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Ask HN: What software is so good you are surprised it is free?
80 points by joshdance on Feb 17, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments

Scikit-learn. The guys have done, and are continuing to do, an amazing job and the output is completely free. There is some funding involved, but the ultimate value/cost ratio is ridiculously high.

"How Open Source is Really Maintained" comes to mind: https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1280/1*Q_8HbGbbfEmAjwPqB...


Pretty much my entire development stack.

The programming community in general is bloody amazing. I feel very grateful to be a part of it.

I remember downloading VLC for the first time and being overjoyed with the ease, reliability and compatibility. Nothing has changed in the years since then, something most software can't say.

And libVLC for that matter. I had to embed some media viewers in a Qt app and libVLC made it a breeze.

Linux... but I guess I'm not really surprised. Most of what's so good about it is a result of it being free.

TreeSheets: http://strlen.com/treesheets/ - infinitely nestable spreadsheets, great for organizers

TreeProjects Personal Database: http://personaldatabase.org/ - searchable, inter-linkable, hierarchical notes and media tracking for projects

Godot Game Engine: https://godotengine.org/ - the scene graph system wherein a "scene" is just a saved subtree of nodes and can be instantiated at any point within a parent scene is so far beyond the clumsy scene/prefab split in eg. Unity

Thanks! Very interesting software.

Blender. It is probably one of the most versatile 3D suites available.

Interestingly, Blender was originally proprietary, and was open-sourced after its parent company went bankrupt, and only after money was raised from the open-source crowd (before crowdfunding was a thing).

Also all of python (absolutely beautiful language) and the associated eco system. I’m thinking mostly of numpy/scipy/matplot lib etc, but there are so many more.

It was said in jest, but emacs really is amazingly good for what it costs. Even more so if I consider each of the individual contributions that I take advantage of from so many other contributors. Helm, org-mode, use-package, paredit-everywhere, ace-isearch, magit, undo-tree, ...

The list really is quite impressive. And then there are the things I don't use, but still impress the hell out of me. Skewer mode being the frontrunner there.

Then there is Firefox. Easy to complain about memory usage and whatnot, but it really is an impressive piece of engineering for what I paid for it.

For me Handbrake is very impressive. When I was ripping DVDs frequently it worked great, and the queue feature is super.

KDE Plasma for me, it's amazing how good it is and how stable it has become. I've been using KDE for years and I've recommended it to almost anyone I could - and they always stuck with it, because it was simply too much well done. Compared to gnome 3 and other new desktop environments, KDE has always been so easy to use, predictable and customisable, a very joy to use.

Which kde distro would you recommend for stability?

I'm personally on Debian. Some times it lags behind a couple of releases but I'm happy with it as it's very stable.

Some people are extremely happy with KDE Neron though.

The core stays on the latest Ubuntu LTS but the KDE is updates real quick to the latest version.

I'm on KDE Neon. Built by KDE developers on top of Ubuntu.

I don´t want to enter the eternal debate but predictability is definitely not the greatest kde features.

Well there's Vim. OBS[1] is pretty rad, too.

If we're including programming languages under "software": Clojure.

If we're including libraries under "Software": Lacinia[2] and Reagent[3].

If we're including databases: ArangoDB[4].

1: https://obsproject.com/

2: https://github.com/walmartlabs/lacinia

3: https://holmsand.github.io/reagent/

4: https://www.arangodb.com/

Visual Studio Code

OpenCV? Basically the de facto standard in computer vision.

Postgres and redis.

No piece of software has surprised me like Redis has. The sheer elegance, performance, and reliability is mind boggling. Long live antirez!

Have you tried to compile it ? This is the easiest compilation experience I had in my life. Hell, sometime I just compile it for sheer pleasure.

Any number of programming languages and their implementations. My personal favorites being Nim, Lua, and the sadly forgotten Tcl/Tk.

Linux. Arch for my fancy stuff, Alpine for my servers.

SQLite and Fossil, from the inimitable D. Richard Hipp, plus rsync and rclone to keep everything in its place.

Yes, I'm a minimalist.

Of course, good is so intrinsically tied up with free that we cannot pry them apart. Not for the sake of money (I do contribute, I do donate), but for the convenience and accessability, and of course the principle.

Oh, and GIMP. How could I forget?

Krita. It has the best brush engine by farrrrrrrrrrr. You generally have to use custom brushes though, the default ones are mediocre at best.

How would you compare it to Photoshop and what would you say to a Photoshop digital painter to get them to switch to Krita (or at least try it out for a while)?

The Good in Comparison:

It's incredibly faster.

It does a spectacular job at emulating how real painting feels.

The color picker is a lot better in Krita, in my opinion.

Krita can use (some) Photoshop brushes out of the box, just add them in.

It has an (arguably) better interface, and four color schemes out of the box.

The Bad in Comparison:

It doesn't have the non-painting effects of Photoshop, which can be a huge downside if you tend to use those on your projects.

Zim Desktop Wiki (http://zim-wiki.org/). It is great note taking application that supports Rich Text features such as bold, italic, checkbox and bullet lists. It also supports Greek letters, subscripts, superscripts, and Unicode, making it very useful for entering mathematical equations.

OpenSCAD. It’s not feature rich but it does its thing very well with a clean user interface AND a nice language to work in.

Podcast Addict. I paid like $1.99 to remove the ads from it, I feel super guilty that I can't somehow give more.

