OPINION: Microsoft is about to drop Windows 8 on us and Apple has an operating system update coming soon. They will cost money. And do we need them? What if you could get all the photo-editing and other essential software absolutely free? Well, good news - you can.
Linux, the open-source operating system, has come of age. Not so long ago it was too geekily intimidating for the average mortal to even consider as an alternative to the big two, but the latest versions are not much harder to use than Windows or OS X.
We have Ubuntu installed on our Linux machine and with a little tweaking of the interface we have made it look just like Mac OS X Lion, right down to the dock at the bottom of the screen.
For quick viewing of images, we have installed Image Viewer. It is not as fast or as versatile as IrfanView for Windows but it does the job of opening and displaying images in a reasonably short time. IrfanView can be made to run on Linux using the Wine Windows emulator, but it is not for the faint-hearted.
There is no need to give URLs for any of this software because it is easily found using the Ubuntu Software Centre, where applications are grouped in categories. There is a Graphics group and a Photography subcategory.
The big cheese of freeware image editing is The GIMP. It does just about everything Photoshop can do but is ugly and cranky in operation. In fact, the only thing that stops us plunging wholeheartedly into the open-source world is the fact Adobe doesn't do Photoshop for Linux and there is no real freeware alternative.
There is a good alternative to Lightroom and Aperture in RawTherapee. Like a lot of open-source software, there are still geekprints on the interface, making it more obscure than it needs to be, but it works.
The high-dynamic-range application with the catchy title, Qtpfsgui, doesn't compare with commercial programs or with the functions built into Photoshop and Paintshop Pro X4. We couldn't get it to work at all - which doesn't mean it won't work, just that we can't get our head around the obscure operation.
There is a Microsoft-compatible free office suite that has word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications, variably known as OpenOffice, LibreOffice and IBM Lotus Symphony. All can be set to automatically open and save documents in Microsoft formats.
At the moment we have Ubuntu installed on a second laptop. We are not yet brave enough to jettison Windows and OS X but we feel the day may come when we no more think of paying for photo-editing software than we do for web browsers and email clients.
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