Open Source has always been thought of a field related to geeks who would rather marry their computers, people who would trade their kidney to get the latest gizmo. It is thought of as one of the most difficult fields next only to rocket science probably. Well jokes apart, there is certainly a feeling that Open Source is difficult to follow and it is not for common people. In this article I will list five such tools that can be of great use in our day to day activities, are easy to use and most importantly Open Source. These tools are just a small demo of what Open Source has to offer us, and that anyone with elementary computer knowledge can use these tools.
How do you customize your windows desktop? You are probably thinking there is no way out to customize your windows desktop and only linux users have this privilege. After all windows is a proprietary OS and you don’t have much freedom there. But that is only the half truth, the rest we will see now. Rainmeter, an Open Source tool gives you the much needed freedom in customizing your windows desktop (Official Site: www.rainmeter.net). Rainmeter is not only an application but a toolkit allowing you to write and extend the functionality. Rainmeter has small windows called skins showing you some or the other info. These skins are the basic building blocks of rainmeter. You can see system resources, weather forecast, email, fb status, tweets, RSS feeds, make notes, launch applications, control your media player and what not using these skins. So, how to get started! There is nothing much to it. You can go to the site and download the .exe file straightaway. Install the file and you are ready to go. When you go to the desktop after installation you will get the default screen. Here you will find the various skins arranged along the screen, this is the default theme (a theme is a file that stores a layout of skins on your desktop), right click on the skins will show the contextual menu based on the skin you have selected. Using this menu you can manage and even edit the skins. This is the freedom we were talking about earlier in this article, you get an option to edit the skins and even create your own skins, for this you need not be a maestro in some weird programming language, as I said earlier rainmeter is a toolkit and it has its own language which it understands. Clicking on the edit skin link opens the text file for the skin written in the same language which is far easier to comprehend than regular programming languages (More on it here http://goo.gl/YQWpO).
Even if you don’t want to take trouble editing or creating skins, there are already thousands of skins developed and available for download freely. Just select the skin you like and get it on your PC. Since rainmeter is an open source application there is always a community backing you up whenever you need any assistance. So what are you waiting for, go grab rainmeter now and amaze your near and dear ones with great desktops.
How many of you have asked the question “where does my money go?” to yourself after the month ends. I guess almost everyone. We don’t realize how much we are spending until there is nothing left to spend. For example, imagine this scenario, you plan to buy something big and start saving for that big thing, but get a reality check at the month end. You were not actually saving; the money you saved till now has to be paid as credit card bill. This is why we need financial planning, to prioritize our needs and goals, and track our expenditure and savings. Here we will introduce one open source tool that does just that, GNU cash, open source financial-accounting software. Whether you are an individual, or an organization, GNU cash can help you out. It allows you to track bank accounts, stocks, income, expenses and above all helps you to actually save money.
Now we will have a close look at how to use this tool. You can go to the site http://www.gnucash.org and download the latest release; it is available for almost all the common operating systems, including GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. You can download the tool for the OS you are using. Since we are considering the people new to Open Source here, we will go for the tool for windows platform. Just download the .exe file and install it, installation is pretty much the same, next, next, finish. When you open the tool you will get a window titled unsaved book. Go to the file->new file. This will open a new window to set up an account; this is the place from where you can create accounts for you assets, liabilities etc. Once you proceed and select the currency, you get the option to select the categories that you want to add in your GNU cash account, each category has some set of accounts. You have to select the categories that are suited to your needs, and are relevant. Once done you can always add accounts later. Now you can save the account as a file, or to the database. Saving as file will be a good option if you are not sure about the database and intend to use GNU cash invidually. Now you are ready to go. Only thing you have to do now is to update the account regularly to keep a track of your daily expenses and savings. You can see the reports under the reports link. There is a lot more to GNU cash, you can use it for small business also, there is provision to manage invoices, vendors, employees, customers etc. Hope this introduction of GNU cash is able to spark your interest in this tool and open source as whole. Queries and feedback are always welcome. Happy Saving!!
