3 open source alternatives to AutoCAD

CAD—computer-aided design or computer-aided drafting, depending on who you ask—is technology created to make it easier to create specifications for real-world objects. Whether the object you’re building is a house, car, bridge, or spaceship, chances are it got its start in a CAD program of one type or another.

Among the best-known CAD programs is AutoDesk’s AutoCAD, but there are many others, proprietary or open source, out there. So how do the open source alternatives to AutoCAD stack up? The answer depends on how you plan to use them.

Let’s start by being honest and upfront about something: If you’re looking for a drop-in replacement for your existing CAD program that will provide identical functionality and workflow without making any changes to your processes, you’re going to be disappointed. But I would argue that the reason for your disappointment has nothing to do with the licensing of the product—drop-in replacements for complex programs with long-time users who have specific needs and expectations for their software are hard.

The trick for deciding whether a replacement piece of software, whether open or closed, is a good choice for you is to tease out exactly what your needs are. The situation is no different than discovering that the person who insists that they “need” Photoshop is just using it to draw a few geometric shapes and remove red-eye from photos; what they really need is a graphics editing tool that can replace those specific functions. Whether it has all of the bells and whistles of the original is irrelevant if those features sit paid for but unused.

My personal journey through open source CAD programs was no different. I worked with AutoCAD briefly in grad school, so when I wanted to play with drawing three-dimensional plans for something, it was pretty much all I knew. But that alone didn’t make AutoCAD the best choice.

As I’ve strived to replace more and more software in my life with open source options, Blender turned out to be just as good for my 3D modeling needs, whether I was playing with models created for a 3D printer or looking at landscapes exported from other programs. And for the relatively simple task of planning out my home landscaping projects, Sweet Home 3D has been an excellent open source alternative.

If your needs are a little more specific and you really need a dedicated CAD program, here are great open source choices to consider:

BRL-CAD

BRL-CAD is a cross-platform CAD tool that dates back to 1979, although it would take 25 years for the source code to be released under an open source license. In fact, BRL-CAD is so old that it has been credited with being the oldest source code repository of an application currently in active development.

Originally developed by Mike Muuss at the Army Research Laboratory, BRL-CAD is been used for decades by the United States military for modeling weapon systems, but it also has been used for much more everyday design tasks, from academic to industrial design to health applications.

So what does more than 35 years of development bring you? BRL-CAD is made up of more than 400 different constituent tools and applications spread across more than a million lines of source code. Not all parts are under the same license, with licenses ranging from BSD to LGPL to simple public domain; the COPYING file within the project’s source code on SourceForge has more details.

FreeCAD

FreeCAD is a parametric open source CAD program that was created to be able to design “real-life objects of any size,” and although it’s clear that many of the showcased examples created by users are smaller objects, there’s no specific reason it couldn’t be used for architectural applications as well. FreeCAD is written primarily in C++, and if you’re a Python coder you’ll want to take advantage of the ability to extend and automate FreeCAD using its Python interface.

FreeCAD can import and export from a variety of common formats for 3D objects, and its modular architecture makes it easy to extend the basic functionality with various plugins. The program has many built-in interface options, from a sketcher to renderer to even a robot simulation ability. Currently in beta, FreeCAD is being actively developed with regular releases, but the developers warn that it may not yet be suitable for production use.

FreeCAD’s source code is hosted on GitHub and is made available as open source under an LGPL license.

LibreCAD

LibreCAD is another CAD program that is designed to work across Windows, Mac, and Linux alike. A fork of QCAD (mentioned below), LibreCAD has an interface that will look familiar to AutoCAD users, and by default it uses the AutoCAD DXF format for importing and saving, though it can use other formats as well. LibreCAD is 2D only, though, so it makes more sense if your intended use is a site plan or something similarly, err, flat.

Source : opensource


4 open source alternatives to Gmail

Gmail has enjoyed phenomenal success, and regardless of which study you choose to look at for exact numbers, there’s no doubt that Gmail is towards the top of the pack when it comes to market share. For certain circles, Gmail has become synonymous with email, or at least with webmail. Many appreciate its clean interface and the simple ability to access their inbox from anywhere.

But Gmail is far from the only name in the game when it comes to web-based email clients. In fact, there are a number of open source alternatives available for those who want more freedom, and occasionally, a completely different approach to managing their email without relying on a desktop client. You’ll still need an email server to use with these clients. If you don’t already have a favorite, look for an upcoming article with some options to consider.

Let’s take a look at just a few of the free, open source webmail clients out there available for you to choose from.

