Roll your own Adobe CS3 for free, part 2

Yesterday, we took a look at some freeware alternatives for Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Acrobat. Today, we focus on options for Flash, Soundbooth, InDesign, and AfterEffects.

Free Adobe CS3 alternatives

(Read about other alternatives for Adobe Creative Suite in the first part of Roll your own Adobe CS3 for free.)

Okay, so you can get the basic functionalities of Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, and Dreamweaver without the gut-punch to your wallet. What's that you say? How about Flash?

Synfig\'s editing system is managed with modular windows. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Synfig Studio is a great answer to the replace-Flash question. Like Flash, it's a 2D vector-based animation tool, and it's one of several programs I found that tries to conquer that particular programming mountain, and does an admirable job of it--especially for freeware.

Synfig takes a bit of effort, but if you're reading this blog post then you can probably handle it. There are four install files that need to be installed in order: Gtkmm, Gtk+, Synfig Core and Synfig Studio. (Apparently, I can't handle it, since it took me two tries to get a successful installation.) There's also what seems like several metric tons of documentation and tutorials on the Synfig wiki, which is befitting for any app with Linux roots that has been ported to Windows.

Neither Flash nor Synfig make for quick studies without a guide, but both are learnable. Whether Synfig is truly capable of competing with Flash for complex multimedia animations remains to be seen. Is anyone out there giving it a try?

Audacity\'s uncluttered panel belies the myriad features available. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Adobe Soundbooth might have a steel trap on your audio-editing sensibilities, but Audacity can set you free. A full-force audio editor, Audacity has been earning critical and popular acclaim for several years now, and every new version improves significantly upon the last. The interface isn't going to win any awards, but it's clean and uncluttered--impressive for a program with so much functionality. It supports all major audio formats, including basic effects such as reverb, delay, and compression. Additional functionality comes from an extensive array of plug-ins, ensuring that Audacity can now confidently stand on its own against Soundbooth.

The bare-bones Scribus interface makes it easy for anyone to get started. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Publisher now have a freeware analog in Scribus. By now you've figured out the theme: Scribus is lightweight, it does its job admirably, and it costs you nothing. If it doesn't do exactly what you want now, it probably will within six months. Scribus does have some oddities, mostly related to the scaling of imported images, but there's something else about it that's far more interesting: it painlessly brings in documents from the suite and it uses The GIMP for image editing. So we're beginning to see freeware publishers ramp up their game as they hook up with other open-source apps to compete more effectively against pricey programs like Adobe's.

Jahshaka is still rough, but the 16:9 editing module shows its promise. (Credit: CNET Networks)

I think Adobe AfterEffects soon will get some serious competition from Jahshaka, although the app certainly isn't there yet. Its producers announce proudly that Jahshaka's the first open-source video editor, which is an impressive statement to make given how much freeware is floating around out there. It runs using OpenGL, so make sure that you've installed that runtime environment before you run it.

One of Jahshaka's most important and useful features is encoding support for audio (OGG, MP2, MP3 and WAV) and video (AVI, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, DV, MP4 and MOV). There's playback support for a range of audio and video formats that seems to cover nearly everything imaginable. There's also a frame-by-frame paint over function, cross-platform portability, customizable zoom functions, auto save and recovery, an animation component that looks like it can compete comfortably with Flash, and so many more features that if I listed them all, there'd have to be some payola involved. (Trust me, there isn't.)

Jahshaka also comes with a cross-platform multimedia player (the Jahplayer) that is designed to work on Nokia cell phones as well as your laptop and desktop machines.

What we're seeing in open-source software and freeware development today is beyond impressive. No longer content to rely on expensive commercial products, programmers are taking a second look at what those products do and how they can do it better. This type of innovation has driven down electronics prices for the past 20 years. In this burgeoning era of freeware, consumer choice is the king, and paying thousands of dollars for application suites may soon be a thing of the past.