The Architects' Free Practice - Essentials

The Architect's Free Practice is fundamentally about Freedom not freebies.  Free software relates to software free from restrictions, impositions, monopolistic tricks, spyware, unfair licenses  - not necessarily free from cost, although most free software costs nothing to acquire and use.

Today's architect's workstation is typically made up of the following components;

1.  Email, Calendar, Tasks & News Manager.
2. Web Browser & FTP Client
3. Office Productivity Suite
4. 2D/3D CAD Application
5. Graphics Editor

Thanks to the tireless work of the Free Software Foundation and the adherents of the Open Source movement an architect can kit out a fully functional and universally compatible workstation for zero Rands.

If you opt for the proprietary software option you will probably spend a minimum of  R30,000 per workstation; if you opt for FSF or Open Source software you will spend ... nothing. Does that mean that Open Source software is inferior or non functional? Not at all - my experience has been the exact opposite; Open Source software is better - much better.


If you are running a MS-Windows machine you are probably using Outlook to handle your email and if you are running a Linux machine you are probably using Evolution. Evolution is free whilst Outlook is part of the Microsoft Office suite and will set you back a couple of thousand Rand.

The recommended Email option for a Free Practice workstation is Mozilla Thunderbird. If you are used to Evolution or Outlook you will hardly notice the difference; your email, tasks and calendar needs will be amply cared for at no cost.

The recommended Internet Browser option is Mozilla Firefox - unquestionably the best browser out there. (Unless you are running a very fast machine with plenty of RAM you may consider avoiding Google Chrome - it is a resources thief, albeit a very good one!) Firefox has a built in FTP add-on that makes handling the transfer of large files a breeze.

Get Firefox:     
Get Thunderbird:


In my personal opinion you have to be completely out of your mind to pay good money for office productivity software. I have two reasons for holding this opinion; firstly the best office productivity software available is free and secondly I resent the fact that we damage our local economies every time we unnecessarily send currency to foreign countries.

LibreOffice is a comprehensive, professional-quality productivity suite that you can download and install for free. There is a large base of satisfied LibreOffice users worldwide, and it is available in more than 30 languages and for all major operating systems, including Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and GNU/Linux (Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, Suse, ...).  You can download, install and distribute LibreOffice freely, with no fear of copyright infringement.
LibreOffice is a feature-packed and mature desktop productivity package with some really great advantages: It's free – no worry about license costs or annual fees.
  •  No language barriers – it's available in a large number of languages, with more being added continually.
  •  LGPL public license – you can use it, customize it, hack it and copy it with free user support and developer support from our active worldwide community and our large and experienced developer team.
  •  LibreOffice is a free software community-driven project: development is open to new talent and new ideas, and our software is tested and used daily by a large and devoted user community; you, too, can get involved and influence its future development.
Download Libre Office here:


Perhaps the hardest aspect of the modern practice to manage is the issue of CAD and his ugly little cousin BIM. For decades architects have had to live with the reality of paying unreasonably high prices for drafting software and many a practice has gone down the tubes as a result of it.

The absurd price of CAD software drove many practices into piracy. Piracy is a CRIME. It is theft. It is wrong. The very same companies that held software monopolies created forms of Piracy Police forces which profited massively from "busting"pirate practices. I know of at least two architectural practices that had to close their doors and its partners had to get jobs to pay back the fines - they are probably still paying these people ten years later. In short: don't do it! Rather than engage in piracy look at the free and reasonably priced alternatives. There are many.

Download Double CAD here: - Free for Commercial Use

Recommended alternative:   Free version (Personal Use) :


The world's most popular 3D modelling tool has a free version which has become invaluable to architects; Google Sketchup is available here:   It is now owned by Trimble Sketchup, for whatever reason. Closely associated with it is of course Google Earth, which is a must have. ( )

The new kid on the block is Rhinocerus, a design tool increasingly in use by architects which offers a fully functional trial version which is not time limited but rather offers unlimited time with the restriction of 25 "saves".  For a base price of around US$1,000, this is one design tool you need to consider buying :

Another promising 3D modeller (BIM) which is dwg compatible is IDEA. Try it out :  . My personal favourite remains : - also dwg compatible.

In my personal experience BIMs cause more problems than they solve when used in a production environment. They are great to generate presentation renders but that's it. When it comes to production nothing beats a solid 2D CAD and professional skill.

5. GIMP - Graphics Editor

The Gimp is my friend. It has everything a bitmap image editor needs to edit and manipulate images, photos and graphics. It is a Free Software product and you can get it here:
Dump your pirated copy of Photoxxx and download the GIMP; he will be a constant companion for the rest of your career.

These are the ESSENTIALS for the Architect's Free Practice workstation. Get to know them; save money, save your practice, save the economy ... and save yourself from costly and absurd software licenses. Imagine how surprised your accountant will be when your practice starts showing a profit...

Pedro Buccellato

RELATED: The original Free Practice article "Look Ma No Windows" by the same author  (July 2005)