD)

Honourable Mentions

Arora logo Firefox and Chrome/Chromium may be some of the best known open source browsers, but they're far from alone. For users who want a lightweight browser, Arora can run on any platform supported by the Qt toolkit and uses the QtWebKit port of WebKit. With support for plugins such as ClickToFlash, Arora is fast to start up and includes a set of built-in tools for web developers, but hasn't been updated for some time.
(Download – Licence: GPLv2)

SeaMonkey logo Firefox isn't Mozilla's only browser project; SeaMonkey is the non-profit organisation's successor to the old Netscape Communicator and Mozilla Application suites. It integrates a web browser with advanced email and newsgroup support, as well as an IRC chat client and HTML editing support. The "all-in-one internet application suite" is a good choice for users who prefer to launch a single application for surfing and mail.
(DownloadLicence: MPL/LGPL/GPL tri-license)

Next: Email & Messaging, Office & Productivity

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