Free Alternatives to Commonly Used Software
If you’ve ever set about a task or started a project to find that your computer is lacking some software to get the job done, you’ve probably tried to identify a free alternative. Some applications are just as good as their paid counterparts, while others are lacking in extra features. The selection of freeware available these days is plentiful, but it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.
An office software package, one that can handle spreadsheets, documents, presentations and all of the general office duties you perform at work every day becomes indispensable for many that work with them on their office machines. But if you need to create a budget for your expenses at home or a price list for your bake sale, you may need office software at home. Many of us have cut our teeth on the online standard, Microsoft Office, but if your machine lacks this, it’ll set you back $150 to buy and install.
If you want a robust package that can handle everything that Microsoft Office can do but choke when you see the price tag, take a look at Open Office. It’s an open-source software suite that works on all standard operating systems and most of the applications can create files that are transferable to Microsoft Office. Calc, the Microsoft Excel of the Open Office platform, can perform many of the same functions as its paid counterpart.
Another budding area of free office software is cloud-based Google Docs. It requires no hard drive space to use, as your files are all saved online under your Google ID, and you can access them any time on any computer with internet access. The downside to Google Docs is that the features are not up to par with Microsoft Office or Open Office. Google Spreadsheets can perform a few simple functions, and the styles available for documents is pretty limited, though these interfaces are being updated constantly to roll out new features.
When creating a lengthy paper, presentation deck or newsletter, you may find that the most common application for keeping your work from being changed or ripped off is Adobe Acrobat. While nearly all of us have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on our computers in order to read published work, the Adobe Dynamic is required for creating PDFs. Unfortunately, it will set you back about $200 to install it on your computer.
One of the best alternatives for publishing is PDFCreator. It’s another open-source tool that has been pulled together by individuals that want everyone to be able to create PDFs for free. It can create PDFs from any Windows application.
Whether you're retouching photos or are putting together a more complicated graphic design, the industry standard has been Photoshop, another Adobe product. It also runs around $200 for the current version, Photoshop CS5. The most common free alternative is GIMP (GNU image manipulation program), a feature-packed photo editor that has nearly all of the same features as Photoshop, making it the go-to package for seasoned editors. For those just starting out, however, GIMP can be tough to understand and bulky. Paint.NET is also free and offers a more intuitive interface for users that are getting the feel for photo editing.
Of course by now most of us have experienced a computer virus or malware in some shape or form, and we know exactly how important it is to have our computers up to date. When your computer’s Norton trial runs out, instead of forking over $60 for a one year protection service, take a look at Ad-Aware. It won PCMag’s Best Free Anti-Malware award for both finding malware and removing it with minimal damage. There’s a paid Ad-Aware Pro version that runs $30 for one year, but PCMag says that the free version is nearly as good. It’s a perfect fit for casual computer users.
If you’ve already got an infected computer, your go-to program is Malwarebytes. It does the dirty work of isolating problem files so that you can rid your computer of them for good, and while it’s not free (just a $25 one-time fee), it will clean your system and keep it in good shape in the future.
Got any other tips on software we missed?