The 10 Coolest Open Source Apps of 2014 (So Far) (Plus A Bonus)

Open Source, Open Season

As the world awaits the next exploit to take the place of Heartbleed , open source development continues apace. New open source apps appear seemingly every day and many are not just cool, but extremely useful and probably secure enough for most people. Here's a look at the 10 coolest open source apps of 2014, so far.


Tizen has been around since Intel joined the party in 2011, and existed under different names for years before. But this Android variant had somewhat of a coming out in June with the high-profile launch of the Samsung Galaxy Z, a smartphone initially for Russian markets that the company said performs better because of Tizen's lower overhead. Calling itself "the OS of everything," Tizen's also intended for various form factors such as smart TVs, in-vehicle systems and wearables. In fact, if you own a Galaxy Gear, you're already wearing Tizen.

Open IoT

The "internet of things" (IoT) might sound like just another marketing catch phrase, but OpenIoT is actually an extremely useful concept. OpenIoT, which is being developed by an Ireland-based consortium, is a framework for building apps that can read and make sense of real-time data coming from cloud-connected sensors popping up all over the world. For example, if you've ever arrived at an address for a meeting and been clueless as to where to go once inside, an OpenIoT app can read data from sensors placed in "smart meeting" rooms and direct you where to go.


Testing apps destined for Android- and iOS-based devices doesn't have to be hard or require massive changes to the apps under test. Appium is an open source test framework that automates the testing of apps for Android and iOS, be they native, hybrid or web-based.


Exercism is a devilishly good learning tool for programmers developed by a teacher. Its governing philosophy is to help young developers focus on writing good, expressive code, accepting feedback "graciously" and giving feedback respectfully. The system includes test tools for a variety of IDEs and uses peer review and crowdsourcing to help mentor beginners in the tricks of the trade. The current version supports 13 programming languages including JavaScript, Go, Objective-C, Perl, Python and Ruby. Java, PHP, Rust and others are on the way.


Putting a new spin on the OS wrapper is Docker, which permits Linux containers to be built on a laptop and run on any server, OpenStack cluster, VM or even bare metal. By linking directly to the Linux kernel and isolating CPU, memory and network resources, this open-source container framework automates much heavy lifting and setup work normally associated with Linux containers. It also completely removes the need for virtualization and enables a self-sufficient container that's smaller in size and more portable than those created using the traditional Linux Container model.


February saw the "Hydrogen" release of OpenDaylight, an open-source verison of the software-defined networking infrastructure that has been on the drawing boards of data-center vendors for decades. With help from Cisco, Extreme Networks, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Oracle and others, the project founded last year by the Linux Foundation now offers a set of standardized interfaces for reconfiguring network equipment and virtualizing networking functions from within a software application regardless of who made the underlying hardware.


Now that Microsoft has its hooks into Skype, the once-great open source communication tool for some might not have the same appeal. For a Skype-like experience without the corporate stodginess, some people have been turning to Tox, a text, voice and video tool. Its developers pride themselves on Tox's resistance to snooping and complete freedom from ads. All communications are encrypted and Tox-to-Tox calls are free.


On the subject of corporate stodginess, maybe you're looking for a drop-in replacement for MySQL now that Oracle is at the helm. You might try MariaDB. Its developers claim that data and table definition files are binary-compatible and that client APIs, protocols and structs are identical between versions of MySQL 5.1 and higher. Also compatible are filenames, paths, ports and sockets. What's more, MySQL connections such as PHP, Perl, Python, Java, .NET and others are all directly compatible. In fact, "just uninstall MySQL and install MariaDB and you're good to go," according to the MariaDB project's compatibility page.

Android L

Android has been a boon in so many ways, but fragmentation sure isn't one of them. Helping to reduce the need for platform-specific Android distributions is Android L, a new version that provides a consistent interface across smartphones and tablets and is free of UI overlays. It's built around the Android Runtime, the optional runtime released with Android 4.4 Kitkat that most developers opted out of in favor of Dalvik. ART will improve performance with ahead-of-time compiling, improved garbage collector and better debugging. Android L is in developer preview stage.


This one is almost too good to be true. RackTables is an asset management tool that lists all data center systems for documenting hardware, network addresses, configurations, open switch ports and even available rack space. It tracks links between assets, such as switch uplinks and crossovers, and can help track NAT rules and load-balancing policies and configurations. It even lets you attach files to certain objects in the system, useful for photo documentation, help files, customer configurations or storing other useful info. Administrators can use Racktables to create multiple users with permissions for various levels of tasks.


If you're looking to build apps for smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, be sure to check out Cordova. Also available as PhoneGap, this Apache project provides a framework for building cross-platform apps using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. In other words, it's an open-source tool for building cross-platform apps with HTML5.