Open source: Free apps for Windows 7

With the availability of Windows 7, IT users can expect the usual round of application upgrades from commercial software providers - with their associated costs.

With the availability of Windows 7, IT users can expect the usual round of application upgrades from commercial software providers - with their associated costs.

But is it possible for organisations to run their desktop computing for free, avoiding pricy enterprise licences?

There is already a wide range of popular applications and utilities available as free or open source for Microsoft's latest operating system, and experts suggest they could be a match for some commercial products.

"Open source applications and utilities have all the features and functionality found in proprietary software, and we see open source applications being adopted in enterprises on an increasing scale," says Chris Halls, managing director of independent open source consultancy Credativ UK.

The firm carried out exclusive research for Computer Weekly, testing a wide range of open source applications on Windows 7 to find out which ones work well.

"OpenOffice, Mozilla Firefox and Pidgin are leading the charge in our analysis, which has pulled out 19 applications, since they are the most widely adopted, but we have also included lesser known applications such as Blender and FileZilla, Halls says. "Each application offers equivalent or better performance, functions and features to their proprietary counterpart."

Halls says using open source applications have obvious cost benefits and users are not subject to supplier lock-in. "The flexibility of open source is also attractive as files can be easily exported to different open source applications as a user's needs change.

"Open source applications are also much less likely to be affected by security attacks," says Halls. "Viruses and malware are still targeted more often at Microsoft suites of products than at open source products."

Windows 7 compatibility

The desktop software that Creditiv tested on Windows 7 falls into four categories: network and file management tools; communications; desktop productivity; and graphics and multimedia utilities (see box).

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and organisations are advised to check whether open source products they use are due to be updated for Windows 7.

Another popular open source desktop tool that has now been updated to run on Windows 7 is the Plone content management system.

Plone is used in both the public and private sectors, for example by Warwickshire Police Force, and Royal Bank of Scotland Financial Markets, which has an internal intranet based on Python/Zope and Plone.

"There are great open source products in just about every category of computer software and systems today, but most don't have the flash of their proprietary counterparts," says Brian Reale, chief executive officer of open source business process management software firm, Colosa.

"Almost across the board, they all require a bit more digging around to figure out how to combine them with other products, solve compatibility issues, and so on. In the end, the extra sweat is, more often than not, worth it," he says.

In terms of adopting open source tools and platforms over commercially available Windows-centric ones, Reale says, "Above anything else, you need an IT department with a willingness to do its homework. Often, it is just too easy to follow the advice of proprietary suppliers with bigger marketing budgets. After all, big marketing budgets tend to be pretty persuasive."


Open source tools that now run on Windows 7

Source: Credativ

 File and network management tools:
  • 7Zip, an open source Windows utility for manipulating archives.
  • FileZilla, a GNU/GPL FTP client for Windows, Mac OS X and GNU/Linux.
  • Putty, an open source Telnet/SSH program.
  • WinSCP, a freeware SFTP, FTP and SCP client for Windows.
  • Azuerus (now called Vuze), a Java BitTorrent client for handling multiple torrents.
  • Ekiga, an open-source VoIP and video conferencing application for GNOME.
  • X-Chat2, a graphical IRC client.
  • Pidgin, a free universal chat client supporting MSN, Google Talk, Yahoo, AIM and more.
 Desktop productivity:


  • Firefox web browser.
  • OpenOffice, a free alternative to Microsoft's Office suite.
  • Mozilla Sunbird, a cross-platform calendar application.
  • Vim, a versatile and well established text editor.
  • Foxit PDF Reader.
  • Marble, a free maps tool.
Graphics and multimedia:


  • Inkscape, an open source graphics editor.
  • Blender, an open source, cross platform suite of tools for 3D creation.
  • Dia, an open source diagram creation tool.
  • Gimp, a GNU Image Manipulation Program.
  • VLC media player and SMPlayer, two multimedia players.

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