The free and open-source software (FOSS) community produces a wealth of useful software for various uses. And amongst them are a host of writing programs and applications. Not only are these options typically cheaper (or free), they are often as equally well constructed and maintained than their proprietary counterparts.
So, before you splash out on a new subscription for a word processor or grammar checker, you might be surprised to see what you can achieve with open-source alternatives.
Open Source vs. Proprietary Software
When it comes to writing software tools, chances are, you think of programs like Word or Grammarly — proprietary software created by big corporations. Such programs generally cost lots of money and require subscriptions to continue using. Also, their continued development and maintenance rely entirely on a single vendor.
These programs cannot be edited, shared, or modified in any way. And since they are mass-marketed, you may end up paying for bloated programs or bundles featuring tons of features you do not even use. But, despite what affiliate marketers would have you believe, they are neither the only nor necessarily the best option.
Open-source programs work differently. They are often (though not always) free to use. Furthermore, their underlying code is freely available and can be shared, distributed, modified, and edited to the users’ preference. And, if you are tech-savvy, you can contribute to or create a better version of the project.
Some popular iterations of open-source software you have probably come across include the Mozilla Firefox web browser, the photo-editing tool GIMP, the VLC media player, and operating systems such as Linux.
Why Use Open Source Writing Tools?
When it comes to open-source software, there are a few misconceptions that people have. For example, some believe that open-source projects will be sub-par because big companies and top-earning programmers aren’t behind them. However, the opposite is often true.
Since anyone can look at the underlying code of an open-source project, bugs are often spotted quickly and improvements made faster. There is also less chance of the software disappearing one day or becoming locked behind an ever-increasing paywall. That’s because even if the developers discontinue the software, successor projects can take their place.
Another misconception is that you need to be tech-savvy to use or benefit from open-source software, but this just isn’t the reality.
Is open source always better? Of course not. But there are many benefits to utilizing such programs. And with that in mind, let’s look at seven of the best open-source writing tools currently available.
Most of us are familiar with and have used a Microsoft Office product. And some couldn’t imagine using anything else. But with LibreOffice, you’ll find a comparable (and mostly compatible) experience. The big difference? It’s free.
A successor to the popular Open Office suite, LibreOffice consists of programs for word processing, creating spreadsheets, slide shows, and much more — basically, everything you’d look for in a Microsoft Office subscription. Furthermore, unlike MS Office, LibreOffice also works on multiple operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Okay, so NextCloud is not a writing tool per se. However, it does serve several functions modern writers, especially freelancers, will find helpful, namely file sharing.
If you have ever needed to share your work with editors or collaborate with colleagues, chances are you’ve ended up using Google Drive and Google Docs. And there is no denying it is a useful bit of software. It is easy to use and packed with features and tools.
However, privacy concerns regarding Google’s collecting and handling of personal data means that some might rather not utilize anything from the big G of the World Wide Web. And that’s where NextCloud comes in.
Offering large file support and unlimited storage, NextCloud also provides a bunch of other features, including:
- self-hosting services
- security tools
- the ability to make audio or video calls
- calendar and contacts management
- the peace of mind that your data is probably in good hands
Looking for a comprehensive grammar checker? Well, there is an open-source option for that.
LanguageTool is a privacy-focused online (and offline) proofreading application packed with features. Not only does it check for grammar errors, but stylistic issues as well. Furthermore, unlike Grammarly, LanguageTool can detect mistakes in several languages, including French, German and Polish.
The software can also be configured to work offline, as an add-on for programs such as LibreOffice or Microsoft Word, or as an extension for Google Chrome or Firefox.
Bibisco is an independently produced fiction writing software project designed to make your dream novel a reality. Features include:
- Character and location creation utilities.
- The ability to organize your ideas and seamlessly structure your book.
- A huge amount of feedback and data will help you better track your chapters and the progression of your characters.
The free version of the software includes most of the main features, including the ability to create unlimited projects. There’s also a supporter’s edition, where you get a bunch of extra features for a one-off payment at your chosen price.
5. KIT Scenarist
If scriptwriting or screenwriting is your jam, KIT Scenarist is an excellent option. It works similarly to Bibisco in that it allows you to collate all your research and ideas in one place and provides statistics on your characters and story progression. It also features a “card module” where you can create (and even print out) colored cards to help visualize and lay out your acts.
Looking for a writing program without all the bells, whistles, and distractions? This markdown editor allows you to create and structure documents which you can then export in a variety of formats.
Ghostwriter also comes with a handful of neat functions to help you stay focused. These include a “Hemingway” button that disables the backspace and delete keys for the typewriter experience. There’s also a focus mode that fades out any text you are not currently working on.
All in all, it is the perfect solution for those looking for simplicity and to stay in the writing flow in a distracting world.
If you’re anything like me (and I know I’m not an exception), then note-taking plays a big part of your daily workflow. But all those to-do lists, title ideas, rough drafts, study notes and general brain dumps can soon get unruly without a way to store and manage them.
Thankfully, when it comes to open-source note-taking apps, you will find yourself spoilt for choice. But the one I’m going to recommend here is Zim — a graphical text editor you can use to create and manage your own desktop wiki.
Not only is it simple to use, but it supports plugins and various styles of markup, meaning you cantailor the program to meet your specific needs. It also runs perfectly well on various operating systems, including Windows, various Linux distros (including Ubuntu), Mac and FreeBSD.
Going Open Source
We have only scratched the surface here on what you, as a writer, can do with open-source software. Hopefully, this has given you an idea of the possibilities of using open-source software. Happy writing!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2023 Mike Grindle