Today I want to sing the praises of open source shareware! It’s not just make-do, cheapie versions of “real” (read: expensive and branded to the gills) software—on the contrary. A lot of software that is open source and available on pay-what-you-want or free basis is better than just about anything you can get unless you go for expensive professional editions. I want to spread the word about a few of my favourites, particularly since I have recently received a number of questions on how I create some of the resources I’ve shared here.
I just wrote a book; LibreOffice handled a 150-pages, 60k words document without any hassles. LibreOffice is a free and effective alternative to the Microsoft Office Suite, and it although it is originally forked off Open Office, it immediately beat the pants off its predecessor then kept on getting better. As a bonus, it’s also the non-Microsoft suite that has provided me with the best compatibility with MS Office, which is important when you collaborate with others (in particular, better than Open Office and Google Drive.)
Calibre allows me to organize, read, extract, convert, and create e-books so I can read my reference material in the handiest way and share my results. All those free e-books I’ve produced in recent years, like convention programs and role-playing game material were made thanks to Calibre. Even better, creator Kovid Goyal frequently releases updates with new, wonderful features, and the community of fans also provides useful plug-ins. If you use e-books on any device, you should have Calibre to manage your library because there is simply no commercial product that compares.
[Edit: It rocks even harder when you start using it as a server and connect your devices via wireless.]
GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a handy alternative to Adobe PhotoShop or Corel PainShop Pro and has also vastly improved over the years from its rickety early years. An active community also creates lots of useful plug-ins to extend the core program’s capabilities for image editing, free-form drawing and digital painting, photo-montages, converting between different image formats, map-making, etc.. The only thing I dislike about it is its name, because every time it’s mentioned in conversation in front of a friend of mine who uses a wheelchair, I can see her twitch as if she’d just been slapped. I wish someone had chosen a different name, but it’s been around for 18 years now so it’s difficult to get enough momentum for change.
Scribus is a desktop publishing program that lets you create well laid-out, visually attractive documents. If you can’t afford a professional product like QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign, Scribus is a much more powerful tool than consumer- or home-level desktop publishers like MS Publisher. It does have a learning curve, precisely because it can do so much more, and the support community is enthusiastic but small. I’ve used it to lay out magazine-style convention programs, character sheets, PDF e-books, and much more. Heck, I even use it to fill forms, now that I’m familiar with it workings.
MyPaint is a wonderfully light art application that works best with a tablet and stylus, and lets you draw or paint “realistically.” I love the way you can make the interface disappear and work as if you screen was a canvas, “dipping” your brushes in the colours to paint; it feels very natural. In addition, you canvas is infinite and you can resize as you go. I’ve described how handy it is for me to be able to do digital art; I’ve used MyPaint for all sorts of art, from ink drawing-style to more painterly.
[Edit: LyX is a document processor based on LaTeX. It comes with a well-designed graphical interface and had a ton of powerful features that allow the user to handle large, complex documents like academic articles, theses, and books. I would not use it to design a game book, but it’s great for a book manuscript, for example. Lots of useful support and documentation available too.]
Finally, these are not creative tools per se but I’m a fan of the Firefox Web browser and the Linux operating system, especially in its Ubuntu build.