The other day, a protégé (and ex-colleague) of mine asked me to suggest a free screen capturing tool, as the only copy of Snagit was used by another person in her organization. That prompted me to write this blog post about free and open source software (FOSS) available for the technical communicators.
I am not advocating against the use of paid software. I use FrameMaker and RoboHelp myself. Also, I am not suggesting you to look at FOSS if you are on a shoestring budget. I have found FOSS equally good at what they do, and provide me the choice to use the relevant tools for specific tasks. Hence this post.
I have already discussed the DITA ecosystem in my organization, which comprises FOSS tools such as DITA OT, Serna Free XML Editor, and WinANT. If DITA is not your cup of tea, consider the following tools based on your requirements.
Open Office Writer (or Libre Office Writer) – It is an excellent word processor. It also helps you edit and save Microsoft Word documents.
LyX – If you want a powerful document processor a la FrameMaker and InDesign, this is it.
Image Editing Tools
GIMP – This image manipulation program is the open source alternative to Photoshop.
Shutter – This comes in handy when you want to capture screenshots.
Dia – If you provide flowcharts and workflow diagrams in your documentation, check Dia. It is simple yet effective.
Audit and Video Editing Tools
Audacity – If you are in to podcasting, check this out. Though I haven’t used it in my office, I use it on my Ubuntu workstation at home to edit mp3 songs.
CamStudio – The latest trend (in my view only) in tech comm circles is to provide screencasts (videos) along with the Help files. If you want an open source screencasting tool to visually explain step by step instructions, go for this tool.
I have only listed the tools that I use or know. There are better FOSS tools available for our profession. If you know of any such tools, please add them in your comment.