The OS Agnostics

The OS Agnostics


The annual choice awards are published in the December issues for many software magazines. A number of the winners were chosen because of their ability to use extensions or flexibility in configuring the software. However, an overlooked and increasingly important attribute to me is cross-platform support or what I laughingly refer to as OS Agnosticism.

Why is cross-platform support important? My personal reasons are:

First, I find the OS Agnostics are a good starting point for getting someone to TRY free software. Realistically, I’m unlikely to get my extended family members or friends to light-switch to a GNU/Linux or Unix based operating system. However, there is a good chance I can get them to try Firefox, Thunderbird or OpenOffice. Usually, any initial resistance is removed by the appeal of trying these programs for free (as in free beer) and without removing their current programs.

Second, since I’m frequently the guilty conspirator who helped switch my family/friends to free software, I usually find myself providing some level of technical support. The common response, if a technical issue arises, is “You got me into this, you can get me out”. The commonality of using the Agnostics allows me to provide better application support regardless of the OS. I can pull up my application at home and frequently resolve any issues over the phone.

Third, the Agnostics provide maximum flexibility in my computing environment. I primarily use a GNU/Linux Distribution at home. However, my various places of employment over the last decade used MS Windows. Despite this difference, I typically run at least Firefox and OpenOffice on both systems. I can still you my favorite programs regardless of the operating system.

Fourth, The price is right. I feel most strongly about the cost aspect in regards to OpenOffice vs MS Office. I’ve used both programs for years in both a business and home environment. No, OpenOffice is not perfect (slow on start-up, funky conversions on some MS Office files), but neither is MS office. However, for most home-users or small business users, I fail to see the need to shell out a couple hundred dollars for MS Office.

Here is a short list of cross-platform programs I have used. In full disclosure, I have not used ALL the programs under ALL the OS’s listed. The OS support information comes from the application’s website.

  • Firefox: web browser. OS support includes GNU/Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. Firefox was my first exposure to FOSS and still one of my favorites. Remains popular because it fits the needs for most users.
  • Thunderbird: email program. OS support is the same as Firefox.
  • OpenOffice: Office suite similar to MS Office. Supported OS's include MS Windows, GNU/Linux, Sun Solaris, Mac OS X, and FreeBSD.
  • Gimpshop: image editor. A hack of the GIMP intended to replicate the Adobe Photoshop interface. Usually an easier transition for anyone with exposure to Photoshop, but you can still use the original GIMP. OS support for Gimpshop includes GNU/Linux, Mac OS X and Windows.
  • Sunbird: calendar program from Mozilla. Same OS support as Firefox and Thunderbird.
  • LyX: document processor. Windows, GNU/Linux and Mac OS X are the supported OS's.
  • Scribus: desktop publishing. OS support includes Windows, GNU/Linux, Mac OS X.
  • Blender : 3D Graphics. Supported OS's are Windows, GNU/Linux, OSX, Solaris and FreeBSD.
  • GAIM : Instant messaging program for GNU/Linux, BSD, Mac OS X, and Windows.
  • Azureus: BitTorrent client running on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.
  • Audacity: Audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X and GNU/Linux.
  • Abiword: Word processing. Supported OS's are Windows, GNU/Linux and Mac OS X.

If you've been around free software for a while, you saw some of the usual suspects listed above. Go ahead and suggest your own additions to the list of OS Agnostics.

If you are a new to free software, give one of the listed programs a try. These programs remain popular because they meet the needs for most users. With the OS Agnostics, your barriers to exploring a new application are pretty thin. So jump in, the water's not too deep.

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Comments

Daniel Escasa's picture

I remember that OOo required X Window on Mac OS X, which meant that users had to install another software layer. I don't know if that's still the case, but I may have read about NeoOffice (?), which is OOo specifically for the Mac. I can't check that now because my Internet connection's screwy now >:(

Daniel O. Escasa
independent IT consultant and writer
contributor, Free Software Magazine (http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com)
personal blog at http://descasa.i.ph

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

If you want OOo on OS X, you still need the X11 layer.

However, NeoOffice is now so good that it makes OOo for OS X + X11 rather obsolete, imho.

After installing the NeoOffice alpha, later the beta, I haven't used OOo or MS Office for Mac anymore. NeoOffice is improving all the time, and although you can still see it is OOo, it looks and feels like a "native" OS X app (whatever that means) most of the time. Didn't have any crashes even in alpha either.

Herman, Rotterdam

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

NeoOffice has been the discovery of the year for me. No more x11.

Of course I'm still shelling out extra for buying a Mac in the first place, but that I'm happy to do. Aside from a Photoshop alternative, I am satisfied that all my gnu/free software is as good as the proprietory alternatives out there.

Fugu
Cyberduck
Smile
Nvu
NeoOffice

All *fantastic*.

