Open Source Software for the Creative Mind

I have three children, two eight year old boys and a 12 year old girl. Like most children their age, they love to watch TV and play (more or less) mindless PC games. They are each very bright and creative, but left to their own devices, they will happily spend all day playing Toontown, Club Penguin, or Wizard 101, interspersed with Spongebob, Avatar, and Fairly OddParents.

For the record, I’m not an ogre out to deprive my children of a good time, and I have to admit that the “mindless” games and TV of today are much better than what I had as a kid. Many of these modern games and shows are actually well grounded morally and attempt to simulate real life to some extent, showing imperfect characters, decisions and their consequences, etc. I welcome my children’s participation in an hour or two of this content daily. I’m just trying to balance my children’s desire to have some mindless fun with their need to engage in creative activities that will develop their minds.

So now that we’ve established that I’m not against TV and games per se, but only looking for some balance, let me get to the point of this post. Each of my children has a PC with Ubuntu Linux and (on the boys’ machines) Windows XP. The boys are relatively comfortable with the Linux terminal (at a beginner level) and I want to get them into elementary programming, but the interest isn’t really there yet. My daughter is not at all interested in Linux, terminals, or anything outside of games and social networking software (e.g. Facebook). Given my children’s current interests, my primary focus will be on getting them to practice their writing and to create stories and art to share with us.

All three children love to create with paper, crayons, markers, chalk, legos and similar toys, material from our yard, digital paint programs, and anything else they can find. I am going to use their love of creating to bring them into the world of digital creativity. I already loaded a number of digital art software packages onto my daughter’s Ubuntu box and I am going to work with her to ease her into the digital realm. The main thing holding us back right now is that a lot of the free software available is designed for power users. Programs like GIMP and Blender have a pretty steep learning curve for someone used to simple point and click art software. However, there are manuals and tutorials for these powerful programs and I am going to focus on getting the children to work through the tutorials first to see if we make progress.

I’ll post more on this as we travel down the long (and probably winding) road to mastery of these digital creation tools. For now, I will list the major software packages we’re starting with. All these software packages are open source, available free of charge, and licensed under the GNU General Public License or a similar license intended to preserve your freedom (rather than restrict it as most licenses do).

  • GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a full featured package that can be used for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. GIMP is an open source alternative to Photoshop.
  • Blender is a free and open source 3D content creation suite.
  • Scribus is a desktop publishing application.
  • Audacity is a digital audio editor and recording application.
  • Inkscape is a vector graphics editor.
  • OpenOffice.org is the leading open-source office software suite. It includes applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. OpenOffice.org supports Microsoft Office formats as well as the new open (non-proprietary) document formats increasingly being used around the world. It can serve as a viable alternative to Microsoft Office and I often use it at home to modify documents created at work.
  • FontForge lets you create and edit fonts.

I hope the list above gives you a good start at exploring free and open source creative software.

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