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The Ten Best Free and Open Source Desktop Publishing Programs

written by: Tara M. Walsh•edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 3/13/2012

Quality desktop publishing tools for your small business that won't break your budget? Yup--as long as you're willing to break free of the commercial realm and try out free and open source products. Get started here with this roundup of the ten best free and open source desktop publishing programs.

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    Free Desktop Publishing Tools

    Quality desktop publishing tools are within reach of your small business. And you don't need a big budget to get them. In fact, you don't need any budget in most cases, as long as you're willing to break free of the commercial realm and try free and open source products.

    Sure some may not provide that 24/7 customer service or tech support you'd get with a Publisher or a Photoshop package, for example, but you run a small business or you work from home, so you're used to the feeling that you're on your own. Why not take a look at what the open source community has been creating--I think you'll see there are many quality products you can download and use today, with little to no cash out of your pocket.

    So, in keeping with the mission of Bright Hub's Desktop Publishing channel--helping you find solutions for your desktop publishing needs that won't empty your wallet--I present a roundup of the ten best free and open source desktop publishing products--in categories such as page layout, photo editing, PDF creation, and more.

    (Caveat: some of these programs require a Linux desktop operating system be installed; if you are considering a move to Linux, take a look at this guide by Kyle Rankin that details which Linux Desktop OS may be right for your business.

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    If graphics is your game, I'll start by introducing you to two products: Inkscape and Xara Xtreme for Linux. Inkscape is an open source vector graphics editor with downloads for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Xara Xtreme for Linux (yes, there is a Windows version but it'll cost ya) is a general-purpose graphics program available for Linux, FreeBSD, and eventually, Mac OS X.

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    HTML Editors

    There are many good HTML editors on the market but we want the free stuff: A great choice is Amaya, a web editor for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X that was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It lets you produce or update documents directly on the web. Next up is the combo of open source tools in HTML editor Nvu and its unofficial bug fix/release in WYSIWYG editor KompoZer. Niether tool is for the timid. That said, if you are already comfortable using open source tools, Nvu and KompoZer are supported by all major platforms.

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    Page Layout

    There are plenty of free templates on the web (and we'll be covering those in another article) but currently, only the aptly named Scribus offers a viable, quality page layout program with downloads for Linux/Unix, Mac OS X, and Windows. As its website claims, Scribus "supports professional publishing features, such as CMYK color, separations, ICC color management and versatile PDF creation." Look for an upcoming, in-depth review of this program, but bottom-line, you can create very professional looking documents with this open source desktop publishing solution.

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    Photo Editing

    We all love working with our fav digital images--tweaking, retouching, cropping--so it's nice to have a few options for photo editing. First up is GIMP, or GNU Image Manipulation Program, an image editor for photo retouching, authoring, and composition. It supports all major platforms (Windows XP/Vista, Mac OS X, Linux, Sun OpenSolaris, and FreeBSD. (And be sure to check out Dan McGoldrick's excellent review of GIMP) The next two offerings are platform-specific: Krita an open source painting and image editing program for KOffice, the office suite for the K Desktop Environment (KDE); and the free Paint.NET, a photo and image editor for Windows.

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    PDF Creation

    There are plenty of 'try-it-for-free' PDF creation tools but the best, truly free product in this category is PDFCreator. You can produce any PDF file you need with this product from just about any Windows application.

    Got More?

    This list is by no means a complete offering. In most cases, these open source or free DTP tools offer multi-platform support, but I also want to hear from you - have a favorite free desktop publishing tool you think should be included here? Let me know by leaving a comment below.