There have been a few fairly recent developments in open source software that are worth remarking about. Excepting a comparable non-linear video editing software to Final Cut and a midi sequencer/audio recording package comparable to Logic you can get just about everything you need, and much much more. Best of all, you can get them for free.
Starting off the list with the most important:
Open Office: It is a drop in replacement for MS Office. All the features you want, fully compatible, more efficient file structures.
Gimp: Photoshop for free. Seriously, unless you need Pantone color support this program can do everything the big boy can, and for a nice legal price tag of free. Many more features available through plug-ins.
Inkscape: Adobe Illustrator drop in replacement. A recent release vastly improved usability of this which was its main issue in the past. It’s amazingly easy to use and runs faster than I expected.
Scribus: Not quite a drop in replacement for the likes of Quark but it accomplishes most of the fundamental publishing needs you have that MS Office and Inkscape aren’t quite as specialized at doing. Magazine spreads, newspapers, flyers, etc.
Audacity: This guy doesn’t have the fantastic editing features of Logic or Reason, but it’s solid, reliable, and easy to use audio recording program. Big bonus, it’s free and legal.
VLC: This media player is well known for being able to display just about any file format you throw at it. It has its own codecs that it manages in order to work around proprietary issues, or so I’ve read. I don’t know that much about the details of why it works so well, but it does. Pretty bland user interface, but it works like you would expect a media player too. This one is a critical piece of an open source multi media creativity suite for giving you access to the worlds most obscure media types.
Miro: A media player / digital TV replacement. This one combines a download manager and a searchable archive of online video content. It’s pretty amazing if you have a fast internet connection.
Celtx: This is a fantastic script/screenplay/storyboarding program. It keeps to industry standards and is extremely feature rich. This isn’t quite open source but it’s free to use and operates under its own modified version of Mozilla’s license, read about it: http://www.celtx.com/CePL/.
MuseScore: At last, a music composition and notation program. You can finally write scores without paying huge bucks for the buggy industry standards like Finale and Sibelius. It works with midi input controllers as well as direct input and gives you a nice midi playback as you write. Previous versions were very buggy, but it looks to me like the development team finally worked out most of the kinks.
Xmind: Check out this mind mapping program designed to help you organize your crazy creative mind. They’re really great for project brainstorming and development.
Fontforge: If you are one of the rare, talented, beautiful people who work in typesetting and font development, you might be interested in this. I don’t know what I’m doing with fonts, but I appreciate those who do. Its open source, free, etc.
And I was saving the best for last, for two reasons: You probably can’t run this. If you can, you don’t know how.
Blender: This is a full-fledged 3D design/development program. Ever want to make Droid Story, the 3D film about a robotic cowboy and his space robot friend? Well you can, if you can figure this guy out. It’s the most complicated program I’ve ever seen in my life. I say this having used CAD programs as well as professional video editing and sound recording software. Blender is extremely powerful but unbelievably difficult to learn. There are about a billion and a half menus and another trillion keyboard shortcuts you have to learn just to navigate the interface. But you know what? You can use this to make ANYTHING you want into 3D. Its not (edit 2010-06-15: WTF was I saying? Its very much open source) open source, but it is GPL, nice and free on the wallet.
That’s all for now, it covers the basic computerized creativity outlets and more. There are many many more open source programs out there, some are competitors with the programs I’ve listed here, and some may in fact be better. I only listed programs that I think are well made and actually seem relatively usable and complete.
There are a few areas that I’m anxiously waiting to see what happens with open source software, particularly CAD and non-linear video editing. There are a lot of projects, but I’ve not seen any that are at the level of the pros yet. If you have any other open source or free to use software suggestions please let me know! I’m focusing on creative applications here and might approach the topic of daily use stuff later on.