July 14, 2011, 7:52 AM — That's right folks, another ten best! But this time I'll wager you're not familiar with any of them, or at best one or two. The free/open source software world is vast and full of excellent applications for all occasions. An interesting trend is the growth of large distributed projects such as OpenTox and AMEE. FOSS presents a natural platform for building large distributed projects because of the low barrier to entry-- open code, open standards, and freely-available robust, high-quality high-performance software.
And now I shall cease nattering, and invite you to enjoy the following best unknown open source software projects.
OpenTox Replaces Animal Testing
The OpenTox project aims to "develop an interoperable predictive toxicology framework which may be used as an enabling platform for the creation of predictive toxicology applications." In other words, using computer modeling instead of animal testing for chemical toxicity testing. Animal testing is cruel, and it is limited: expensive, slow, and not always an accurate predictor of how chemicals will affect humans.
But that's not all OpenTox is for. Funded by the European Union, the goals of the project are ambitious and based on classic open source methodology: develop open software and Web services for testing, reporting, and sharing information, and helping industry to meet the requirements of the EU's REACH law. REACH is Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances; it is a landmark piece of legislation that puts greater responsibility on business to prove safety in materials handling and use, and to encourage replacing hazardous chemicals with safer substances.
In 2010 OpenTox released its first two applications: ToxPredict and ToxCreate. You can play with the protoypes here.
Calibre ebook Library Manager
Calibre is an amazing cross-platform librarian in a box. It's a library manager, an ebook reader, and ebook converter that supports all ebook formats.
Calibre does more than merely make lists of your titles. Multiple copies of the same book in different formats are organized as a single logical book, and your collection is searchable by title, author, publisher, size, date published, date added, and your own custom tags and comments. It can import metadata and book covers from the Internet based on the title, author or ISBN. Calibre can organize your collection by whatever categories you like, download news and format it as an ebook, and it includes a server so you can access your collection from anywhere. (Linux, Mac, Windows)
Scheme Maker Pattern Maker
Scheme Maker is an slick little program for converting photos and other images into cross-stitch and knitting patterns. Knit your enlarged face into a sweater and wear it proudly! It's simple to use, with a useful feature set. You may select parts of images, change the size and dimensions, change cell size, and control stitch density and thread count. Scheme Maker auto-detects colors, which you can edit to your heart's content, changing color values, gamma, and even removing some. (Binary for all 32-bit Windows, Free Pascal and Lazarus source code for everyone else.)
Chordii (pronounced chord-ee-ee) takes simple text song scripts and turns them into nice printable song sheets with guitar chord tablature. (Figure 1.) The scripting markup is simple and uses standard chord nomenclature, so even the most tech-resistant artiste can learn it quickly. Chordii comes with a database of over 360 chords, and you can add your own. Then you can create a printed chord reference, with your custom chords indicated by asterisks. Chordii comes with an excellent user manual. (Linux, Windows, any platform you can compile it on.)
Virtual Moon Atlas
Explore the moon without leaving your comfy chair! The Virtual Moon Atlas takes you there. This is a fantastically detailed, high-resolution atlas containing thousands of images from many public and private lunar photo libraries. It includes multiple overlays such as altitude and coordinates grids, texture mapping, dynamic shadows, every view you can think of, rotation and zoom, and detailed information on moon features. You can make notes and colorize lunar features. To get the best performance and access to the 3D maps you need a modern PC and a graphics card that supports OpenGL. It defaults to 2D if you don't have a good graphics card. The Virtual Moon Atlas is used by scientists and schools all over the world. It is a free download, or you can purchase a CD which helps support the project. (Linux, Mac, Windows.)
Storybook -- Organize Your Novel
So, you want to be a novel writer? What tools do you need other than your brain? Not many, and Storybook is a good one to consider using. Storybook won't construct your plots, create your characters, or put fabulous dialogue in their mouths. It will help you stay organized and not lose track of ideas or direction. Use it to track plot lines, characters, events, and locations. Storybooks uses strands for tracking related scenes, or any related passages. Status tracking, such as "Not started", "Started", "Completed" and "Abandoned" saves you from having to juggle multiple task lists in your head. (Linux, Mac, Windows.)
AMEE: Avoiding Mass Extinctions Engine
Avoiding mass extinction sounds like a good plan to me, and the AMEE project, like the OpenTox project, leverages open source software and methodologies to collect, map, measure and analyze carbon dioxide data. The AMEE data aggregation platform provides an open, neutral central resource for anyone to use, from individuals who want to examine their own carbon footprint to consultants, businesses, and researchers. Some of AMEE's services are free, some have a price tag. UK companies are especially motivated to measure their carbon footprint because they are taxed for excessive carbon emissions. Many businesses want to be responsible, and to find ways to cut energy usage to cut costs.
OTRS: Open-source Ticket Request System
Nothing says you care like tracking and swiftly resolving trouble tickets, and OTRS is an excellent tool for this. Every ticket has a complete history, and related tickets can be grouped into a single incident. It supports multiple users, as a good RTS should, and can scale up as hugely as you need it to. It has a nifty feature for creating FAQs and managing FAQs, autoresponders, and tickets can easily be moved into different queues. (Linux, Mac, Windows.)
Impro-Visor -- Jazz Improvisation Advisor
When you want a software application to teach you the fundamentals of improvisation, of chord structures, transitions, and solos, then give Impro-Visor a try. First write your song sheet, then play it back for instant gratification, with auto-generated rhythm section accompaniments. Your music sheets may be exported as MIDI or MusicXML, and it supports a large range of musical styles from Zydeco to African. (Linux, Mac, Windows.)
Mandelbulber 3D Fractal Explorer
Source: Carla Schroder
Fractals are just plain fun, math converted into colors and shapes, and Mandelbulber takes them to the next dimension. 2D fractal generators are as common as Cadillacs at Graceland, but there are not so many 3D fractal generators. The Mandelbulber developers call it experimental, but it's easy to use and creates impressively detailed images with realistic shadows, wild colors, and depth. Figure 2 is one of my Mandelbulber creations. This is a a CPU-intensive process, so the more powerful your computer the faster it goes. (Linux and Windows.)
Bonus Round: Bleach BitPortable
Thanks to the insatiable greed of online vendors for our personal data, which they misuse and abuse in all manner of unaccountable ways, we must forever be canny and vigilant in our Web surfing. BleachBitis a good little tool for clearing Web browsers on Windows systems of HTTP cookies, nasty sneaky Adobe Flash cookies, history, log files, unnecessary localizations, passwords, temp files, Web caches, and much more. Now it comes in a portable version you can carry anywhere on a USB stick. PortableApps, the home of BleachBit, offers over 120 free, open source portable applications for Windows users.