July 16, 2010

12 open source tools you should be using

We liked this 3-minute intro to Songbird, Firefox, Audacity, OpenOffice,
Gaim, Gimp, Inkscape and Ubuntu.

Programs powered by coders’ collective brainpower & generosity

Target audience: Nonprofits, social change organizations, educators, foundations, businesses, individuals. This is part of Creating Media, our ongoing series designed to help nonprofits and other organizations learn how to use and make media.

By Kim Bale
Socialbrite staff

Afew years ago, most of us relied on closed, proprietary software to create documents, crunch numbers, surf the Web or watch videos. Today the landscape has shifted dramatically, with tens of millions of people taking advantage of free open source software that’s equal to — and often superior to — tools created the old way.

Some of the most useful, reliable and productive Web programs were developed using open source methods — transparency, collaboration, peer review and testing — resulting in screaming-cool products that keep getting better. Many of the open source tools outlined below are distributed under the GPL (GNU General Public License), making them flexible, high-quality products that give their corporate competitors a run for the money at a fraction of the cost. A few were even developed by foundations.

Here are 12 open source tools your organization should consider using and supporting. How many of them do you know about? (Know about others? Recommend them in the comments below.)

Office tools

OpenOffice: Full-featured productivity suite

1A single piece of full-featured software that will fulfill all of your administrative needs, OpenOffice.org is a nonprofit’s dream. The package boasts a word processor, spreadsheets, graphics programs and database access from any connected computer. The main benefit of OpenOffice is its interoperability — open and save Word docs, Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint documents, etc., even if you don’t own Microsoft Office. Compatible with the Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, Sun Solaris and Apple Mac operating systems, OpenOffice is a one-click install and comes with an international community of users. Anyone can suggest improvements, report possible bugs or help troubleshoot problems via the organization’s wiki page. Download OpenOffice.org.

Constituent management


CiviCRM: Manage your connections

2CiviCRM is a free, open source solution for the civic sector that lets you manage your constituents. Far more than a contacts database, Web-based CiviCRM is designed specifically to meet the needs of advocacy, non-profit and non-governmental groups. See this 4-minute explanatory video on Vimeo.

CiviCRM is a contacts, fundraising and eCRM system that allows you to record and manage information about your various constituents including volunteers, activists, donors, employees, clients, vendors, etc. Track and execute donations, transactions, conversations, events or any type of correspondence with each constituent and store it all in one place. CiviCRM was created by CiviCRM LLC, the nonprofit Social Source Foundation and the open source community. See this page about which content management systems are supported.

Audio-visual tools


Miro: Watch Web video in high-def

3Streaming your videos is free and easy with the Miro Video Player. A project of the nonprofit Participatory Culture Foundation, Miro is free to download and allows users to watch video in full-screen HD from anywhere, regardless of Internet connectivity. Once downloaded, Miro plays host to HD content gathered from sites like YouTube and Blip.tv as well as podcasts and torrent files. Users subscribe to channels and feeds in their video player, allowing downloads to happen automatically as soon as new content is available.

Miro is great for nonprofits because it offers a customizable player allowing any organization to co-brand their video players and blast them to the expanding Miro community — the player was downloaded about 4 million times over the past year and boasts hundreds of thousands of users each month. As an open-source program, Miro is run by a mere 10 staff members, leaving much of the translating, coding, fixes and upgrades to volunteers around the world. Download the Miro Video Player.

A related free tool is Miro Video Converter, an amazing downloadable app that converts almost any video to MP4, WebM (vp8), Ogg Theora, or for Android, iPhone and more.

Audacity: A complete sound editing suite

4Audacity is a free audio editor that makes it easy for anyone to record, convert, import, export, edit and mix audio files of many formats. The simple Cut, Copy, Paste and Delete options make it very user-friendly and the Undo/Redo options quickly correct any errors. Audacity allows users to layer music beneath dialogue for a professional-quality podcast and features effects that can change the pitch or tempo of the recording, remove any background noise and add sound effects, like an echo. The open-source Audacity Wiki Tutorials can be edited by any user and helps answer questions like how to export projects into iTunes and record audio that’s playing on your computer. Download Audacity.

Songbird: Take control of your music

5This open source media player combines the best of iTunes, YouTube and Pandora to give you an immersive audio-visual experience. Songbird lets you buy and download your favorite music, provides video, photos, news and bios related to each song you play, suggests music you might enjoy and allows you to create and manage playlists that can be downloaded to your synced mobile device. Users are encouraged to aid in the development by uploading add-ons and submitting code. Download Songbird. (Image of songbird at left isn’t related to Songbird site — we just loved the little guy!)


VLC Media Player: A cross-platform media player

6This open-source media player has cross-platform capabilities and is very easy to use. One simple, free installation will leave you a player that can read DVDs, Audio CDs, QuickTime files and more. VLC is ideal for playing video or audio files that are unrecognizable to programs like Windows Media Player or QuickTime, and it has the ability to play damaged files by simply skipping over the damaged parts. Download VLC Media Player.

HandBrake: Rip your DVD collection

7The HandBrake DVD converter can take any DVD or DVD-like source and generate files output as MP4, H.264, Theora video, MKV and several audio options. Chapter selection, subtitles and other features are maintained even after the media has been converted, giving you a DVD quality file fit for any website, computer or iPod. Notably, HandBrake lets you rip copy-protected DVDs you own so you can travel much lighter. See the HandBrake wiki to ask questions of its strong support community. Download HandBrake. Continue reading

July 4, 2008

Miro, the democratic media player

Miro, the democratic media player from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaHere’s an 11-minute video interview I conducted with Nicholas Reville, co-founder and executive director of the Participatory Culture Foundation, maker of Miro at getmiro.com.

Miro’s a cool application that lets you watch and subscribe to millions of channels of content created by us (any video with an RSS feed, for example). You can browse through more than 4,000 channels in its directory listing. I’ve been using Miro for almost two years now (free, open source, what’s not to like?). 

I interviewed Nick at the NetSquared conference in May 2008 in San Jose, Calif., was winding down, which accounts for the distracting noises in the background. Continue reading