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Browser-based toolkits, add-ons to old favorites, tools programmers will love -- here are the most promising projects emerging from the open source community today
13 hot new open source projects
Open source projects are a great barometer of the tech industry. While companies take time to establish themselves and venture capitalists take months to decide where to place their bets, open source software takes just one programmer and a public repository. If the programmer has a fast Internet connection and the project is small, it only takes seconds for the world to see yet another possible branch in technology’s evolution.
We poked around the repositories to find newer projects that are gaining a real following. By no means complete, this collection contains examples of projects that span the major areas of interest blooming in the open source community today. Grab some code and give them a try.
ProjectLibre project management software emulates Microsoft Project and complements LibreOffice to provide a full collection of tools for the team manager. It maintains a list of tasks and then tracks when they're marked as completed. It’s meant to be a drop-in replacement, so open source teams can check things off their lists, too. Distributed under the CPAL (Common Public Attribution License).
OpenBravo POS and Unicenta
OpenBravo is a longtime popular open source tool for managing the flow of inventory in businesses, aka ERP. The constellation of tools now includes a Point Of Sale companion for running cash registers at stores and restaurants. You add your inventory, and then the software keeps track of what is sold when the customers check out.
OpenBravo POS is also attracting some forks like one from Unicenta, an option that continues the open source branch of the project while offering support. They're cleaning up the older code, adding some fresher visual designs, and releasing it under the GPL 3.0 license.
Who said slides should be rectangles that parade across your screen, one by one? Not Edward Tufte, who mocked Powerpoint's mechanism.
Enter Impress.js, an open source version of the commercial package Prezi. You don't create rectangles; you put all of your message on a big canvas and the software scrolls, rotates, and zooms in on the parts, one by one. The zooming offers a natural way to express high-level abstractions and low-level details. Available under either the MIT or GPL.
Reveal.JS is another great HTML-based presentation system that rolls through the data and animates the transition in three dimensions. One neat feature is how the slide deck can have subpresentations so you can follow different paths depending on your audience. You can offer more detail if they want it or sail right along at a higher level. Available under an MIT License.
If you've always felt that Facebook is just a good precursor to a distributed social network that puts control back in the hands of the user, then Diaspora may be your open source project. Progress has been slower than anyone would like, but it's moving forward with deliberate speed, and the GitHub repository is filled with merges and changes. Venture capital may come and go, but code lasts and lasts. Released under the Gnu AGPL.
Developers are some of the last people still clinging to their desktops and laptops because they want the faster connection and control that desktops and laptops provide. But that is slowly changing as development is moving into the cloud. Soon big, integrated development environments will be living in the cloud where they can build faster and store more code. One of the crucial parts of the equation is CodeMirror, a browser-based code editor with highlighting and customization for dozens of the most popular langauges. You won't need to work with a basic TextArea block any longer. Available with the MIT license.
CasperJS and PhantomJS
Testing your code with unit tests is easy when you're working inside the code base and it's not too hard to jump outside if you're writing a command line tool. It's a bit different if you're creating a website -- it's just not so easy to simulate a user browsing and clicking. CasperJS offers a collection of helpful functions that make it simpler to browse through a website, fill out forms, click on links, and capture some screenshots as you're doing it. CasperJS does all of this with PhantomJS, a headless Webkit engine in the core so you know it's going to come close to emulating Chrome, Safari and an iPhone. Both are released with the MIT license.
The average database has always been ready to store geographic information: Just stick the latitude in one column and the longitude in another. That works fine until you want do anything beyond just fetching those values. GeoServer is a database that’s tuned for geographic data, so you can let GeoServer check the validity of the data, search it, and then deliver answers in a format that the mapping layer can readily understand. Written in Java and covered by the GPL 2.0.
Many programmers treat Cascading Style Sheets as a static list of aesthetic choices about fonts, colors, and border sizes. The values are cast in stone by some designer in another cubicle, and the programmers never think about it. Less CSS is a project designed to change that mindset by mixing in variables, operations, and functions into the development of CSS. Now you can choose the color once, put it in a variable, and reuse it again and again in the same stylesheet. All of the power of programming languages can be used in design now, too.
Sure, it looks like a game. Sure, it’s similar to SimCity. But Simutrans is really an addictive simulator for testing how different transportation options can get people where they need to go. You’re not wasting time destroying zombies or shooting anything, you’re working on improving our world. It’s a game that makes you a good citizen. Distributed under the Artistic License.
Linux MultiMedia Studio
If you play music, you’ll want to record it. And if you record your music, you’ll want to fiddle with the tracks for hours until you get as close as you can to creating the right sound. The LMMS (Linux MultiMedia Studio) lets you mix samples, add beats, and experiment with hundreds of other audio blending techniques before producing the final song. Distributed under the GPL 2.0 and also built for Windows despite the name.
The great sea of humanity may love WYSIWYG editors, but serious people like scientists and programmers continue to enjoy the power and programmability of TeX, the original great typesetting language. TeXnic is the latest client for the code that creates an integrated development environment for writing and editing papers. You can live in the environment with a full complement of the various TeX tools and it’s so interactive that it starts to approach a WYSIWYG editor. But it never loses the programmability that makes TeX so desirable. For Windows and protected by the GPL.