Gimpshop still far too quirky for my liking.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

It is OpenOffice.org that requires the X11 Windowing system to run on top of Mac OS X. NeoOffice runs natively. For a unified look and feel, OpenOffice.org maintains its look-and-feel across platforms. However, it is very much un-Mac-like.

I wish that OpenOffice.org interface improves by using the NeoOffice interface, look-and-feel and widgets. :)

Happy GNU Year, Daniel!

Rom Feria
http://hackitlinux.com

Daryl's picture
Submitted by Daryl (not verified) on

This is still true; however, there is a caveat. The test builds of Open Office 3 will run natively in Darwin on Os-X. And of course, when the full release of 3 comes out it will run natively.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Cross platform support is good becasue mainly people use Applications but not the OS.... when a a person migrates from one OS to another - cross platform applications make this migration easier.

Youtux.org

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

While not a "program" but a game, I find that an install of Frozen-Bubble helps clear the way for new things, My family gives me the "Yeah, but does it play frozen-bubble?" anytime I show them something new.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

There are about 30 apps that cross most platforms at http://shedreamsindigital.pbwiki.com all OSS or Freeware.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

For combating RSI

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Inkscape is an open-source vector art program, it should have made the list.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

best cross-platform IDE out there.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

How about something cross platform, open source and standards-based, Like Jive Software's XMPP client and server: Spark and Wildfire (which also has server-side gateways to the public networks).

But then again, I'm biased since I work there. :)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

guys, about time you stopped giving so much credit to Audacity because it's far from the audio editor it should be. Remember the days Cool Edit was shareware (heck there was even a free Cool 2000 version) and did so much more than Audacity does in terms of processing a single file. Who needs all those multitracks? Instead of grabbing all sorts of 'best' awards, those guys should think about the future of the app they're writing. For instance, there is no decent free audio editor for OSX. What are they waiting for? doh

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I started reading this article expecting to see VLC (Video Lan Client) featured prominantly b/c of what a useful multimedia player it is. It'll play iso files of DVD's, DIVX, XVID, MKV...etc. files with it's built-in set of codecs.

It can also take those files and re-stream them to other VLC clients on the network.

http://www.videolan.org/

It's my favorite multimedia player on EVERY platform. For a list of platforms and built-in codecs: http://www.videolan.org/vlc/features.html

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

This is a good list, but is fairly biased towards office/productivity apps. I agree Inkscape is excellent. Other notables are vim/emacs, apache, mysql/postgresql, perl/php/python/ruby, LaTeX, OpenVPN, PuTTY, synergy, *VNC, refbase, mplayer/VLC, AMANDA, and grace. Donate to F/OSS!

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Best programmer's text editor: jEdit

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Kick-ass XML/XSLT editor. http://www.oxygenxml.com/

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Sure, it costs a few bucks, but MoneyDance is a cross-platform checkbook program that doesn't have the bloat of MS Money or Quicken.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I tried Abiword for Mac. VERY buggy. Doesn't even display the text properly... it puts huge random spaces between letters so that the legibility is awful.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

... in this roll, the Eagle. Eagle, made by Cadsoft, runs on Win, Unices and MAC (I have used this on Linux / Windows without any signal of incompatibility). It´s a C.A.E.
Besides, I don´t like the denonomination Agnostics. Sounds bad, the meanning. I prefer OS Independent [Software].
Posted by Morvan - Linux User # 433640 - 20061228

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

For playing media

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

... it's OS X only. I use it too, but a good OS agnostic alternative would be Psi. It runs on Linux, Windows and OS X without X11.

It's a pure Jabber client so other protocols are only available through transports. But hey, this is all about "moving towards free software", isn't it?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

If you are a professional photographer, or even a serious amateur, you need a program to process RAW camera files.

The one I use is Bibble Pro. It's not open source or free, but it is also nowhere near the cost of Adobe, C1, and others, and it is worth every penny. It is available for Windows, OS X, and Linux. Runs the same on my XP Tablet and my Mac Pro.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Add 7Z13 FOSS software that unzips most zip and RAR files and compreses quite well.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Another software that I must mention here is WinSCP. It a secure ftp client with very easy to use interface and security.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Hope all you good people at Free... I mean Share... errm... this here software magazine had a merry xmas ;-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I agree with the basic concept for your argument but when I see GAIM in the list I can't help but think it's not THAT important. Kopete and loads of different apps can share the same protocol (i.e MSN) so it shouldn't matter what application you use but more what protocols and data formats you use.

The new XML Office document format will be *really* good for everyone who hates being tied in.

I hate being tied to Windows just because I can't play Call of Duty 2 on Linux so it's a really important subject for me. It also frustrates me that Firefox and IE render the same webpages so differently, the key difference being the font thats used to render the page.

Anyway a good article. I think once people read the article they get bored of the subject and it's up to others like me and you to remind people that it still needs to be dealt with in an ongoing effort.

:)

Phill

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

http://inkscape.org ftw.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Filezilla ..s/ftp, scp client

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Chris Mostek's picture