It used to be that “open source” was synonymous with “low quality” but that’s not the case anymore, particularly for audio applications. Many media professionals routinely turn open source tools in their daily work and some get by exclusively with open source. Whether it’s audio, video, 3D rendering or still photography there is a world of open source applications you can explore for the cost of a few minutes of your time and a download.
Thanks to community involvement, many of these tools are available on multiple operating systems. Very handy for people like myself who may work on different operating systems and like having the option of using the same interface across all my platforms.
Many people get their feet wet in open source with a product like VLC Player, a multimedia player that works on Windows, Mac and Linux. When I was recently stuck for a DVD player on a Windows XP system, it was VLC to the rescue.
VLC Player is also compatible with many of the open source streaming media servers available.
Audio Editors & Applications
Audacity is a simple multi-platform audio mixer/editor that provides a surprising amount of functionality for its small footprint. There is a ton of support online for Audacity and you’ll be surprised at how useful this little tool can be.
Don’t let the name fool you; LMMS runs on Linux and Windows and is the most similar to commercial products of all the audio mixers I’ve tried. If you’re comfortable working with Adobe Audition, you’ll have an easy time adjusting to LMMS.
I included MuseScore because it’s a nifty app that probably has more use for the more hardcore music composer. With this app you can compose and print actual sheet music. For me music on paper might as well be written in Swahili, but for actual composers this is a handy product that’s free and runs on a variety of operating systems.
For open source video editors you have fewer multi-OS options but there are some up and coming applications that are evolving and improving at a surprising pace.
While not actually open source, Lightworks has free and paid versions available and has a long track record of credits in popular films. The only limitation to Lightworks is that it’s only available on Windows, though there’s been a Linux version rumor for a long time.
Cinelerra is a Linux heavyweight video editor that’s been around since the beginning of video time. If you can get past an almost painful learning curve, Cinelerra is capable of industrial scale editing and render farms.
Kdenlive is an alternative for Linux and Mac OS X users that’s great for simple edits and small projects.
Lives is primarily focused on Mac and Linux users, but there is a live version on DVD that runs on Windows. Lives is the open source product with a layered timeline most like the commercial products. You can find several example videos of small projects edited completely on Lives, like the one below..
Blender is not strictly a video editor as much as a 3D rendering application, but it does both. Long the poor second cousin to Maya Extreme, Blender has continued to improve over the years and has found its way into more professional productions. Blender’s strength is the ability to model a scene with different lighting angles and animation and runs on multiple operating systems.
For a long time only available on Linux, DigiKam is now available on Linux, Mac and Windows. DigiKam natively handles my Canon CR2 RAW format and allows you to edit RAW or JPEG images non-destructively.
DigiKam is popular enough to convince commercial software vendor Corel to release a Linux version of AfterShot Pro.
Whether you stick with one of these open source apps or switch to a commercial product, it doesn’t cost you anything to try one of these alternatives.
The above options are a few of my favorites, but there are many other great open source multimedia software packages available. Have a favorite you don’t see listed? Let us know and we’ll add it to this list.
Ardour – audio editor
Lilypond – music notation
JACK – audio connection kit
darktable – photography workflow application and RAW developer
Photivo – photo processor
UFRaw – read and manipulate raw images