Roundcube

First up on the list is Roundcube. Roundcube is a modern webmail client that will install easily on a standard LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) stack. It features a drag-and-drop interface that generally feels modern and fast, and comes with a slew of features: canned responses, spell checking, translation into over 70 languages, a templating system, tight address book integration, and many more. It also features a pluggable API for creating extensions.

It comes with a comprehensive search tool, and a number of features on the roadmap, from calendaring to a mobile UI to conversation view, sound promising, but at the moment these missing features do hold it back a bit compared to some other options.

Roundcube is available as open source under the GPLv3.

Roundcube

Roundcube screenshot courtesy of the project’s website.

Zimbra

The next client on the list is Zimbra, which I have used extensively for work. Zimbra includes both a webmail client and an email server, so if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, it may be a good choice.

Zimbra is a well-maintained project that has been hosted at a number of different corporate entities through the years, and was acquired by Synacore in 2016. It features most of the things you’ve come to expect in a modern webmail client, from webmail to folders to contact lists to a number of pluggable extensions, and generally works very well. I have to admit that I’m most familiar with an older version of Zimbra, which felt at times slow and clunky, especially on mobile, but it appears that more recent versions have overcome these issues and provide a snappy, clean interface regardless of the device you are using. A desktop client is also available for those who prefer a more native experience. For more on Zimbra, see this article from Zimbra’s Olivier Thierry, who shares a good deal more about Zimbra’s role in the open source community.

Zimbra’s web client is licensed under a Common Public Attribution License, and the server code is available under GPLv2. S

Zimbra

Zimbra screenshot courtesy of Clemente under the GNU Free Documentation License.

SquirrelMail

I have to admit, SquirrelMail (self-described as “webmail for nuts”) does not have all of the bells and whistles of some more modern email clients, but it’s simple to install and use and therefore was my go-to webmail tool for many years when I was setting up websites and needed a mail client that was easy and “just works.” As I am no longer doing client work and shifted towards using forwarders instead of dedicated email accounts for personal projects, I realized it had been awhile since I took a look at SquirrelMail. For better or for worse, it’s exactly where I left it.

SquirrelMail started in 1999 as an early entry into the field of webmail clients, with a focus on low resource consumption on both the server and client side. It requires little in the way of special extensions of technologies to be used, which back when it was created was quite important, as browsers had not yet standardized in the way we expect them to be today. The flip side of its somewhat dated interface is that it has been tested and used in production environments for many years, and it’s a good choice for someone who wants a webmail client with few frills but also few headaches to administer.

SquirrelMail is written in PHP and is licensed under the GPL.

SquirrelMail

SquirrelMail screenshot courtesy of the project website.

Rainloop

Next up is Rainloop. Rainloop is a very modern entry into the webmail arena, and its interface is definitely closer to what you might expect if you’re used to Gmail or another commercial email client. It comes with most features you’ve come to expect, including email address autocompletion, drag-and-drop and keyboard interfaces, filtering support, and many others, and it can easily be extended with additional plugins. It integrates with other online accounts like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Dropbox for a more connected experience, and it also renders HTML emails very well compared to some other clients I’ve used, which can struggle with complex markup.

It’s easy to install, and you can try Rainloop in an online demo to decide if it’s a good fit for you.

Rainloop is primarily written in PHP, and the community edition is licensed under the AGPL. You can also check out the source code on GitHub.

Rainloop

Source : opensource.com


Two open source alternatives to Flash Player

In July 2017, Adobe sounded the death knell for its Flash Media Player, announcing it would end support for the once-ubiquitous online video player in 2020. In truth, however, Flash has been on the decline for the past eight years following a rash of zero-day attacks that damaged its reputation. Its future dimmed after Apple announced in 2010 it would not support the technology, and its demise accelerated in 2016 after Google stopped enabling Flash by default (in favor of HTML5) in the Chrome browser.

Even so, Adobe is still issuing monthly updates for the software, which has slipped from being used on 28.5% of all websites in 2011 to only 4.4.% as of August 2018. More evidence of Flash’s decline: Google director of engineering Parisa Tabriz said the number of Chrome users who access Flash content via the browser has declined from 80% in 2014 to under eight percent in 2018.

Although few* video creators are publishing in Flash format today, there are still a lot of Flash videos out there that people will want to access for years to come. Given that the official application’s days are numbered, open source software creators have a great opportunity to step in with alternatives to Adobe Flash Media Player. Two of those applications are Lightspark and GNU Gnash. Neither are perfect substitutions, but help from willing contributors could make them viable alternatives.

Lightspark

Lightspark is a Flash Player alternative for Linux machines. While it’s still in alpha, development has accelerated since Adobe announced it would sunset Flash in 2017. According to its website, Lightspark implements about 60% of the Flash APIs and works on many leading websites including BBC News, Google Play Music, and Amazon Music.

