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Have Mac, will open-source

The Linux faithful would have you believe that open source is an all-or-nothing proposition. The reality is that the marriage of Mac OS X and open source is one made in heaven.

Some in the open-source camp would have you believe that open source is an all-or-nothing proposition. For such people, to believe that Linux makes for a superior server operating system is also to dedicate oneself to using open source for business applications, personal productivity, mobile, and likely brushing one's teeth. Open source on a proprietary platform like Mac OS X? Perish the thought!

But life is more complicated than that, and it turns out that there is exceptional open-source software for the Mac (or for Windows, for that matter).

The H Online has kicked off a nice "Open Source Stars for Mac OS X" series, one that I'd recommend all Mac users review. But for those who just want to know the best of the basics, here are my favorites:

  • Firefox (Web browser) - Given Firefox's availability for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, this one won't be a surprise to anyone, but if you haven't used it lately, do give it a try. It continues to be the most feature-rich Web browser due to its large and variegated add-on community.
  • Adium (instant messaging) - We will use Adium in heaven. Not only does it let me dress up my icon in an Arsenal uniform, but it manages all of my different instant messaging accounts (AIM, YIM, MSN, Skype, Facebook, Gtalk, and even Twitter/ It's like Trillian for Windows, only about one trillion times better.
  • Zimbra (e-mail) - While geared toward enterprise-class messaging, you can use Zimbra (either the Web client or desktop or, in my case, both) for personal e-mail, as well. With the ability to extend its functionality through Zimlets and a Web user interface that continues to be best in class, Zimbra rocks.
  • (office productivity) - I don't use this open-source alternative to Microsoft Office for word processing or spreadsheets, in part because I rarely use Word or Excel except for contracts and the occasional spreadsheet, two things with which I don't want to risk file format compatibility. But I actually prefer OpenOffice's presentation program to PowerPoint. It has some functionality that PowerPoint lacks.
  • Handbrake (video converter/ripper) - I travel a lot and want my movies to travel with me, without having to carry DVDs around with me. So I rip them to my hard drive with Handbrake. It's a tremendously powerful (because it's so simple) program. It's now available on Linux and Windows, but it grew up on the Mac and is still best on OS X, in my opinion. Get it. It was created by angels.
  • VLC (media player) - If it has a codec, VLC will play it. Heck, VLC will probably play it if the file even remotely resembles video or audio. It just works, and it works with everything.
  • Audacity (audio editor) - Have a music file that you want to convert to a ringtone for your Blackberry? Or simply want to clean up that podcast before you publish it? Audacity is powerful and fairly easy to use.
  • Seashore (image editor) - Seashore doesn't have nearly as many features as Adobe's Photoshop, but if you want a basic image editor with more-than-basic functionality, check out Seashore. Based on Gimp, Seashore is easy to use, though I do wish it had image transformations. I do so like making my pictures look even more cartoonish.

There you have it. That's the basic list of open-source applications I use on my Mac. I use them because they work, and in some cases work exceptionally well, far better than their proprietary equivalents.

This, incidentally, is also why I prefer the Mac. Life is too short to use a given application simply because it's open source (or Microsoft, or whatever). Use what works. Increasingly, this will lead you to use open source. But for me, the Mac is still the best desktop platform available, period. I'm therefore loving the combination of Mac OS X and a variety of open-source applications.

Maybe you will, too.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.