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Get Started with 5 Useful Open Source Tools for Windows

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Open Source apps for Windows

These user-friendly open source tools will make your life that much easier… …and exciting.

Many believe that open source is only for geeks who would rather marry their computers or trade their kidneys to get the latest gizmo. Well, jokes apart, there is certainly a feeling that open source is difficult to follow and is not for every one. In this article, I aim to disprove this prevailing myth by listing five open source tools that are great for daily use, yet are user-friendly — and, no, there’s more to open source tools for Windows than just Firefox, VLC, and GIMP.

The following five tools merely demonstrate what open source has to offer us. Anyone with elementary computer knowledge can use them…


How do you customise your desktop? It isn’t only Linux users that have this privilege. Though Windows is a proprietary OS and does not allow you much scope for customisation, the open source tool Rainmeter gives you the much-needed freedom.

Rainmeter is not just an application, but a toolkit that lets you write and extend functionality. It has small windows called skins to display information, which are its basic building blocks. Using these, you can view systems resources, weather forecasts, emails, your FB status, tweets and RSS feeds, as well as make notes, launch applications, control your media player and more.

To get started, visit the site, download the installer and run it. After installation, you will see the default theme with various skins arranged along the screen. (A theme is a file that controls the layout of skins on your desktop.) Right-click the skins for a context menu based on the skin you are using. This lets you manage and even edit the skins.

You can even create your own skins — and you needn’t master a weird programming language to do so; the toolkit has its own language that is far easier to comprehend than regular programming languages (more on it at on the application website).

Even if you don’t want to edit or create your own skins, there are already thousands of skins freely available for download. Since Rainmeter is open source, the community backs you up whenever you need assistance. So what are you waiting for? Go grab Rainmeter now and amaze others with your desktop.

GNU Cash

How many of you have asked yourselves the question “Where does my money go?” every month-end? We don’t realise how much we’re spending until the wallet is empty. For example, if you planned to buy something big and were saving for it, you get a reality check at the month-end — you weren’t actually saving, because your money has to go towards your credit card bill! This is why we need financial planning — to prioritise our needs and track expenditure and savings.

The GNU Cash financial accounting software is one open source tool which does just that. It can help both individuals and organisations, allowing you to track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses — while even assisting you to actually save money.

You can download the latest release from the application website . It’s available for almost all common OSs, including GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and MS Windows. Installation is pretty simple: Next, Next, Finish.

When you launch it, you get a window titled “Unsaved book”. Go to File –> New File for a window to set up a new account; from here, you can create accounts for assets, liabilities, etc. Once you select your currency, you can select the categories to add in your account; each category has a set of accounts. Select the categories suiting your needs.

You can always add accounts later. Now you can save the account as a file (which is good for individuals) or to a database. A file is good if you’re not sure about databases. Now you’re ready to go! Remember to update your account regularly to track daily expenses and savings. You can view reports under the Reports link.

There is a lot more to GNU Cash; you can use it for small businesses too, with the provision to manage invoices, vendors, employees, customers, etc. Hope this introduction sparked your interest in this tool. Happy saving!


College students, software professionals or any one of us often need to draw a diagram to express an idea, design or concept. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, and is the best way to convey your thoughts. If you’ve ever tried to draw a diagram using MS Word, you probably know it’s better to write out those thousand words instead.

Well, sarcasm apart, here is an easy-to-use open source diagramming tool: Umlet, the free UML tool. Download the zip file from the application website. Unzip it to get the .exe and .jar files; run either to get started. The .jar file can run on any platform with Java 1.6+ installed.

When you open Umlet, you get a window divided in three parts. On the left is your drawing canvas, the upper right half has the default drawing elements, and the lower right is the Properties pane. You can drag and drop elements to the canvas to draw your diagram. Resize the elements directly on the canvas, and change text using the Properties pane. You can easily add new elements via the custom elements link, which offers a graphical as well as code interface to create custom elements.

You can copy diagrams and paste to other documents, or also mail them directly. The tool is highly configurable, and in case of a doubt check the official FAQ page.


Audacity is an open source tool to record and edit sounds. It has features for converting tapes and LPs to digital recordings, and recording streaming audio playing on the computer. It offers a lot to general-purpose users: music capture, converting favourite tunes to mobile ring-tones and more. Download it from here. The current release 1.3.14 is a beta; the stable release 1.2.6 doesn’t support Windows XP/Vista. Choose which one you want and install it.

To edit sound clips, open them via File –> Open to get a graphical representation of the clip. Now select the part to edit. You can add various effects (the Effect menu). More professional users can add effects manually using the Draw tool and the other tools available.

To record sounds, select the proper input device and click the record button; then save it to the desired file format. This tool has various other features you can put to good use.


Winmerge is an open source graphical tool to compare files/folders and merge differences. Currently available for Windows, it will soon be available for other platforms. Get it from here.

After installation, you can open files or folders to compare them. Comparing folders will show up files that differ; for files, the view shows the differences in yellow, by default. A few icons at the top are very useful, especially for bigger files. The “Next Difference” and “Previous Difference” buttons visit the next/previous differences found, eliminating the chance of missing one while manually scrolling. Other features are self-explanatory.

To merge differences, you can use the “Copy Right” or “Copy Left” button. The Copy and Advance button merges and moves to the next difference, in one go. As of now, Winmerge supports Windows, UNIX and Mac text file formats, and is usable for code and other text files.

So that’s it. Hope you liked the compilation and it inspires you to use these tools — or even better, get involved in the open source movement! All queries and feedback are welcome.


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