Monday, July 4, 2011

open source software for architects

Is it possible to run an architectural office solely based on open source software? Perhaps yes.

Reliability and the ability (to handle complex tasks) has never been an issue with open source software now a day. The issue, most of the time is to do with the compatibility with their more expensive big brother software. Would I be able to read my Open Office files in MSWord? Can I open AutoCAD files in this particular application? The more established ‘Openware’ has continually sought to solve this issue and succeeded considerably in the past few years.

By the way what is ‘Open source software’? Technically speaking Open source software’ is the category of software that is available in source code form to the general public. When source code is not available to the public but still public are free to use them they are generally called ‘freeware’ or ‘public domain software’. But for this discussion let’s call all of them as ‘Openware’.
Wikipedia reference for Open-source software

So what are the pros and cons of ‘Openware’

1.      Obviously the cost factor. They are either free or very cost effective compared to big brothers.  Eg. Ms Office between 150 to 450 $ vs. Open Office which is  free
2.      Increased security Eg: Linux vs Windows
3.      Better performances in selected areas of application. This may come a s surprise, but some ‘Openware’ are better at certain tasks than their more expensive proprietary big brothers. Eg. I think Blender is more efficient at certain aspects of animation than 3DMAX
4.      Sometimes better customization or ‘tweakability’, if you are in to these things as the code is available to you.
1.      Compatibility with established file formats. ‘Futureproof’ness is also a related issue as big brothers keep on changing their file formats. Eg. AutoCAD updating their .dwg fiel format now and then.
2.      Comprehensiveness in capabilitiesEg. Can do this and this but not that particular thing.
3.      Stability. Largely sorted out in more established ‘Openware’
4.      Difficulty in installing. Again this is sorted out in more established ‘Openware’
5.      Less user friendly. Used to be like that. But they are getting better and some of the big brothers are getting worse.  Try to find the …. Try to find anything in Auto CAD 2010!

You have to weigh these pros and cons against what exactly you do or want to do. AutoCAd is a good case in point. Unless you are a very large office with work group sharing or in to highly specialized type of work, you don't need anything more than AuotCAD 2004 or of equal capacity. You may not be able to find an 'Openware' program equivalent to AutoCAD 2011. But instead look for a program with equal capacity of AutoCAd 2004. Same thing with MS office or Adobe Photoshop

So what are the “Openware’ available for an architect's office? Here is list from the blog ‘design in the world of open source. 
Free and Open Source Software for Architectural and Design Applications:
Word processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Graphics, Databases Applications: Open Office
2D Drafting Applications: DraftSight
3D Modelling, Rendering Applications: avoCADo and Blender
Image editing and manipulating: Gimp
Movie editing and manipulating: AVS Video Editor
Please give your comments and feedback.
Posted by archifour2010

Let’s add a few more items to those and see what we have;

Operating systems:
Linux based systems
You don’t have to look any further, Linux based systems provide better stability (less crashing) and security (less prone to virus attacks etc.). If they are so good why aren’t we already using them? We may not but lot of other already do! Eg. Canadian Govt, Russian Govt. Brazilian Govt. to name a few. Remember these are not small companies, they are BIG bureaucracies and they are also from the left, right and the center of the world.
Some popular Linux Distributors (Linux based systems)
Ubuntu (Most probably better suited for Desktops)
openSUSE (Better for Laptops)

Office Applications
(Word processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Graphics, Databases Applications etc.)
Open Office
Standard for the free office ware. Does pretty much everything that MS Office does and then some more, like native export to pdf format. Also known as Oracle Open Office or before 2010 as StarOffice. Anybody still remember the good old Wordstar from the floppy disk days! That is the precursor of this program.

An open office fork so pretty much equal to Open Office. Ubuntu comes with this.

IBM Lotus Symphony
Again based off of OpenOffice source code. But apparently ‘better’ layout.

Google docs
Don’t forget that you can use web based Google docs for a quick memo or two.

2D Drafting Applications:
DraftSight: I had a quick look and looks very comprehensive and 'AutoCAD like' to me. I mean similar to the good old AutoCAD not the very much bloated new versions. If you know AutoCAd you can straight away start drafting with this application. I think this is as good,  if not even better than AutoCAD Lite. Looks  like these guys want to give AutoDESK  a good run for their money. Actually Dassault Systemes is one of the few companies who can do that. After all these guys are the developers of CATIA used in companies like Boeing and Toyota. I think eventually they will start charging money for this, but it has to be much less than what AutoCAD chargers now. What AutoCAD does now is daylight robbery :). They are actually turning their users in to AutoCAD addicts with their current  licensing policy, Once you are hooked, not only you can't get out, you also have to upgrade, every year.
Interview with Draftsight people 

3D Modelling, Rendering Applications:
Sketchup: Better than 3DMax for visualization
Blender: (Open source Modeler + Renderer)
 Avocado (Open source modeler)

Kerkythea (Renderer, works well with Sketchup)
Brazil Rio (Renderer, ideal for 3DMAX , which is not free!) 

Image editing and manipulating:
Gimp (Open source)
Paint.NET (Open source)
Photoscape (Free)

Desktop Publication
InkscapeAn Open Source vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator or CorelDraw
Scribus: An Open Source program that brings professional page layout to Linux and Windows with a combination of press-ready output and new approaches to page design.

Movie editing and manipulating:
AVS Video Editor (Free)

Canon Photostitch: Stitches photos to create panoramas
Picturenaut, FDRTools, Essential HDR: For creating HDR Photography
There are zillions of other free and opensource applications on the net, especially for one off tasks like file recovery, ripping and converting files which are thousand times better than more expensive big brothers.

Few of my favs are;
DVD Shrink: for ripping DVDs :) The Best. Ripping DVDs is easy. What is difficult id fitting it back in to another DVD for burning as  most of the time you end up with a set of files bigger than the DVD's capacity ( This is I think due to consumer DVD compression algorithms being less efficient than those used in creating those original DVDs. Blas, blas, blas……) Any way this program manages the whole thing without a hitch.
Screen Hunter: for screen capturing
Treesize: shows the size of each folder in your hard disc graphically
CCCP: Audio and Video CODEC Pak
GOM Player: Media player (GOM Player + CCCP  can virtually  play ‘anything’ on the internet; so far)
Font Explorer: Show all the fonts in your computer whichever way you want
CCleaner: Cleans up your windows registry and other leftovers. Oh, and also all those history files and cache files from your web browser.

Here is a list of Free apps for further references.

But remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. Some of these products may will definitely give you trouble  at the beginning . Also don't take this as advice. This is only my opinion!

P.S. I’ll keep on adding bits and pieces to this post as we go along. And some of the info is based on a chat I had with P.B. Prasad Botejue (thanks Holly!)

Also read this before touching Opensource stuff :)
"Dell laptop with Ubuntu leads woman to drop out of college" 

Open source opening doors to IT 


  1. You had a chat with the Treasury Secretary about open source software???