There are many people who are keen fans of Linux at home, but still have to do their work on Windows-equipped computers -- and for all I know the reverse may be true. So it's nice to know that an increasing number of programs are being written and revised in such a way that they will work on both platforms -- and sometimes even on a Macintosh. Equipped with these applications programs, you can confidently carry your files back and forth from one platform to another, confident in the knowledge that they will look and behave in exactly the same way; and meanwhile you can focus on learning one type of software thoroughly, rather than dividing your attention between two or more.
So here is a list of major programs that work -- and work more or less the same -- on both Windows and Linux platforms. What's more, they're all free!
The OpenOffice package consists of five modules: a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation manager, a simple drawing module and a database module. The first four are installed by default in most major Linux distros; the last is an optional extra that can be downloaded. OpenOffice is modelled on Microsoft Office -- specifically its older, more rational incarnations, before Windows Vista came along. It will do just about anything MS-Office will except run Visual Basic macros -- but it supports, not just one, but four macro languages of its own (including the popular Python) to make up for it. Windows, Linux and Macintosh versions of OpenOffice 3.2 can be downloaded from www.openoffice.org.
Is there anyone who hasn't yet heard of Firefox, the alternative web browser? Having captured a large proportion of the browser market over the last few years because of its superiority to Microsoft Internet Explorer (particularly its multiple tab option), Firefox is still holding its own against a reinvigorated opposition. One great strength of Firefox is the enormous number of extension programs that can be integrated into the program, supporting features like advertisement blocking, Flash blocking, video downloads, readability options, and bookmark and password managers. Firefox 3.6 is available from www.mozilla.com/firefox for Windows, Linux, Macintosh systems and even mobile phones and PDAs.
Thunderbird is the email program from Mozilla, the distributors of Firefox. It handles multiple accounts, spam filters, subfolders and subsubfolders, Usenet newsgroups and attachments. Like Firefox, can be enhanced with extension programs which add features like boilerplate text, colour settings, ad blocking, automatic zipping of extensions, and so on. One popular extension is Lightning, which add a basic calendar and events management list. Thunderbird 3 is available from www.mozilla.com/thunderbird for Windows, Linux and Macintosh systems.
GIMP is the open source and free software movement's answer to Adobe Photoshop: a powerful bitmap editor with layers, colour manipulations, many filters and special effects, masks, transformations, auto corrections, batch image manipulation and all the paraphernalia of a sophisticated graphics package. The name is unfortunate (it stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, and it seemed funny at the time), and may be changed in the near future, but there is nothing childish about the power of the program and what it can do. GIMP is available from www.gimp.org for Windows, Linux and Macintosh systems.
Inkscape is an Adobe Illustrator killer: a free program which allows for powerful design, technical drawing and illustration work with vector graphics. Inkscape produces compact images which can be rescaled and distorted without any loss of image quality. From precise scale diagrams to free-flowing psychedelic designs, Inkscape 0.47 can handle them all. It supports drawing tablets and is available from www.inkscape.org for Windows, Linux and Macintosh systems.
6) Adobe Reader
Kudos to Adobe for making their reader program available in Linux -- even if they could probably have done it better. Adobe Reader for Linux works in the same way as the Windows version. Weighing in at 60Mb, it makes for a hefty download, and there are many Linux programs which provide the same functions, notably ePDFView. But if you need to have it, now you can have it in Linux as well as for Windows and the Macintosh. Version 8 is available for download from get.adobe.com/reader.