When doing a PhD on Open Source Software (OSS) one has to take benefit of the many great OSS products which are can make your life simpler. In this series of post I will present some of the OSS products I have found to simplify my PhD life. This will be a presentation of the tools I use rather than an extensive review of all the tools out there. If anyone has any tips of new tools they are more than welcome. I will at least talk about operating systems, tools for Latex, images, backup, version control, publications, and different office tools.
I will provide information about the tools and links to Wikipedia and other resources for more information. Links to the tools themselves and in some cases also to other tools which I do not use will also be provided. While writing I will strive to keep it short and simple and provide as many useful tips as possible for other PhD students and researchers who want to start using OSS products in their research.
What is Open Source Software?
For those of you who do not know what OSS is, I will provide a short explanation. Open Source Software and its closely related sibling, Free Software, provide the user with certain freedoms. There are mainly ideological differences between the two terms and I do not differentiate between them unless necessary. Free Software mentions four freedoms: The freedom to run, study, redistribute and improve a software program. A requisite for these freedoms is the source code of the software program. The open source definition mentions ten criteria, similar to the four freedoms, a software license has to comply to be considered as open source.
Software programs are written or developed in a language which can be understood by humans. This is called a programming language and it is the source code of the program. This source code is then normally translate or compiled into binary code which can be understood and run by a computer. Normally when buying a license to a software product, for instance a game or MS Windows, you are normally only paying for the right to run the program. You are commonly not given the right to study, redistribute and improve the program and you are not given the source code.
The advantage of OSS is that you are given the right to study, improve and redistribute the software which means that you can further extend any piece of OSS if you have the skills to do so. This gives a lot of flexibility and this flexibility is great! Both for people who like to work with programming but also for normal software users because they can chose where they get their support. Furthermore, OSS come without licensing fees. This does not necessarily mean that using OSS is for free and it does not mean that companies cannot make money on OSS. However, you as a user do at least not have to pay any license fees. All the programs I will discuss in this series can be downloaded, used, improved and redistributed without paying anything to anyone, unless you want to of course.