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Looking for Free Software? A New Directory Can Help

The Free Software Foundation's newly revamped resource lists thousands of verified free and open source software packages

There are free and open source alternatives to just about every proprietary software package available today--the trick is just finding the right ones for your business.

Luckily, fresh help is now on hand in the form of the Free Software Foundation's new Free Software Directory, which was officially re-launched today.

Since its inception almost a decade ago, "the directory has been one of our most popular and important resources," said John Sullivan, executive director of the Free Software Foundation. "But with so much free software being written and shared now, we wanted to update the technology we use for the site so that contributors can participate in examining and posting new entries, and users can more easily search them."

Thousands of Programs

More than 6500 programs are now listed in the newly updated directory, all of them free for any computer user to download, run and share. Each entry is individually checked and tested, the FSF says, so users know that any program they come across in the directory will be truly free software, according to the group's formal definition, with free documentation and without proprietary software requirements.

Programs that run on proprietary operating systems like Mac OS X and Windows are listed as well, but only if they run fully on GNU/Linux.

The new directory has also been rebuilt using MediaWiki--the free software that powers Wikipedia--for easier participation by users and other members of the free software community. A set of extensions called Semantic MediaWiki, meanwhile, add advanced search and presentation capabilities.

"6500 programs is a lot, until you look at how many we don't have listed," Sullivan explained in a blog post on the topic. "The new version is progress here because it enables a more direct way of submitting new entries and empowers a potentially unlimited number of people to help keep existing entries up-to-date and informative."

'Free' in More Ways Than One

I frequently write about Linux and many of the other great examples of free and open source software out there for business purposes, including ways to get support for them. Even more such software can be found at the PCWorld Download center and on OSAlt.com.

Wherever you get them, these free alternatives can not only save you a great deal of money--as much as $2325 per desktop, by my last calculation--but they also deliver a raft of other benefits associated with open source software in general.

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