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Surveying the Open Source Landscape

  • By David Thurmond
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End-User Applications


The OpenOffice productivity suite is an open-source alternative to the Microsoft Office productivity suite. Although the default format for OpenOffice documents is XML, OpenOffice can read and write documents in MS Office-compatible formats, as well as exporting to PDF and Multimedia Flash formats. OpenOffice is also compatible with Sun Microsystems' StarOffice suite, a commercial offering based on OpenOffice 1.1 with a few more bells and whistles.

OpenOffice includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool, drawing tool, and a database tool. Additionally, OpenOffice supports a variety of languages, and allows vertical and bi-directional writing, which are common in languages such as Hebrew and Japanese.

OpenOffice also supports user macros, which can be used to perform simple, repetitive tasks. For more complex tasks, users can extend OpenOffice with the OpenOffice SDK, using a wide variety of programming languages, such as C++, Java, Basic, OLE, and XML. Third-party vendors can further extend OpenOffice's capabilities by implementing tools using the OpenOffice Add-On Framework.

Web Browsers and Email


Mozilla is arguably the most popular open-source web browser/email program. It offers features similar to the Netscape Communicator suite (in fact, Netscape 7.x is based on Mozilla). These features include a web browser, email and newsgroup reader, web page composer, address book, and chat program.

Mozilla Firebird is another open-source browser, based on the Mozilla code base. Firebird is not simply a standalone version of the Mozilla browser included in the Mozilla suite; the user interfaces, as well as some features, are significantly different.

Likewise, the Mozilla Thunderbird email reader is an open-source mail reader based on the Mozilla codebase. The user interface and customization options are different than those offered by the Mozilla email client. For more information about these products, visit http://www.mozilla.org/.


Amaya is an open-source browser/editor offered by the W3C. The project began as an HTML 4.0/CSS browser and editor, but has since expanded to include XML, XHTML, MathML, and SVG. The ultimate goal is to incorporate as many technologies endorsed by the W3C as possible into the product.

For more information about Amaya, visit http://www.w3.org/amaya.

Where to Get Open-Source Software

There are many resources for collections of open-source products. Below is a brief list of some of the most popular sites.

  • http://www.apache.org/ - The home site for the Apache HTTP server, as well as the Jakarta Project, a great resource for Java frameworks and development tools.
  • http://www.sourceforge.net/ - A hosting site for open-source developer tools.
  • http://www.osdir.com/ - Directory of everything and anything open-source. This is probably the best site to visit if you wish to explore what's out there.
  • http://www.freshmeat.net/ - Numerous open-source products, including some not specifically geared towards development.


In this article, we have discussed what open-source software is, what's out there, and where to find it. The open-source software products discussed here are only the tip of the iceberg. There is a vast world of open-source software out there to be explored, free for the taking.

About the Author

David Thurmond is a Sun Certified Developer with over eleven years of software development experience. He has worked in the agriculture, construction equipment, financial, and home improvement industries.

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This article was originally published on December 4, 2003

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