My favorite open source and free tools for software development

It seems this list gets more interesting each year and this year I made a pretty big change in my “favorites”.  The reason I love this list is because anyone, even kids, can start to learn programming or software for free.  This includes business programming, graphics, office automation, game programming, web development, etc.  I wish I had these kinds of tools 20 years ago.

Eclipse and Java

At the top of the list has to be Eclipse, I solely use it for 99% of my development – even looking at and editing native code for Notes and Domino.  It is by far my most useful tool for all kinds of software editing.  Granted I use it mostly for Java development but with the many projects you can install into it you can pretty much do any kind of development.  Eclipse is also the base platform under many commercial products like Lotus Notes, Lotus Expdeditor, Lotus Symphony, and Lotus Sametime.


This web browser should arguably be at the top of the list.  I use it every single day on all of my computers.  I think its the best browser out there and of course it is free!  It has a ton of plugin support and is a very fast and reliable web browser.  I could probably write an post about my favorite plugins just for this great piece of software.

Lotus Symphony and Open Office

At the start of 2009 I started using Lotus Symphony solely for all of my work at IBM instead of Microsoft Office.  I still use Open Office at home on my machine and for my kids.  They use it for all homework and other little projects.  In short, both of these are great tools and in my mind a must have for all people and businesses.  They can do more than the 80% of what most people need in an office suite, I would say it is well above 90% at this point.  So if you are paying for an office suite like Microsoft Office then you are most likely wasting your money.

Graphics editing – GIMP

By far the most popular graphics editing tool on the open market is GIMP.  It is arguably “better” than PhotoShop and for the price it is unparalleled.  I use to use Paint Shop Pro and Microsofts Image Composer for the longest time but some time last year I started using GIMP exclusively for graphics and screen mockups.  I still have Image Composer installed and have used it a few times but I think I will be uninstalling it shortly.

Remote Desktop – TightVNC

I do use the built in Microsoft Remote Desktop software a lot but many times I use TightVNC to share between developers or take control of a customers machine.  This is by far the best open source remote desktop software.

The play list:

Other tools on my list but I don’t necessarily use daily.  I play around a lot and learn from many of these.  Either way, these are great things to share and pass on to people who have interest in software development.

MySQL – 100% free and open source database.  I actually use this on for a few things but that is about it.  You can obviously use it for any relational task.

ImageMagick great tool where you can convert images between formats using scripts or your language of choice.  If you want to write graphics applications this library will be key for you.

Audacity – this is an awesome tool for editing audio files.  I actually used this to create ring tones for my old windows mobile phone.  This application also has a lot of plugins available to extend its capabilities.

Blender – want to write computer games or become a graphics artist for games and movies?  Start with Blender, its an awesome application that will teach you all of the basics.

Unreal Development Kit – I just started playing with this again this past year.  This is arguably one of the best game engines on the market.  Many 3D based games use this engine.  It comes with a world editor, a script language, and libraries to bind with.  You can pretty much create amazing games and animations with this free kit.

If you are really interested in free software you can check out “Best Open Source Software” page, it has a lot of software categorized for easy browsing.

9 thoughts on “My favorite open source and free tools for software development

  1. that is a good question. For internal use I use one of the presentation packages or OpenOffice Draw but for something that needs lots of details and connectors I still use Visio!

  2. The GIMP is great, but you’d also ought to check out Inkscape.

    The two are not really competitors — whereas GIMP is for raster images (like Photoshop), Inkscape is for vector images so it’s more like Illustrator. It’s fantastic for creating logos and icons. More generally, it’s great for creating line art and is a good solution to Frederic’s query about technical diagrams.

    Like GIMP, Inkscape is open source and runs on Linux, Windows and Mac OS X.

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  4. I personally tend to favour SSuite Office’s free office suites. Their software also don’t need to run on Java or .NET, like so many open source office suites, so it makes their applications very small and efficient.

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