Tools for freelancers and small studios

Vlad Grama
4 min readFeb 12, 2024

This list isn’t about the latest SASS trend or the hottest AI buzzword. It’s about practical, user-friendly tools that actually make your life easier.

Intro

Back in 2014, when I first dipped my toes into the world of digital product design (just visual design back then), Sketch was the undisputed king of UI design tools. But being a Mac-only app, it felt like an unreachable dream on my budget. I mean, back then, getting a Macbook was practically a fantasy. This high barrier to entry was frustrating, especially because there weren’t really any alternative tools that could compete. Sure, people used Photoshop and Illustrator, but crafting websites with them was an exercise in pain.

Adobe, InVision, and Figma arrived, shattering the gate with platforms accessible across devices and often for free. Today, the challenge shifts from entry barriers to “which tool fits best?”

This article celebrates the open-source community’s dedication to democratizing software. Their tireless efforts (both time and financial) empower us with amazing tools, reducing dependence on expensive subscriptions. As freelancers, small studios, or agencies, cost is often king, and open-source tools offer a fantastic solution.

However, some prioritize privacy and might hesitate with closed-source platforms like Miro, Notion, or even Google. If that’s you, fret not! This article will explore exciting open-source alternatives.

Linux distros — OS

Remember when Linux felt like a cryptic code cave reserved for tech wizards? Those days are gone! In 2024, Linux has shed its “knowledge barrier” and become user-friendly, even for design professionals like myself. Installing it takes a breeze — literally 10 minutes — and its diverse “flavors” cater to every preference.

As a digital product designer, I get how important Figma is. Luckily, unofficial but well-maintained packages like figma-linux.

Notable features:

  • FREE
  • Fully featured
  • Dedicated apps
  • Fast
  • Secure
  • Much more…

Notable distros:

Nextcloud — self-hosted cloud solution

www.nextcloud.com

Remember that dusty laptop gathering cobwebs in the corner? Here’s a crazy thought: wipe it clean, install a user-friendly server version of Debian like Nextcloud, and voila! You’ve got your own personal cloud server — no expensive subscriptions or data privacy concerns needed.

And the best part? Nextcloud offers apps for both desktop and mobile devices, so you can access your files from anywhere, anytime. Plus, its already extensive feature set can be further customized with tons of apps, making it as flexible as your needs.

This replaces:

  • Clouds like Google, Dropbox, iCloud
  • Office Suite like Gdocs, Microsoft Office
  • Notes like Google Keep, Evernote
  • Internal Comms like Google Chat
  • Email Client like Thunderbird, Spark, Apple Mail
  • Much more…

Logseq — Open source Obsidian

www.logseq.com

This open-source gem isn’t just another “cool” app. It’s a supercharged note-taking powerhouse, offering the flexibility of Obsidian with a user-friendly twist. Whether you’re jotting down quick ideas or building a research empire, it seamlessly adapts to your needs.

And the best part? Multitasking across devices is a breeze with dedicated desktop and mobile apps for every major platform. So, capture inspiration on the go, refine your thoughts at your desk, and access your knowledge library anywhere, anytime.

Notable features:

  • Saves its notes as markdown files -> Works great with the above mentioned, Nextcloud
  • Lots of themes and plugins that extend its functionality
  • Whiteboards and Graphviews
  • Private and local
  • Generate queries
  • Online syncing service
  • Collaboration coming soon!

Appflowy — Open source Notion

www.appflowy.io

This is also a note-taking app which does what basically every other app does, but it presents itself in a more visual way, like Notion. It’s an FOSS app available for all platforms, both desktop and mobile.

Notable features:

  • Templates — boards view
  • Rich text editor — lots of data types
  • Page linking
  • Extensible and customizable
  • Powered by AI — OpenAI/ StabilityAI
  • Private and local

Anytype — Open source Notion

www.anytype.io

As a beautifuly designed alternative to Notion, this might be the closest app, functionality-wise from Notion, it even has an import feature. This can be used for documentation, planners, trackers etc.

Notable features:

  • Secure — E2E encrypted, P2P
  • A more complex version of Appflowy
  • Block-based editor
  • Widgets
  • Templates
  • Multiple viewmodes: Kanban, Graph, Table, Gallery
  • Private & local or synchronizable

Focalboard — Open source Trello

www.focalboard.com

For simple task tracking, skip Anytype and Logseq and consider Focalboard. Mainly focused on project management, it offers a board-based interface perfect for visual organization and straightforward tracking.

Notable features:

  • Import from: Trello, JIRA, Asana, Notion, Todoist
  • Visualisation modes: Board, List, Calendar, Gallery
  • Integrates with Mattermost which extends it to even more, collaborative features.

Mattermost — Open source Slack / Teams / Discord

www.mattermost.com

Gone are the days of data silos and reliance on proprietary platforms. Mattermost, a powerful self-hosted alternative to Slack, Teams, and Discord, empowers you to own your communications.

Why?

  • Freedom & Security
  • Lightweight & Efficient — runs smoothly on minimal resources — a single core CPU and 2GB RAM are all you need, even on an old laptop!
  • Seamless Installation — For the fastest setup, simply use Docker with the mattermost-preview image.
  • Universal Connectivity — Mattermost offers a native server application and client apps for all major platforms, ensuring everyone stays connected.

Conclusion

We’re living in a golden age of affordable software accessibility, thanks in large part to the vibrant open-source community. It’s incredible to have so many powerful tools at our fingertips, often for free or at minimal cost.

However, with great access comes great responsibility. Open-source projects thrive on the contributions of passionate individuals like ourselves. So, whether you’re a coding whiz or a design guru, there are countless ways to contribute mindfully.

Thanks for stopping by,

Vlad Grama

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Vlad Grama

I help create beautiful digital products that strike emotions and translate business values into graphical elements. Currently at => https://obelisk.agency