It almost feels like there’s an app for everything these days. The worst part is that a lot of apps are created for very niche or specific purposes, which means you’ll need all sorts of apps for all sorts of things. As your need for programs increases, you may find that you’ll also have to start spending more money buying software outright or for maintaining subscriptions to certain services.
With so many costs associated with software, it only makes sense that people now look for free alternatives. And that’s where open source comes in.
To help you reduce the strain on your wallet, we listed some of the best open source software examples available in 2023. Let’s get started!
What is Open Source Software? [Definition]
The simplest way to describe open source software is that it is computer software (i.e. programs and applications) released under specific licenses. These licenses allow users to use the open source programs at no cost. It also allows a few other things — for example, users can inspect an open source software’s source code. Users can also freely contribute to open source project or make improvements upon certain software. And finally, users can also freely distribute open source software and anything that they build on top of it.
Chromium is a great example of open source software. On its own, Chromium was made as a browser project aiming to provide a faster, safer, and better browsing experience to users. Because it is open source, people were able to look at its source code. People began to make alterations and modifications and even started to build on top of Chromium’s source code. The result? You have browsers like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Brave Browser, all built from Chromium.
Why Use Open Source Software?
If you’re wondering why you should consider using open source software, here are a few reasons:
- Cost - One of the first and biggest reasons why people choose to use open source software is the cost savings. Open source software is typically free, although many projects welcome (completely voluntary) donations for support.
- Security and Stability - In most cases, open source software gets a lot more people looking at it, which means people also tend to spot more vulnerabilities and issues which can then get fixed.
- Community - Most open source software are supported and maintained by a growing community of people who use, test, modify, improve, and review the software. It is relatively easy to find support if you run into issues while using open source applications.
- Control - Open source software allows you to look at its source code, so you can see exactly what a program does — or even alter how it works if you know how.
Best Open Source Software Examples in 2023
Firefox is always going to be an example of open source software that many people use and love. Although it’s somewhat fading in popularity at the moment due to Google Chrome’s massive market share and tons of other competition, a there’s still a pretty big community of people who use and love this browser for its security, privacy, speed, and performance. There are a few concerns about the future of Mozilla and Firefox, so we shall see what Firefox will look like in the coming years.
- Has built-in security and privacy features
- Good user experience
- Has plenty of available extensions, including ad blockers
- Lightweight; fast performance
- Can be demanding on your computer’s resources
- Some concerns over future longevity or support
Brave browser first put out its full, stable release in November 2019, and the rest is history. Often found on just about any open source software list, Brave is used and loved by many thanks to its many built-in features to help protect users’ privacy and security. It has built-in ad and tracker blockers, for example.
- Focused on user privacy and security
- Native ad and tracker blockers
- Built on Chromium, fast and lightweight
- Can be overwhelming to less tech-savvy
- Affiliate link and cryptocurrency URL controversy
Design and Art
GIMP is an image editing software that works on GNU/Linux, Windows, Sun OpenSolaris, and even macOS. It has many tools that help users with image manipulation so they can retouch, restore, or create new artwork. There are also tools to help create icons, graphic design elements, and art. As a free tool, GIMP is more limited than paid options, but many love this software regardless.
- User-friendly even for beginners
- Can run from the cloud, a local folder, or an external drive
- Can open .PSD (Photoshop) files
- Limited — can only handle grayscale, 8bit RGB, and index images
- Limited third-party plugins
- Performance can suffer if editing larger files with plenty of layers
- Fewer tools than other paid options
On this list of open source software, Krita stands out as an excellent art tool for 2D animation and digital painting. It works on macOS, Linux, and Windows, and is a great choice for beginners and professionals alike. Krita offers many features and also supports OpenGL. What is great about this app is it has a dedicated and involved community that is active on its forums.
- Huge selection of brushes
- Supports layers and has layer management features
- Comes with plenty of materials to help you learn the program
- Active community with forums
- Fewer features than Photoshop
- Not super intuitive and can be intimidating to beginners
- Better for digital art and painting than photo editing or manipulation
- Some lag if you move your brush fast
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to do some 3D modeling work, Blender is your best bet. It is constantly cited as the best open source software for working in the 3D pipeline, which includes: animation, modeling, rendering, rigging, simulation, compositing, and even motion tracking. Blender is user-friendly though it does have a bit of a learning curve. The good news is there are tons of free tutorials available online to help you learn!
- Can do everything from sculpting and 3D modeling to photo and video editing
- There is a massive online community around Blender
- Tons of tutorials and learning resources are available for free
- Can sometimes be buggy
- Can be intimidating and difficult to learn
- Demanding on system resources
VLC has been around since February of 2001. It has since then been the media player of choice for many people worldwide. It’s free, lightweight, and packed with a variety of features to make your media consumption a pleasant breeze.
- Works on all platforms without limitation
- Has plenty of tools, including video converters and more
- Allows you to play various types of media files
- UI isn’t the best or the most attractive
- Can sometimes crash
- Increasing volume over 100% through VLC can break your speakers
Audacity has also been around for a while. It’s been known to be one of the top examples of open source software for people who need to work with audio files. More than being a multi-track audio recorder, Audacity is also an editor that empowers people to put edit audio recordings, put together music, and more. Audacity also supports a variety of plugins to make working with this tool even more interesting.
- Supports most operating systems
- Excellent features to help you edit audio and create high-quality sound
- Supports tons of plugins
- Hard to get support for any issues you may run into
OS and Utilities
If you have never heard of Linux before, you might be surprised but it is actually one of the best open source technology examples around. Linux is an operating system, much like Windows or macOS. But just because you’ve never heard of it before doesn’t mean you’ve never used it in some way. Linux is ubiquitous in technology; you can find it in home appliances, cars, and even smartphones.