Agree, this is an awesome app. You can give the dev more BTW - they have PayPal and other ways you can give them more money. Send them an email

I'm still in awe that no matter what coding stack you use, you can almost always do everything you need without paying a dime.

With Microsoft, even Visual Studio Team Services is free - private Git hosting for up to five users, a decent CI/CD orchestration platform, a private Nuget feed, project planning, etc.

not sure if this counts, but as long as you have a .edu account, all of JetBrains stuff is technically free. i've been using all their IDEs since school, and continue to renew my licenses with my .edu email no issues.

Well obviously not free but waaay to cheap: sublime For free: visual studio code

sublime is overpriced by a factor of 2-3

especially with competition from atom + with electron improvements leading to atom not having totally garbage performance

I'm working on some BYOH cloud based data processing lately soooo....:

- Everything sponsored by the CNCF (https://www.cncf.io/)

- Everything Hashicorp (https://www.hashicorp.com/)

- OpenStack (https://www.openstack.org/)

And a small bonus:

- Dotmesh (https://dotmesh.com/), snapshot awesomeness

Ffmpeg & vscode

Kodi. It's amazing how far that project has come since xbmc.

Trello, draw.io, visual studio code.

Thanks for mentioning draw.io. After a quick look around I can see that it will be very useful. I especially like the interface. If it wasn't for my browser interface above I would swear this is a very well made desktop app. Standard OS inputs used well are hard to beat. This really makes me think twice about using some of the fancy UI libraries out there.

+1 for Trello, I've been a very happy user for years now.

Pycharm (community edition) - you gotta use it to believe it. Incredible piece of software.

Dropbox (basic) - Support across platforms with cli.

Count me in for PyCharm Community Edition

Not all of us have 32G RAM.

- Visual Studio Code.

- iTerm2

There was a recent reddit post about this as well here: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/7x639l/what_free...

FreeBSD. The quality of the code (and documentation!) is a notable step up from Linux.

Group Office


Amazingly complete CRM system with a robust and fast web based IMAP client.

Not free, but much too cheap for what you get :) Affinity Photo + Affinity Designer: https://affinity.serif.com/en-gb/

Well, if you want something for editing photos that is truly free as in beer and speech, try the awesome darktable: https://www.darktable.org/

I'm also always blown away by how incredibly easy to use and at the same time how powerful hugin is. In this long list of for-pay stitching applications, Hugin is the only one of two which are free (again, beer and speech) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_photo_stitching_...

Cygwin. Yea, it's mostly just a collection of other free tools, but most of us in corporate America still find ourselves using Windows, and Cygwin is the only thing that makes the Windows command prompt bearable.


On a related note I have been wondering why artist's never provide quality content for free. You know graphics/images for games etc and music/sound effects for example.

Coders provide software worth billions in man hours for free and trying to find quality "artistic" content is impossible. Every little clip art image costs many dollars.

Why do coders provide their services for free so generously while artists are mainly worried about their copyrights?

Not true in that absolute: There is tons of freely licensed music out there. You can find free game assets for genres that are somewhat "generic". But still it is a thing, a few theories on contributing factors:

a) More typically an individual work, with one person having a vision that they do not want to have compromised by others. Arguably harder to have contributions in a way that doesn't stand out in many cases, which means one work made by a small army of contributors sharing the workload doesn't happen often.

b) the "work for me for free" demands are worse for artists than for coders. "Freeloading" is seen a lot more critically/abusive than in software circles. (although it does happen with open-source projects as well of course, and long-term maintainers burn out accordingly as well).

c) approximately nobody pays artists to produce freely licensed works

d) free work by artists might be in direct competition to their ability to make money from their art.

e) Parts vs final product: a lot of open-source development is in pieces that other projects build on. Similarly, you can find quite a lot of "pieces" of art for free: sound templates, stock/reference images, textures, ..., which is not very visible to someone looking for "free graphics". Similarly to how many people not involved with software do not understand on what mountain of free libraries a lot of software stands.

f) More visible if reused, which leads users of graphic resources to want individual ones instead of the same as everyone else. E.g. games will more likely stand out by graphics but use the same engine as X other games.

Maybe OS/FS programmers have a day job, while for the artists, that's their day job.

It's not open source, but I'm surprised that world-class software like Google Drive / Docs are free.

I stopped using both of those due to how distinctly not world-class they are.

And what did you switch to?

Kazaa lite codecs, classic media player, Vs code, Google docs and most Google products, freely, android

> Google

It's paid by advertisers. Docs and mail are just the Trojan horse to get you to use Google for searching.

I think their value to google is to hook users into googles paid services. We spend $60 year per user at my company.

I'm not a huge fan of google practices, but I'm pretty sure I'd use search regardless of where my email is hosted.



Utter crap, look at their source code. Lucene, on the other hand, is really good.

Eclipse -- one of the best and most versatile IDEs, especially for JVM languages

PostgreSQL, Redis and SQLite.

Inkscape for vector graphics. I feel it firmly competes with illustrator.

Python. I'm not really surprised it's free, but it is good.

gcc and llvm!

And the myriad of languages build on top of them, mainly Rust these days ;)

emacs, especially with butterfly mode (https://xkcd.com/378/)

New Relic. Unfortunately it reduced their free plan (and the paid plan is expensive), but I was always amazed about their free features. I'm still didn't find a good alternative. :(

Freenas, for sure!





Valgrind and gdb for me.

Linux, of course.

Netbeans, Eclipse

Adobe Brackets

The free (as in free beer) version of Manic Time.





tesseract-ocr CMU-sphinx

and such.

Mac OS X


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