Licenses tied to a single PC? Switching operating systems? Looking for cheaper hardware and remain productive? Is it all possible? Yes!

I am increasingly dismayed at the rapid changes in the productivity and operating systems scene. Don’t get me wrong, I am a forward-looking progressive. I don’t brood over computing technology and lament. I read computer manuals. I go out and buy even more books on computing and all things related. I relish news and updates online on what’s new, what’s exciting, and what’s rocking the computing and software scene.

So my dismay is really more about the regression in my opinion, when it comes to certain things in the computing scene – operating systems I am used to, operating systems that are prevalent, and the rather esoteric diversity of licensing, which can cause serious headaches to someone who not only uses technology, but needs to manage it for a business.

Therefore, I have been seriously examining the various permutations of operating systems and software apps, and how I can more easily adapt my business to roll with the changes in the scene.

For example, if a particular operating system goes south, I should be able to have a usable operating system alternative, even if running on completely different hardware platforms. If a particular office productivity suite becomes difficult to manage, I should have a ready and compatible alternative to run it on my current operating system, or even run it on future hardware with different operating systems.

In short, my computing needs can change, and should be scalable and adaptable to any change in the industry, and I should still be able to run my business – not tied to any vendor. After all, longevity of a vendor is uncertain, and when vendors go under, their wares go with them, and customers may be left in a vacuous lurch.

Here are some alternatives to various office productivity, graphics, video, utilities and other software needs on the open source space that I have tried, and are usable to various degrees. There are literally thousands of open source apps out there, but I try to recommend those that can work on all the major operating systems today, including OS X, Windows, and Linux.

Office productivity
LibreOffice is the best office productivity suite I dare recommend. It features a single monolithic app with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, basic drawing, math formulae, and simple personal database features. LibreOffice is one of the most compatible office productivity suites with its mainstream commercial alternatives, and then some. http://libreoffice.org.

Writing tools
For writers like us, sometimes we want a distraction-free writing tool that is void of fancy features, but allow us to simply write. FocusWriter is one such cross-platform writing tool. http://gottcode.org/focuswriter/.

Image editing
Not everyone needs to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to get a tool for image editing, although we would like a tool that has all those fancy features if we need them. GIMP is the open source “king” of image editing, for photographs and other bitmap images. It is a daunting tool that takes time to learn, and rewards those of us who keep learning and keep trying, with a powerful tool that handles layers, special effects, typography, and much more. http://www.gimp.org.

Vector graphics and illustration
The most cross platform vector graphics creation tool has to be Inkscape. Inkscape works quite similarly to many of the mainstream vector graphics and illustration software, although it is one of the few that uses the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format from W3C, rather than Encapsulated Postscript (EPS) format that we illustrators and designers are used to. http://inkscape.org.

Audio editing
Are you a podcaster? Do you need to record and edit audio for work? Audacity® can record live audio, convert analog audio to digital files, work with many different audio formats, and other special effect features. http://audacity.sourceforge.net.

Database creation
If you have used visual database tools, you may like Kexi, which works quite well for business executives like us who just want to quickly prototype or design databases we can understand, without the need for a PhD in database programming. http://www.kexi-project.org.

Desktop publishing
Desktop publishing (DTP) started on the Mac in the 1980s, when PageMaker, ReadySetGo and QuarkXPress were the greatest contenders then. Today, DTP has lost much of the shine due to the advent of interactive media and office productivity suites providing some similar features, but print publishing is still important. Scribus is one of the more developed cross-platform DTP tools, where we can typeset, layout, handle bitmap and vector graphics, word process, export to PDF, etc. http://www.scribus.net.

Email
Email is absolutely essential, no matter what some may say. Sylpheed, a Japanese open source app, is quite a capable email client handling all the usual needs of email, with a familiar interface. http://sylpheed.sraoss.jp/en.

Web browsing
There are many web browsers available today. I prefer the open source Chromium browser that has feature parity with most of the modern web browsers, and can handle all the current web browsing needs, including interactive media. http://www.chromium.org.

For other variants, on specific operating platforms, check out http://www.opensourcesoftwaredirectory.com.

I often ask myself, do I dwell on a particular product, a particular operating environment, a particular hardware platform, because I have merely an emotional connection? Or do I view the computing platform, in whatever guise, in whatever hardware form, in whatever spread of tools, as just something I leverage and spring from to get what I need to get done? The computer, or a tablet, or a smartphone, at the end, is merely a technical tool, like a wrench, a hammer, or a kitchen knife, to get a particular task done.