One thing you hear often about Linux is that there’s no software for it. This is simply not true. There may not be much proprietary software for it, but there is some, and there are plenty of free alternatives to what most offices use every day.
This is just a quick overview of some of the programs out there, and it’s the first of two parts.This first posting focuses on applications for creating content. The next one will be more internet-based. I’ll go more in-depth into some of them at a later time. Many of these are also available on Windows and OSX, so you can experiment with them in the comfort of whatever OS you’re used to without making a commitment to switch. This listing is focused primarily on the types of things that are commonly needed for work- or school-related tasks, not necessarily for home desktop use.
Common tasks in any office environment include word processing, working with spreadsheets, making presentations, and sometimes handling databases. All of these tasks can be completed using OpenOffice.org, a spinoff from Sun’s Star Office.
OOo is a cross-platform office suite, so you can try it out without switching to Linux. For Mac OSX users, though, I’d recommend trying it out with NeoOffice, which is Aqua-native. It also has support for Microsoft formats, so you can share files with MS users. Be warned that this can be imperfect, usually if a font used to create the document is not available on the other computer.
OOo Writer (the word processor) has a better layout engine than MS Word does. The frames for holding content and adding captions are a good idea taken from desktop publishing suites. For presentations, Impress is top-notch. The ease of switching layouts for the slides and changing the whole presentation’s theme is great. Base is a bit of an unusual program. It can make its own native standalone database files, but it can also work with databases running on the computer, such as MySQL. Calc is the one part I would say isn’t really up there with MS Office. Excel is very good. Basic spreadsheet tasks work fine in Calc, but if you want to do something advanced, like find the trend line of a scatter plot, you need Excel. If you need Excel’s advanced features, MS Office can be installed on Linux using software like Crossover which adds just enough stuff to the Linux install for the Windows program to feel like it’s running on Windows. Lighter-weight alternatives to OOo include Abiword (word processing) and Gnumeric (spreadsheets). And of course there is always Google Docs.
For making signs, fliers, brochures, newsletters, etc., you want Scribus. Scribus is a desktop publishing program that gives you complete control over the layout of elements on the page. It works with CMYK color profiles and has PDF output, so the results are perfect for sending off to the printer’s. Because Microsoft has not seen fit to release specs for their Microsoft Publisher format, .pub files cannot be imported, unfortunately. Scribus does run on all major platforms, however.
Everybody mentions the GIMP, but how many mention ?
The GIMP’s greatest shortcoming is its lack of CMYK support. It only does RGB. Krita does CMYK. If you don’t know what that means, you probably don’t care. Pro photographers and printers care though, because CMYK are printer colors. Krita’s a bit limited as compared to the GIMP, though, so if whatever you’re doing is going to stay digital, go with the GIMP. GIMP’s on about the same level as Corel Paint Shop Pro, in terms of what it can do. If you are used to Photoshop’s layout but don’t need its advanced features, GimpShop is a modified version of the GIMP, made to feel like Photoshop. If you do need the advanced features, Photoshop CS2 can be used on Linux if you use WINE, the Windows compatibility layer on which Crossover is built.
(By) Mackenzie is a college student who likes to promote Linux and Free/Libre Software. Most of her free time is spent on the computer, helping new users, or hanging out with some of the friends she’s made in the Linux community. Check out her blog, Ubuntu Linux Tips & Tricks.