Open Source Productivity Tools that Run on Windows

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Productivity tools are software programs that allow a computer user to do certain specific tasks quickly and efficiently. The productivity tools listed here are open source and specifically meant for the Windows operating system.

The personal computer has become a part of most professionals’ lives, irrespective of the arena in which they work. Even a small shopkeeper uses a PC to maintain the records of his daily sales and purchases. Today, we are all pretty dependent on computers, and their efficiency and productivity directly impacts our personal productivity. If we spend around three hours a day to do a set of tasks, a quick and productive computer system may help us finish the same tasks in, maybe, around two-and-a-half hours. More than 86 per cent of the computers used in our homes and offices run on some form of the Windows OS. Hence, the productivity of Windows’ computer systems is really important.

There has been an enormous increase in the amount of data that our computer needs to process on a daily basis. For instance, a computer at a shopping centre needs to add and maintain the records of numerous customers who make daily purchases along with the list of items purchased by them, their prices and offers, etc. All this adds up to gigabytes of data, which impacts the performance of the computer when it computes large data sets. The productivity of Windows systems also depends upon factors like the frequency with which the different system files are cleaned, the way the large log files or a file system are handled, drive space utilisation, etc.

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Thankfully, there are many open source tools running on Windows that can increase a system’s productivity. These are available free of cost and can be easily tried out by anyone. Also, there is enough documentation and many write-ups available for these open source tools, which makes it much easier to use them. It is also easier to modify them as per our requirements since, being open source, their source code is easily accessible.

The need for open source productivity tools

I feel productivity tools should be named facilitation tools. Also, these tools offer a lot more than what we discussed. Let’s check out why they are in such great demand.

1. Productivity tools are in high demand as they help users to perform any specific task with much ease and flexibility, in less time. They are quite user-friendly.

2. Open source productivity tools are available free of cost and do not carry any pricing overheads, which is one of the main reasons why these tools are preferred.

3. Also, the developers of open source productivity tools make some or all of the source code freely available to the public. This allows others to take the code and alter it to create their own software.

4. Since all open source productivity tools are handled by the open source community, developers can actually monitor the user response and tweak their applications to better meet user needs. This really benefits users.

5. Productivity software organises different features in an intuitive way without actually copying another developer’s work. Some of the users are quite picky about specific features of the system. If they need to switch from one product to the other, they might get frustrated in case the second product does not organise its different features in the same way as the one they’ve become used to.

6. Different productivity tools also take care of the tricky tasks such as converting spreadsheets full of data into graphs and charts, which makes it really easy to perform different analysis tasks on large data sets. This also saves a lot of the manual effort required to analyse huge data sets.

7. One of the emerging trends in productivity software is collaborative software. This means that multiple people can work together on the same file and that too, at the same time. For different desktop applications, all files must be saved on a networked disk drive that is accessible to all the collaborators. In the case of Web services, different users save files to a database present on the Web. All the collaborators can work on the specific file from any of the computers connected to the Internet.

Figure 1: Plugin loading screen for Scribus (Image source: googleimages.com)

A few open source productivity tools and their features

Scribus: This is an open source desktop publishing program which is available free of cost. It is developed keeping in mind the user interface as displayed in case of Paint.NET and Inkscape.

Its features are listed below.

  • It sports a different layout, and the design tools are at par with its commercial competitors.
  • It uses a macro language called GIMP, which is available with a number of pre-packaged macros (e.g., a calendar generator).
  • It can produce professional-quality CMYK PDFs. It also has a ‘preflight check’ function in order to make sure that what we see is really what we eventually get.

