Good software does not have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, some of the best software is free.
Free software is not simply about getting something on the cheap - although that is certainly a bonus! It is also a matter of of the user's freedom to run, study and, in the case of Open Source projects, improve the software. These improvements can then be incorporated into future releases of the software resulting in a better product. Inevitably this becomes a community exercise where everyone benefits.
LaTeX is a document preparation system for high-quality typesetting. LaTeX is not a word processor, so if you're wed to Microsoft Word's GUI then you'll find LaTeX daunting… The idea behind writing in LaTex is that an author spends more time concentrating on content rather than worrying about appearance.
Emacs: the extensible, customizable text editor – and more. The learning curve is steep, but well worth the effort. There is very little one cannot do in Emacs… I use it to write LaTeX documents, run R, write Praat scripts, send email, access news groups, etc, etc.
OpenOffice is a full-featured office suite providing simialr functionality to the Microsoft Office applications.
MySQL is the world's most popular open source relational database management system (RDBMS). It is fast and it is reliable and it is available for all platforms. Almost all the major programming langauges have libraries for accessing MySQL databases. As an added bonus, almost all hosting companies provide MySQL as part of their default plan.
R is a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics. OK, it has a wicked learning curve, but once one has a handle on the basics there is very little one cannot accomplish with R. The R community is very large and eager to help out.
Harald Baayen, who is at the Department of Linguistics, University of Alberta, has freely made available a draft of his excellent book, `Analyzing Linguistic Data. A Practical Introduction to Statistics using R' (5MB PDF). It is a good primer to analyzing and manipulating data with R.
An excellent program for speech analysis and synthesis is Praat. Praat is written by Paul Boersma and David Weenink at the Institute of Phonetic Sciences of the University of Amsterdam. It's Open Source and it is constantly being improved.
Python is an interpreted, interactive, object-oriented, extensible programming language. It is superb and a delight to work with. I highly recommend this as the 'first language' that people should learn if they want to delve into the world of coding.
Django is a high-level Python Web Framework that really speeds up web application development.
PHP is widely used and available on most web hosting servers. It's relatively simple to learn. I think Symfony is the best Web Framework for PHP.
I use NS Basic/Palm to write applications for Palm handheld computers. It's reasonably intuitive and just works. However, this is a proprietary, commercial product, so I'm looking for a reliable Open Source alternative...
Regardless of whether software is good or bad, free or expensive, it needs to run on an operating system. The world at large has adopted Microsoft Windows. Fine. There is however an amazing, 100% free, and, in my opinion, superior, alternative! Ubuntu.
To quote the Ubuntu website: "Ubuntu is a community developed, Linux-based operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers." GNOME is the default desktop environment and since it is a rather intuitive interface, a new user can quickly get up and running. The Ubuntu user community is responsive and eager to help newcomers adopt Linux.