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A Survey of Open Source Apps Available for Mac OS X
Pages: 1, 2

Standalone Packages of Note

Here's a list of some big-name packages that have made it across from Linux to Mac OS X.

Audacity: You'd be hard-pressed to read an article on podcasting that doesn't mention this program. It is a sound editor and recording interface that allows you to record into it, edit it, and then (with the LAME library) export MP3s for publication as podcasts. It is easy to use and, in my experience, "just works."

Ardour: This is a Linux app developed to compete with top-end sound recording programs such as Pro Tools. It works with control surfaces and multi-in cards. Critics have called it nonintuitive and hard to set up. Other users swear by it (rather than at it). The bottom line is that complexity, on any platform, requires some learning. Also, because Ardour is Open Source, you can voice any issues quite easily and, if you're in a position to write the code yourself, fix what you don't like.

GPG: The GNU Privacy Guard is a program that provides encryption and decryption for email and the like. Its website provides this description:

Mac GNU Privacy Guard (Mac GPG for short) is, after a fashion, the Mac OS X port of GnuPG, licensed under the GNU GPL. The aims of the project are to make GnuPG easy to install, develop a framework to make it easy for other developers to incorporate GnuPG functionality into their applications, write services to allow for the use of GnuPG functions in most Cocoa applications, and write a Mac GPG Keys type application so that you no longer have to go to the commandline to manage your keys. For those who don't know, GnuPG is a free OpenPGP client (PGP=Pretty Good Privacy). It can encrypt text (usually email or other messages sent between people) and sign text to prove who wrote it. A further discussion of this can be found elsewhere.

By the way, Phil Zimmerman, the creator of PGP, believes that everyone should use encryption. To learn more, check out this Mstation podcast.

The Gimp: The Gimp is the big boy for image manipulation in the open source world--a Photoshop competitor if you like. It doesn't have Photoshop's breadth in terms of richness of plugins, but what it does, it does very well.

For instance, I recently received a pdf that I needed to convert for the web. Illustrator read the file but garbled the text. pdftohtml lost the photos. The Gimp (2.2) imported the files just fine.

There are a few ways of getting The Gimp; its website lists the following:

  • provides a self-contained application bundle of the GIMP for OS X. requires Apple's is packaged by Aaron Voisine.

  • Fink is a package-management system that provides everything necessary to build GIMP. The Fink project is based on the Debian apt-get package management tools, and can resolve dependencies among the various components necessary for a working GIMP installation. A typical install, however, requires that you have a working C compiler, which Apple supplies on a companion CD to Mac OS X. The current GIMP package maintainer for the Fink project is Alexander Strange. The default location for GIMP when installed with Fink is /sw/bin/gimp.

  • OpenDarwin's DarwinPorts provide an easy way to install various open source software products on Mac OS X. The gimp2 portfile is maintained by Toby Peterson. DarwinPorts places the GIMP binary into /opt/local/bin.

  • MacGIMP provides the latest GIMP for Mac OS X in a packaged CD format. The MacGIMP project installs the GIMP in /opt/local/bin. Its efforts are led by Mat Caughron. Last year, he made a donation to the GIMP developers' conference. The MacGIMP website offers a CD for sale.

OpenOffice: OpenOffice defines its goal as follows: to create, as a community, the leading international office suite that will run on all major platforms and provide access to all functionality and data through open-component based APIs and an XML-based file format.

In other words, it is offered as an alternative to Microsoft's Office Suite. The project is under the wing of Sun Microsystems.

Scribus: Scribus is a desktop publishing app intended as an alternative to Quark Express or Adobe InDesign--not that it can swap files with them, and not that it attempts to be a clone of either, but it can generate its own output that can be handled by printers.

XEmacs: You already have Emacs and Vim through the Terminal, but if you would like something more graphical and more mouse-friendly, then XEmacs is worth a look. Emacs and XEmacs can become a hobby in themselves because their extensibility has yielded a wide range of packages that do everything from connecting to IRC to reading news and email, and, yes, editing text and code.

The best bet to get XEmacs is to use Fink, but there are a couple of other alternatives.

This link is best for people who like to compile themselves. You download the code, then apply patches to make it "play nicely" with OS X. The last OS X version mentioned is 10.3.

If you'd prefer a simpler alternative, this link is an easily installed package. The last OS version mentioned is 10.2.4.

Other Apps or Compiling Your Own

With the developer tools installed, you can actually compile quite a few Open Source applications with only a minimum of effort. There is no particular need to learn Mac OS X's developer IDE Xcode. If it's a simple command line application, the chances are fairly good that you'll end up with a usable binary. Simply cc it and see how it goes; although, if you're reading this article, I've assumed you have the ability to scan code for any nastiness.

If it doesn't compile, you'll need more knowledge and more work to get it done. Once you've accomplished this, why not make the results available to others?

John Littler is chief gopher for

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