Open-source software tends to be most closely associated with Linux. However, many excellent open-source applications support Windows, and a significant amount of open-source software runs on Windows exclusively.
Linux distributions carry lots of freely licensed software along with them, and the relative paucity of proprietary applications that support Linux means that free alternatives take on a starring role.
On Windows, open-source options must sometimes be sought out, but organizations would do well to keep tabs on these application alternatives and work them into their environments where they make sense.
In some cases, companies taking an open-source route can save a lot of money on license fees.
For instance, the functional differences between the Microsoft Corp. Office and the OpenOffice.org productivity suites are minor, but OpenOffice.org (which is nearing a major Version 2 release) is freely available, whereas the Microsoft product costs a few hundred dollars per seat.
In other situations, the choice between proprietary and free isnt one of price but of selecting the best tool for the job. For example, major instant messaging providers such as Microsoft, America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc. may never agree on interoperability among their services or clients.
The open-source IM client Gaim, by supporting each of those protocols (and seven others), offers that useful functionality today.
Whats more, theres a Gaim plug-in that provides message encryption—an important enterprise feature thats unavailable to users of proprietary messaging clients.
Similarly, the Mozilla Foundations Firefox Web browser and Thunderbird mail client have begun capturing the attention of Windows users—both in corporate and consumer quarters—based on the strengths of their feature sets and solid security track records.
Open-source applications for Windows also make life easier when working with other platforms. The compressed files tool that ships with Windows XP doesnt support archives compressed in the gzip or bzip2 compression formats (nor does WinZip), both of which are common on Linux.
However, eWEEK Labs found the open-source alternative 7-Zip a vital download for building Windows clients.
Along similar lines, Putty, a free SSH (Secure Shell) terminal application, and WinSCP, the secure file transfer client, are must-have utilities for system administrators and others who need to interact securely with machines running SSH.
Both GTK and Qt run on Windows as well, which is how applications such as Gaim and GIMP make their way onto Windows.
Weve not been accustomed to seeing much open-source software for Windows based on Qt. Until recently, Trolltech AS, the company that produces Qt and releases it under dual licenses—one for commercial software and one for open source—did not ship an open-source version of Qt for Windows.
However, now that Qt for Windows is available as freely as Qt for Linux has been, we expect this to change. In particular, were intrigued by the work of the K Desktop Environment on Cygwin project, which is working to bring KDE to Windows. This would further enlarge the scope of free software for Windows.