Over the past few years the quality of open source software has exploded. Some of the most useful programs that I use daily didn’t cost me anything. I could live without Microsoft Office, but you’d have a fight on your hands if you took WordPress or any of my Google apps. Anyway, here is a list of the top 10 free and open source programs that should be a part of every presentation system. Oh, by the way, I know that this list is all Windows software.
Here we go, in no particular order
1. Google Picasa
This program is as handy as a pocket on a shirt. Besides reading just about every type of file known to man, (Even RAW images from my Cannon Digital SLR!) it organizes everything quickly and easily. Can’t find that announcement graphic or background that you know was there last week? Open Picassa and all of the graphics on your system will fly by at the scroll of a mouse.
In addition to it’s ability to read, organize and find video and graphic files on your system. It will convert, resize, crop, rotate and color balance quickly and easily. I can’t count how many times I’ve been given a picture for a wedding or a graphic that needs the contrast or brightness tweaked for the projector. Two clicks in Picassa and you’re gold.
2. VLC Media Player
If there is a better video player out there, I don’t know what it is. This thing plays everything. If VLC doesn’t play it, it probably can’t be played. Most presentation programs have a limited amount of videos that they can play. That awesome dive or mpg4 video you really want to use will probably not be accessible to your presentation system anytime soon. Enter VLC. Not only will this play just about every video you throw at it, but it will, more than likely, play it better than your presentation program. It will even play files without installing codecs. It even has a mac version.
Open the video in VLC, drag it to the presentation screen, click “view>full screen”, open an external console, pause the video where you want it to start, voila. Media Shout will take control of the presentation screen and then when you need the video, minimize Media Shout so that it will give up control of the second monitor, play your video, then maximize Media Shout for your return trip.
Is this a bit of a kluge? Yes. Does it work? Absolutely is it much better than spending an entire day trying to convert the mp4 into something that might or might not play in your presentation program Indubitably.
Audacity is still one of my favorite quick and easy audio editing and recording programs. Does the wedding coordinator want the first part of this song, then the chorus of this song and then the ending of still another song? Does the music director for the children’s production want to end the song before the chorus repeat? Do you have a 30 second rain loop that you need to loop for 10 minutes? Enter Audacity. It is quick, easy and does a great job. You’ll need to download the LAME mp3 converter for it to fully function but, since LAME is open source as well, we’ll just put them in the same category.
4. Win amp
Ok, this may make me old school but I still haven’t found a better program for playing Youtube to MP3 and making nice, matched cross fades between the songs. (Winamp with a cross fade plug in) will do a great job with your pre show music. There is nothing worse than dead air between songs during pre-show background music. (Ok, something might be worse, but it is pretty annoying). Now, I’m sure I’m going to start a flame war about what is better. I’m open to suggestions but, for now, winamp still rocks.
5. Virtual dub Mod
Virtual Dub Mod is based on the famous video editing software Virtual Dub by Avery Lee. Born as a unification of several existing modifications, a lot of new features have been added, including support for the mattock container format. What audacity is to audio files, Virtual dub is to video files. While I wouldn’t use it to edit a movie, it’s perfect for quick fixes and touch ups. Plus, it’s free.
Great, we just lost our “clean” status. I’m going to try and resist making some Jr. High level joke about searching…(I already blew it). I didn’t name the program, but it has saved my bacon more than once. GSpot is a small program (about 1MB) that doesn’t even need to be installed. When you run it, it will load it’s list of codecs (currently over 250) and when you open a video or audio file with it, it will tell you everything there is to know about the file. Resolution, audio codec, bitrate, video codec, virtually everything you need to know about the video or audio file is there. Want to know the native resolution of that video? Want to know if that file is Cinema or Sorenson compression?