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Monday 24 January 2022

Open Source Software

I often see posts, on various forums, about what free software to use. Many commercial products offer a free version for home use or a limited feature version. One way or another, I usually end up moving away from those restricted versions.

The only perpetually zero cost software, tends to be Open Source. Although there are many open source applications that show up when searching, lots of those do not get the commitment to be of any use. However, just a few become fully functional products that often rival their commercial counterparts.

The following is a list of the software that I have found are sufficiently developed to be usable products, at least for my home use:

Photo Editing = GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)
This is the niche that Photoshop fills in the commercial world. GIMP is a very capable photo editor and has a massive community of support and development. is also an excellent photo editor. For day to day use, I prefer the simplicity and speed of

Vector Graphics = Inkscape
This is the category that Adobe Illustrator fills. Inkscape is usable and has most, if not all, of the essential features. I would not claim it is a match for Illustrator but for free, Inkscape does an excellent job and is still being developed. Inkscape is one of the few tools to save SVG format files.
I have not found an alternative, Open Source, vector graphics editor.

2D CAD = QCAD Community Edition and  LibraCAD
I have more experience with QCAD than LibreCAD. Both have a very similar appearance because LibreCAD is a fork of QCAD. These are both applications that an architect would use for plans and an engineer would use to produce drawings to have parts manufactured. They are in the same line as the industry standard AutoCAD.
I have just started to try out QCAD 3.27.8 (November 2022). The QCAD Professional version is paid for, although very low cost. It add lots of nice to have, but not essential, features. I was going to try to stick to the Community Edition but wanted the layouts and viewport features, so I have decided to pay for the Professional version. For the short time I used just the completely free QCAD Community Edition, it worked very well and had all the important features of LibreCAD 2.1.3.

I tried LibreCAD 2.1.3, but it crashed frequently, so I have had to abandon that. LibreCAD 2.2.0rc4 was unsigned code, so a security risk that I did not have time to attempt to mitigate.

3D CAD = FreeCAD
This is the solid body, parametric editing solution. There are many commercial products in this area, such as Fusion 360 and Solidworks.
I like FreeCAD. It has a few limitations in the way the user interface works and the occasional bug but I have been able to easily produce any model I have needed for 3D printing.

I came across an alternative solid body modelling app. BRL-CAD. I have not tried it out yet. It looks like it is focused on modelling and rendering scenes. As compared to FreeCAD, which is aimed more towards engineering and CAM.

3D Mesh Modelling and animation = Blender
The investment in Blender has been so intensive and it's been around such a long time, that it now rivals the commercial products. It competes with Maya and 3DS Max and other industry standard products.
If you want to create models for computer games or for use in an animated movie, Blender is the product. Blender can also be used to make the movie, and often is!
Like most mesh modelling products, it can be difficult to learn.

Maps = QGIS
This may be a niche area of interest but QGIS has everything needed to produce very nice custom maps. It can import the standard mapping data, such as ESRI® shapefiles, which are available to purchase, or often to download for free. It took me a little while to understand the mapping terminology, but the application is fully featured.
I have no idea what a commercial alternative would be.

That's my list for now, I'll come back and update this as I find and use more of these types of applications.


Latest Update: November 2022

This page is updated, as I gain more experience with applications. The comments and versions may not relate to the date of the original publication.


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