- Very secure against potential threats and viruses
- Simple user interface
- Lightweight and fast
- Very adaptable
- Not very demanding on computer resources
- Steeper learning curve, not for beginners
- Software compatibility problems — not all software is available on Linux
- Hardware driver availability
- Not the best for gaming
You’ve probably already heard of WinRAR before. WinRAR is trialware, which means you can use it on a trial and upgrade when the license expires (though people can go years or even decades without ever upgrading, because WinRAR was never strict about enforcing its license).
7Zip is much like WinRAR, in that it is also a file archiver. However, it is fully open source rather than trialware. It works on Windows, Linux, macOS, ReactOS, and BSD.
- Works with various compression formats
- Easy-to-use interface makes it possible to use even for beginners
- Integrates well with Windows File Explorer
- The compression process can take a while in some cases
FileZilla is an FTP (file transfer protocol) application that lets you transfer files from a server to your client. It works on Windows, Linux, macOS, and other platforms and is easy to use and figure out. It’s also available in various languages for better accessibility. FileZilla does have its Pro version just in case you ever find yourself needing more features than the free version can offer.
- Supports FTP
- Flexible and free, but for more features, you can pay for the Pro version
- Server version available
- Not the easiest to pick up for beginners
Productivity and CMS
Ever heard of a software suite called Microsoft Office? Apache OpenOffice is like that — except it’s available entirely for free. This open source example offers an excellent alternative to Microsoft’s expensive set of productivity tools. With Apache OpenOffice, you can do word processing, work with presentations, and balance spreadsheets to your heart’s content. OpenOffice offers many other tools for your convenience.
- Supports most of the popular productivity file formats
- Has software alternatives to most Microsoft Office offerings
- Lightweight on the system
- Some design and formatting issues here and there
- Can take some time to get used to, especially coming from Microsoft Office
- Lacks some features available on Microsoft Office
WordPress is a content management system (CMS) that is one of the best and most popular examples of open source software. WordPress initially started out as a blogging service (which existed for a while as WordPress.com before it switched into being a site builder). It then became a separate entity as a CMS and basically took the world by storm. Nowadays, 43% of the world’s websites run on WordPress and we would not be surprised to see that number grow.
- User-friendly and relatively easy to learn
- Tons of plugins and addons are available to help expand its functionality
- Responsive, has a ton of free and paid themes available to choose from
- Has built-in features to help users improve their SEO
- Requires your own web host
- Updates to themes, plugins, and even WordPress itself can sometimes cause problems and require reverting to older versions (always create a backup before your update!)
- Vulnerable to hackers, especially if you download and use untrustworthy plugins and themes
- Easy to overload WordPress with bloat and slow down website performance
Python is one of the most popular programming languages available today — and it’s entirely open source. This language can be used for a variety of things, such as creating web apps, desktop apps, and even video games. Python is one of the best programming languages for beginners as it has a lower learning curve. It’s also becoming even more popular in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
There’s practically no limit to what you can do with Python, especially if you make use of some IDEs or libraries!
- Has a large community around it which makes it easy to find support if you experience any issues
- Vast selection of libraries
- Flexible, extensible
- Great for machine learning, artificial intelligence, scientific, and numerical uses
- Not the fastest
- Doesn’t work well for creating mobile apps
- Can use up a lot of memory
14. Ruby on Rails
Ruby on Rails has been slowly losing its steam over the years as other languages and frameworks have grown in popularity. However, Ruby on Rails remains one of the most popular frameworks for building websites and web applications to this day. Built with the Ruby programming language, Rails is used by many big companies and websites on the internet. Websites like Basecamp, GitHub, Crunchbase, Airbnb, and Cafepress all use Ruby on Rails.
- Can help developers be faster and more efficient
- Has many libraries and helpful tools
- Has a massive community behind it
- Adheres to standards strongly
- Not the most flexible
- Requires proper optimization, otherwise project runtimes can be negatively affected
PHP is a programming language generally used for developing dynamic and interactive websites. It’s even embeddable into HTML, which makes it possible for developers to add functionality onto just about any webpage without having to use any external data files. PHP is also easy to pick up and use, even for beginners, which is another reason it is so popular.
- Cross-platform support; platform independence
- Loads pretty fast even on slower internet
- Stable and reliable
- Lots of libraries available
- Some security issues; developers will need to be careful to beef up their projects’ security
- Not good for developing giant web apps
- Can sometimes perform poorly
Special Mention: Open Source Blockchain Software
Put simply, Blockchain is a system through which transactions are recorded. Each time a transaction occurs, information is then documented (typically on a spreadsheet). All of the participants can then access these spreadsheets and records.
Blockchain is completely open source, which means that it is open to community involvement and contributions. It is secure and is most widely used in the financial sector. However, it’s now starting to gain ground in other industries, such as eCommerce, e-governance, online voting, and more.
Below, you’ll find a few of the most popular open source examples for Blockchain:
Although Ethereum is now more widely known as one of the biggest cryptocurrencies (much like Bitcoin), it is actually also software that brings users and businesses together, helping in the creation of “smart contracts.” Ethereum’s development team is constantly updating and improving upon it with the goal of providing an even better user experience.
Ripple generally helps businesses to manage financial transactions. It ensures that data is secure while it connects banks and companies with various service providers worldwide.
Hyperledger helps businesses on the enterprise level to keep global transactions more secure. It is a platform focused on the goal of improving cross-platform blockchain technologies.
Open source software can really empower people’s daily lives. It can encourage budding artists and musicians to create, or push tech-interested people into the world of programming and computer science. There’s a vast sea of open source software available in the world today. We hope that this list of some of the best open source software examples has helped you find a few gems!
Doing some testing? We’ve listed a few of the best open-source security testing tools for apps.
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