The 10 Coolest Open Source Products Of 20088:00 AM EST Thu. Dec. 25, 2008
Open Source Software is about more than just the Linux operating system, and 2008 brought advances in the form of OpenOffice.org, IBM Lotus Symphony, Firefox and Android. But Linux is still the heart of the FOSS movement, and this year brought key developments in the operating system as well. Here's a look at the coolest open source products to come across the transom in 2008.
The popular -- and free -- open source productivity suite hit its milestone 3.0 version in 2008, making it more clear than ever that its functionality and compatibility with Microsoft Office (including OpenOffice Impress, which is PowerPoint compatible) make it a force to be reckoned with. With an acquisition cost of between $150 and $200 less than Microsoft Office 2007, it could have a big year in a down economy in 2009.
IBM has taken great pains to position itself as more of a middleware company than a desktop productivity software company, but diverged from that path a bit in 2008. By launching and upgrading its IBM Lotus Symphony suite of productivity apps based on OpenOffice.org, IBM is once again using the Lotus brand to take aim against Microsoft on the desktop.
Die-hard Firefox users showed thanks for the Mozilla community's efforts to eliminate memory leaks and other annoyances in the most recent iterations of the open-source browser. Features like its "awesome bar" are also helping it continue to gain market share against Microsoft Internet Explorer, even as it's fending off new challenges from Google's new Chrome browser.
If microblogging site Twitter became the social networking smash of 2008, 2009 could be a great year for the open-source microblogging platform called Laconica. The best-known site using that code, Identi.ca, allows communication through browsers, e-mail and SMS messaging -- giving a powerful, free alternative to those seeking to build their own social networking or microblogging platforms.
Test Center highlighted three intriguing aspects for Fedora 9: the new desktop schemes, the new package management system and back-end improvements to memory usage and performance. On the desktop front, Fedora 9 Beta offers GNOME 2.22 and KDE 4.0.2 as the defaults. GNOME 2.22 in Fedora 9 has better file system performance, security improvements and the ability to manage power right at the login screen (quite handy on a laptop). There's also better Bluetooth integration, especially for Palm devices.
Ubuntu 8.10 Desktop Edition, nicknamed "Intrepid Ibex," provides so much functionality and ease of use, at zero cost of acquisition, that it is really impossible to ignore. For anyone or any business not tied to Microsoft legacy desktop applications, Ubuntu 8.10 may realistically be considered a smarter choice in many scenarios.
Novell didn't launch a new version of its SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop in 2008, but it did shepherd the OpenSuSE community that delivered OpenSuSE 11. OpenSUSE is powerful, and improvements in usability, performance and stability should attract and win back users from other Linux distributions. There is some business advantage to consider OpenSUSE instead of Ubuntu or Fedora because of Novell's relationship with Microsoft, such as the tweaks to OpenOffice.org that make document conversion and migration easier, as well as the hypervisor adapter support. OpenSUSE is probably best for power users, those who can take advantage of the virtualization support and those with more experience using Linux.
SUSE Linux Enterprise JeOS (pronounced "juice"), the beta "Just enough" operating system from Novell is a lightweight and barebones version of the company's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. The code base is SLES 10 Service Pack 2. The stripped-down operating system is intended specifically for virtual appliances. Applications certified to run on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server will carry that certification onto the JeOS platform as well.
A big difference between Windows and Ubuntu (besides that Ubuntu is free) is that Canonical, which oversees Ubuntu's development, provides new releases every six months. With Ubuntu 8.04, also known as "Hardy Heron," Canonical will provide support and updates through 2011 -- making it its "LTS" (long-term support release.)
It's also the first Ubuntu OS that provided rich support for Wubi -- a Windows-based installer that writes the entire Ubuntu OS as a file on a Windows machine. With Wubi, there is no partitioning of the disk drive, so Ubuntu can be installed onto an existing Windows machine without losing any data. Just as Boot Camp brought the Mac to Windows users, users interested in Linux but uncomfortable about losing legacy Windows apps now have a painless option at their fingertips.
Android, the Google-driven open source platform for mobile devices, jumped into the market in 2008 with the clear aim of taking on Apple's iPhone platform. For developers, Android opens up many doors and possibilities for creating mobile apps, and gives them control over items like remapping buttons and using hardware such as the GPS chip and Wi-Fi. Android changed the way technology makers approach the mobile and handset space, and real traction could be coming in 2009.