We can get the best results out of Scribus when we use it in conjunction with a text processing system; it is not really a word processor in its own right and is not suited yet to laying out long-form documents. Also, as in the case of Inkscape, it’s internal support for colour matching systems is missing. We can partly work around this limitation.SeaMonkey 2.0.6: SeaMonkey bundles different applications like Web browsing, IRC chat, e-mail and an HTML editor, into a single application. It is quite similar to Firefox and Thunderbird but, unfortunately, it hasn’t attracted much attention yet. SeaMonkey 2.0 is really worth a look. Apart from the plugin-friendly browser and the email client, the most attractive part is the HTML editor, which is slightly more polished than KompoZer but is not available separately. It is not a substitute for any full-blown page design application like DreamWeaver, but it really works well for the basic HTML assembly and the clean-up. It can also examine the tag structure of the existing pages.

AbiWord 2.8.6: This is actually a simple word processing application. It has been developed to emulate the look and feel of Microsoft Word circa Office 97 through Microsoft Office 2003. AbiWord also emulates the vast majority of Word’s functions. This is especially useful for a live-collaboration function, which lets us connect to some other AbiWord user present across a network and to work on the same set of documents in real-time.

However, users do need to be cautious about a few things.

  • AbiWord can be tripped up by the documents created in other programs.
  • Some of the formats are not properly preserved, and some features supported in Word don’t always function as expected.
  • When working with the files created outside AbiWord, we should use copies instead of originals.
Figure 2: Drawing flowcharts using Dia (Image: googleimages.com)

Task Coach 1.1.3: Task Coach is an application that uses a simpler and checklist-oriented approach to help us stay on top of our workload. Different tasks that need to be done can be organised into different categories such as the assigned dates and progress percentages. They can also be time-tracked, so that we get an idea of how much time we are really spending on any given project.

Some of the advanced features of this tool are:

  • Can create sub-tasks and add ‘effort’ annotations to a given task, but we don’t need to know about how to use them to make use of Task Coach.
  • We can also visualise our tasks as more than just a list. We can see them using a timeline, a calendar view and a hierarchical view (for the sub-tasks).
  • These task lists can also be synced using iCalendar, or through a Funambol server if we use one of them.

Dia 0.97: Dia is actually an open source tool that helps in drawing flowcharts and diagrams. It is much like AbiWord for illustrations. However, AbiWord just gives us what we need to create a certain class of the design and does not really burden us beyond that. Its controls can be a little difficult to work with. For instance, it assumes that different people will draw the new shapes by starting from the top-left corner and then moving down, before moving to the right. (We get some odd results if we try drawing objects going from right to left.)

Dia is easy to use, and comes with a slew of common object categories such as hydraulic, electrical, programming, and so on. With Dia, it is really easy to jump-start a drawing of any sort.

Figure 3: Advantages of open source productivity tools (Image source: googleimages.com)

Advantages of open source productivity tools

1. Available free of cost: First of all, as soon as we add an open source tag to any tool, it certifies that the tool is available free of cost.

2. Versatile and flexible: People choose open source productivity tools because they have more freedom over such tools. They can analyse the code in order to be sure that it does not do anything they don’t want it to, and can also change it if they want to do so. Even a non-programmer can use these tools by modifying them to specific needs.

3. Documentation and help available: All open source productivity tools have documentation available online, which really helps to use them easily. Since the documentation is publicly available, users can study it to improve and make finer software. They can also share their code with the others, hence evolving their skills.

4. Highly stable: People usually choose open source productivity tools rather than the licensed versions for some essential and long-term projects. As we know, programmers publicly distribute the code for different open source tools. Individuals who have faith in that tool for difficult computing tasks can really be certain that such open source tools won’t disappear if their original creators stop working on them. They will always be supported by the open source community.

5. Security: Open source productivity tools are comparatively safer and steadier than the licensed ones. Just as anyone can view and change the code for different open source tools, they can also point out and correct the faults that a program’s original developer might have missed out. Also, since many developers can work on different parts of open source tool code without actually asking for the approval of the original developer, they can modify, correct and improve the code more quickly than in the case of licensed ones.

6. Scope for continuous change and improvement: There is always scope for change and improvement with open source productivity tools, as everyone can access the code and apply their innovation to it. There is a large community working for this, so the probability and rate of improvement is really high, compared to closed source software tools.

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