Lightspark is written in C++/C and licensed under LGPLv3. The project lists 41 contributors and is actively soliciting bug reports and other contributions. For more information, check out its GitHub repository.

GNU Gnash

GNU Gnash is a Flash Player for GNU/Linux operating systems including Ubuntu, Fedora, and Debian. It works as standalone software and as a plugin for the Firefox and Konqueror browsers.

Gnash’s main drawback is that it doesn’t support the latest versions of Flash files—it supports most Flash SWF v7 features, some v8 and v9 features, and offers no support for v10 files. It’s in beta release, and since it’s licensed under the GNU GPLv3 or later, you can help contribute to modernizing it. Access its project page for more information.

Want to create Flash?

*Just because most people aren’t publishing Flash videos these days, that doesn’t mean there will never, ever be a need to create SWF files. If you find yourself in that position, these two open source tools might help:

  • Motion-Twin ActionScript 2 Compiler (MTASC): A command-line compiler that can generate SWF files without Adobe Animate (the current iteration of Adobe’s video-creator software).
  • Ming: A library written in C that can generate SWF files. It also contains some utilities you can use to work with Flash files.

Source : opensource


3 alternatives to LibreOffice Writer

Even though I write for a living, I rarely use a word processor these days; I do most of my work in a text editor. When I do need to use a word processor, I turn to LibreOffice Writer. It’s familiar, it’s powerful, and it does everything that I need a word processor to do.

It’s hard to dispute LibreOffice Writer’s position at the top of the free and open source word processor food chain—both in popularity and in the number of features it has. That said, Writer isn’t everyone’s favorite word processor or their go-to application for writing.

Sure, the number of free and open source word processors has dwindled over the years. But LibreOffice Writer isn’t the only game in town. If you’re in the market for an alternative to Writer that’s also open source, test drive these three word processors.

Calligra Words

Calligra Words is easily the most powerful of the three word processors I’ll look at in this article. It does just about everything that LibreOffice Writer does, and actually does one or two things that Writer doesn’t.

You get all the advanced features you’d expect in a word processor, ranging from text manipulation to handling tables and images. Calligra Words gives you a lot of control over all elements of a document, and it uses ODT as its native format. It also has a distraction-free mode, which takes over your screen and shows only what you’re writing. There are no window decorations, menus, or toolbars to pull you away from your writing.

While Calligra Words has a limited number of import and export filters, there is one pleasant surprise: the ability to convert your documents to EPUB and .mobi (two popular e-book formats). The files I converted to EPUB turned out fairly well, although the .mobi files I exported wouldn’t open in calibre.

You might find the Calligra Words user interface not to your liking at first. It doesn’t look like most word processors you’re used to. Most of the tool’s formatting functions are in a dockable side panel that takes up quite a bit of screen space. You really need to try to get used to it before writing Calligra Words off.

calligra-words.png

Calligra Words screenshot

Calligra Words

AbiWord

AbiWord is one of my long-time favorites; I’ve been using it on and off since around 2000. Its longevity is a testament to the fact that not everyone needs all the power and features of a word processor like LibreOffice Writer. Light and functional are two of the best words I can use to describe AbiWord.

It’s light, but it delivers a solid punch. AbiWord packs all the basic features you’d expect from a word processor—like styles, text formatting, graphics handling, and tables—and a bit more. You can, for example, copy the styles from another document into an AbiWord document, giving you an instant template. AbiWord also comes with a surprising number of import and export filters, including some formats (like Applix Words and ClarisWorks) that were long thought forgotten.

While it’s grown in size over the years, AbiWord is still fairly lightweight. It performs smoothly on the Chromebook where I installed GalliumOS.

abiword.png

AbiWord screenshot

AbiWord

Wordgrinder

The first word processor I used was SpeedScript on a Commodore 64. SpeedScript served me well towards the end of high school and through university. Wordgrinder, much to my surprise, brought back a few fond memories of SpeedScript.

Wordgrinder is a barebones terminal word processor. You might think that it’s a jumped-up text editor. It isn’t. Wordgrinder’s functions are limited, but they’re more than enough to write with. You can format headings and body text, create lists, and even add preformatted text and code samples to a document. There’s no support for tables or images, though.

Wordgrinder saves documents in its own binary format. You can, however, import ODT, HTML, and plaintext files. If you want to share or publish your work, you can export it to those formats as well as to Markdown, LaTeX, and troff.

wordgrinder.png

Wordgrinder screenshot

Wordgrinder

Source : opensource