For the first time, we went in search of games, time-wasters, and hobby tools to celebrate. While the open source world clearly has more to offer the data center and office than the living room and den, we like what we found. Tell us what we missed!
Far and away the geekiest open sourceproject on this list,OpenRemote started as a solution to “the rich man’s problem” — how to control your lights, your TV, and your air conditioning from your smartphone (or tablet) — but it has become much more. From home automation to “Smart (Office) Buildings” to accessibility solutions for the disabled, OpenRemote may drive the very closed and proprietary home automation and control system industry into the mainstream. OpenRemote costs tens of thousands of dollars less than an AMX or Crestron solution and puts the UI design into the hands of nonprogrammers. If you’re a programmer, this may be the coolest thing you can do with your free time.
— Andrew Oliver
It’s impossible not to love the developers of 0 A.D., even though they made me eat my words. I never thought a really good and modern-looking game was sustainable in an open source model. Time will tell, but I’m too busy trying to stop the Persians from invading to be critical. 0 A.D. is a real-time strategy game in the spirit of Age of Empires and StarCraft. I highly recommend downloading a recent release from the website rather than an OS-provided package because the older versions are a bit slow. When the campaign mode is available, all of my articles will be late.
— Andrew Oliver
Sure, you could buy a smart DVD player or something like Google TV, but what fun is a sealed box? XBMC turns your PC into a smart media center with plenty of flashy doohickeys to make it look cooler. Or if you don’t want a whirring PC with a loud fan, look around for some of the newer low-powered Android PCs that are ready to hack. If you’re not happy with what you get after unpacking the TAR file, there’s a robust community of plug-in developers who are revising and extending the tool to make it even better. You’ll have so much fun programming it that you won’t have any time for watching TV.
— Peter Wayner
If you love the classic Atari 2600 games, then the Stellaemulator is your open source tool for playing them again and again and again. Chopper Command, Space Invaders, Pitfall, and more are ready and waiting for you. Some people are even writing their own new games for the 2600 platform. It’s not refusing to grow up. It’s getting a self-taught Ph.D. in computer history.
— Peter Wayner
All work and no play make Jack a dull IT jockey. Cut loose with BZFlag, a multiplayer 3D tank shooter game. You can join in BZFlag games on servers across the Internet with custom arena maps. There are several modes of play online too, either with teams or as individuals. I like to play “rabbit hunt,” where one person is the rabbit and everyone else is a hunter. The hunter who kills the rabbit becomes the rabbit. How long can you last as the rabbit?
— High Mobley
Launched as a personal project in 2006 by then Cal Tech student Kovid Goyal, Calibre (pronounced kal-eh-bur) is an open sourcee-booklibrarymanagement tool that supports converting across a wide range of formats, downloading and reading news and magazine feeds (over 300 sources in multiple languages). It even has a plug-in that allows users to shop for DRM-free books. At a time when platform lock-in seems to be growing, Goyal says his project “will always present an alternative for people that love to read e-books and want to be in control of their own digital libraries.” At an average of over 500,000 new downloads per month, it looks like many people share Goyal’s point of view.
— Mike Amundsen
The Arduino is a small, open source, single-board computer that adds its numbers two at a time, much like every other computer. But the open sourcelicense has spurred plenty of experimentation and hardware hacking. If you want to, say, control the LEDs in your disco ball or build a security system for your garage, the Arduino board makes a great starting point. There’s also a burgeoning collection of add-on boards called “shields” that add even more functionality to the machines, making it possible to hack together any number of hardware projects in less time than ever before. — Peter Wayner
A standard first-person shooter, AssaultCube is faster in gameplay than Counter-Strike and slower than Unreal Tournament. It’s easy to learn, with intuitive controls, and it features a ton of game modes like one-shot one-kill, deathmatch, capture the flag, and knives and guns only. The single-player mode features bots that are totally stupid and get stuck in corners all the time, but there’s also a multiplayer mode, and AssaultCube’s surprisingly small 50MB package is easy to pass around. It’s the perfect gift for someone who loves to kill stupid bots.
— Deep Mistry
Modeled after the popular Sid Meier’s Civilization game series, Freeciv is an empire-building strategy game that runs on Linux, Windows, or Mac OS X Lion. Freeciv is highly configurable, with the ability to swap in different rules of play and even different tile and sound sets, and it features networked play where you can compete with other people via the Internet. Freeciv looks just like the early Civilization games, and it plays just like them. It’s not the latest and greatest, but it’s good enough for me. Have spear, will travel!
— High Mobley
Like most real-time strategy games, Warzone 2100 follows the basic gameplay formula of gather, build, maintain, defend, and destroy. Unlike most, there is no tedious micromanagement of resources, so you can focus on more interesting things, like unit design and weapons manufacturing. And instead of being limited to generic units available based on level or experience, you can create units with specific abilities based on what you’ve researched. An awkward detail about this game: Units never seem to find the correct path from point A to B on the map. The best feature: Definitely the 3D engine, which produces fully detailed topography and visual effects.
— Deep Mistry
Naev is a 2D space trade game that may remind you of the TV series “Firefly.” You start off with a simple trade vessel that needs money to get equipment. You embark on patrolling and trading missions. You engage in combat. The gameplay can feel a bit repetitive and simplistic: Better sci-fi missions would go a long way toward improving Naev, and packaging and installation could use some work before this hits the mainstream. This is clearly a work in progress, and though the project seems to move in fits and starts, it is moving.
— Deep Mistry
A professional-grade video editing and mastering platform with Hugo and many other films on its résumé, Lightworkswould tempt even the most avid users of Apple Final Cut Pro. An advanced UI streamlines editing with powerful timeline and trimming tools, color correction, and a host of onboard creative effects. Lightworks is not actually open sourcesoftware — yet. A free Windows version is available, and the company says it will release source code for all three platforms with the forthcoming Mac and Linux versions. A Pro version ($60 yearly license) unlocks a rich set of codecs and team support. — James R. Borck