Whether you are a college student, software professional or any other working professional as a matter of fact, you must have come across a point where you had to draw a diagram to express your design, your thinking, and your understanding. Rightly so, after all a picture is worth a thousand words. Pictures or diagrams are the best way to covey your ideas. So how to draw these diagrams, MS word? If you have ever tried to draw a diagram using MS word, you probably know it’s better to write off those thousand words than to draw the diagram. Well, sarcasm apart, but now we will see an open source tool to draw diagrams, which is lot more easy to use, and produces excellent diagrams. Umlet, the free UML tool is a tool to draw fast and clear diagrams to express yourself. You can go to the site http:// http://www.umlet.com and download the zip file. Once you unzip the file you get the .exe and the .jar files. You can run either of them to get started. Using the .jar file you can run umlet on any platform e.g. linux, windows or any other OS, provided you have java 1.6 or above installed. Once you open umlet you get a window divided in three parts, on the left you have your canvas where the picture will be drawn, on the upper right half you have the default elements that are available for drawing and the lower right is the properties window. You can drag and drop the default elements to the canvas and draw your diagram, you need to resize the elements directly in canvas, the text also can be changed using the property window. Addition of the new elements can be done using the custom elements link, which gives you a graphical as well as coding interface to create a custom element for your diagram.
After completing your diagram you can copy the whole diagram and paste to your other documents, you can also mail the diagram using umlet directly. Once into the tool you can get the most out of it, to get the best of diagrams, since it’s completely configurable. In case of doubts you can check the link http://www.umlet.com/faq.htm
The fourth tool that I will present here is Audacity, an open source tool to record and edit sounds. Audacity is essentially a sound editing tool, but with features like converting tapes and records to digital recordings, copying tapes, LPs and other media to CD or computer, and recording streaming audio playing on the computer it has much to give to general purpose users. There are times when you want to capture some music going on but don’t know how to do it, sometimes you like a tune and want to convert it to your mobile ring tone but again how to do it!! Well now you can do all these with this one tool. To get started you can go to the site http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/ to download the audacity tool, currently audacity release 1.3.14(Beta) is the latest release supporting all the bug fixes and new features, but this is in beta stage, if you want to get the stable release you can download release 1.2.6, but this release doesn’t support windows XP/Vista, according you can make a choice between the release you want to download. Download and install the release you want and then you can start off to edit the sound clip you want. To edit the sound clip you have to open the clip using file -> open, once opened you can see the graphical representation of the clip, now you have to select the area onto which you want to add an effect or cut it. You can add effects to the sound clip using the link effects. Here you will find various effects that can be added to the sound clip. The more professional users can also add effects manually using the draw tool, and other tools available.
To record sounds from outside using the tool you can select the proper input device and then click the record button, then you can save it to the file format you want. Try getting your hands on this tool once and you will get various other features that you can put to good use.
When more than one person works on a single file, there are chances that file goes out of sync, even if a single person is working and there are more than one versions of a file then keeping track and making sure the correct change is in the file is taken up is a difficult task. The fifth tool I will present here is Winmerge. It is an open source tool helping to compare two files and merge the differences. Currently Winmerge is available for windows platform but soon it will be available for other open source platforms as well. You can go to http://winmerge.org/downloads/ to download the latest release for your PC. After installation you can open two files or folders simultaneously and check for differences, if you are comparing folders you can get a list of files that are different in both the folders making it very easy to use, in case of files also you get a complete graphical view showing the differences in the files in yellow color by default. There are few icons on the top that are very useful especially in case of bigger files. The “Next Difference” button allows you to sequentially go to each and every difference found in the file, thus eliminating the chance of missing a difference while scrolling down the file. The “Previous Difference” button allows browsing upwards to look for differences rather than going down as for “Next Difference” button. Then there is the “First Difference”, “Current Difference” and “Last Difference”, which I think are self explanatory. This was to compare the files. Now we will see how to merge them. Suppose you see one difference that you want to merge, so you can use the “Copy Right” or the “Copy Left” button depending on where you want to copy. Then there is copy and advance button also which will copy your changes and move to next difference in one shot. As of now winmerge supports only windows, unix and mac text file formats, so you can use it to merge all the code files and other text based files.
This is all about the five open source tools that you can use in your daily activities, to increase your productivity. If not contributing to the open source community directly, you can use these tools, to grow the community which will finally contribute to the open source movement. Hope you liked the compilation and it inspires you to use these tools or get involved in open source movement at least, all queries and feedback are welcome.