Over the last decade or so there has been a very welcome trend – increasing availability of high quality Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). This is generally developed collaboratively and made available under a licence approved by the Free Software Foundation. See Wikipedia FREE SOFTWARE PORTALfor more information.
Not suprisingly such software includes some very good software development tools like Eclipse (originally developed by IBM), an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for Java programming etc., and Subversion, a source-code version control system. There are also well-renowned web server systems like Apache; good Relational Database Management Systems like MySQL; and, of course, Linux, a complete Unix-type operating system. Linux may not yet be an obvious free alternative to Microsoft Windows for most users but it is a very feasible alternative for many server systems.
These FOSS components can be very effectively combined to support a complete web application development environment, often referred to by the acronym LAMP (from Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP ).But FOSS software is not limited to software developers, very many products are available as free alternatives to ‘paid-for’ software, for example the OpenOffice suite (or its successor project, LibreOffice) which is similar in functionality to Microsoft Office. The British government has caught on to all this (see http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk) and advocates the use of FOSS software in the public sector to achieve value for money.
The downside is that it is quite difficult to learn what is available and how to use it. Free software organisations don’t usually have big advertising budgets – and those that do tend to concentrate on their ‘paid-for’ products. However Dalriada Downshift is here to help, and has significant experience with several FOSS products.