Don't Buy Microsoft Office! And Other Free Alternatives to Pricey Computer Software

by Ryan Lynch on 25 June 2014 4 comments

So you just forked over a boatload of cash for a shiny new PC, but before you can really do anything other than watch YouTube videos and make crude Microsoft Paint drawings, you have to shell out even more to get the software. With today's leading applications costing hundreds of dollars, editing your photos or managing your finances can leave your wallet feeling substantially lighter. But fret not, for the Internet is your bank account's salvation from pricey PC programs! (See also: The Most Underrated Software You May Already Own)

A Quick Word on Free/Open Source Programs

Software that is developed as "freeware" will almost always have certain limitations compared to the paid apps that they seek to emulate. As such, one simply cannot expect these free programs to offer the same range of features and/or functionality present in their costlier counterparts. That being said, many free or open source alternatives can get the job done without you having to spend a fortune.

Microsoft Office vs. LibreOffice

The Office suite by Microsoft is hands down the number one application that people spend money on. Whether by accident or by design, Microsoft Office is the tool virtually every business, school, and casual user uses to compose their digital documents. As Microsoft continues their market domination of office software, they offer a dizzying number of products and payment options, from subscription based services to one time license fees.

If paying $100+ to write your Twilight fan fiction sounds unreasonable, you're not alone. A non-profit organization, The Document Foundation, developed LibreOffice in 2010, an office suite including (but not limited to) programs similar to Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Visio, and Access. The programs resemble the layouts of their Microsoft counterparts, and are generally compatible with Microsoft file types. Of course, LibreOffice has its pros and cons.

Adobe Photoshop vs. GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP)

Whether you are a professional photographer or an amateur shutterbug, you would be hard pressed to find someone who wasn't aware of Adobe's powerful photo editing software, Photoshop. From photo retouching to image authoring, Photoshop leads the market as the software of choice for professional and home users alike.

For those who don't necessarily need the wealth of tools that Photoshop has to offer, a popular alternative is GIMP. Although it may not be fair to compare the two programs head to head, the attractive price of zero dollars coupled with impressive features make GIMP a solid option for photo manipulation.

Interested in making a jump from Photoshop to GIMP? GIMPShop may be the best option for you.

Microsoft Outlook vs. Mozilla Thunderbird

Finding the right email client for you can be a long and arduous process. The go-to program to tackle a wide variety of email needs has been Microsoft's Outlook. A strong competitor has come in the form of Thunderbird by Mozilla, the same team that brought the world Firefox. While development of Thunderbird is community-based, meaning that Mozilla no longer has a hand in its growth, it is a reliable and impressive Outlook doppelganger.

Although Thunderbird is not as feature rich as Outlook, there are a wide variety of add-ons that bring it pretty darn close to Outlook experience. If you don't need to link into the Microsoft Exchange servers, Thunderbird should garner more than just a passing curiosity.

Reckon vs. GnuCash

Whether you struggle to balance your checkbook, own a small business, or do all of the bookkeeping for your local bocce club, an accounting program would certainly make your life easier.

Powerhouse accounting software from Reckon or Intuit will supply you with a wide variety of tools to get your finances on track, and the first thing you can do with them is deduct the cost of the program itself. If the steep price of Reckon products don't fit within your budget, the most feature rich alternative is GnuCash. Compared to popular software by Reckon, GnuCash can handle most bookkeeping tasks thrown at it, and can be run on various operating systems, all for the bargain basement price of free.

With a little bit of research and the willingness to try something a little less known, you may find yourself saving boatloads by adopting these free software alternatives. If you do find yourself perusing through the free/open source marketplace, just remember that there are many individuals and organisations which work tirelessly in order to design, develop and distribute these programs. If you appreciate their work, remember to donate (if you can) or simply say thanks!

Do you any of these or other free alternatives to popular software packages? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture
bobby

Its true it may save you money. Its also true that someday someone may start a business doing what you do, but free to save others money. Or just find a way to do what ever job it is you do for a lot less from another country.
So after you save your money, ask yourself, what will you do with all your free time when your job has been replaced with an open source free replacement.

Ryan Lynch's picture

You bring up a valid point Bobby. The idea behind the article was to shed some light on these lesser known alternatives. As I mentioned in the "Quick Word" segment at the beginning of the article, it is rare that free software will ever completely replace a paid program.

The issue with paid programs is that sometimes people don't need all of the features, and that is where freeware might help them get the job done without having to spend hundreds of dollars.

The article makes it clear that sometimes these freeware programs will fall short, and that is when you, as an individual needs to make the decision as to whether you are going to shell out for those paid programs.

Guest's picture

I've used most of these alternatives. IMO opinion an important one you forgot is Anti-Virus. If you don't want to pay the subscription for Norton or McA, then AVGFree is a good alternative (at least it was a few years ago....haven't used it in a while).

Also - I used Open Office in the past...not sure how that compares to LibreOffice.

Finally ~ some employers offer home use and employee discounts. For example...I was able to get the latest version of Office for $10 and free antivirus protection. Its worth looking into...I'm surprised how many people in my organization didn't know it existed.

Guest's picture
Kim Park

In my opinion, the main reasons why users still buy - or rent (Office365)- an expensive Microsoft Office are:

1) Unfortunately, Word (doc, docx), Excel (xls, xlsx), and PowerPoint (ppt, pptx) still represent the global standard office formats, and users are afraid, they can't handle these formats faithfully with an alternative office suite If there was an alternative office suite with 100% interoperability, many users would switch to this.

2) Idleness. Since MSO was / is still the standard office suite which most users privately and / or professionally used to work with, they prefer sticking to the "original" instead of dealing with a completely different structure, interface, and other functionalities.

I played around with several alternative office suites such as LibreOffice, or Apache OpenOffice, Google Docs, Kingsoft Office, Calligra - none of them can completely convince (former) MSO users in these two points.

The very best alternative that I've encountered is SoftMaker Office Professional, an office suite from a small German developer:

1) The compatibility is not perfect (that's not possible) but excellent - I have thousands of MSO documents, sheets, and a few presentations, plus I used Outlook - all of my data can be opened and saved seamlessly in both directions without bigger formatting losses by SoftMaker's apps TextMaker, PlanMaker, Presentations, and eM Client 6 Professional.

2) Interface is similar / familiar to that of MS Office 2003 (no ribbons), with several modern extensions such as tabs for multiple pages, navigation bar etc., so there's not too much of a learning curve.

Coding is tight, and program is small and runs fast. Price is reasonable. They also offer a full-fledged free version (freeoffice dot com) which less features and templates.

However, I think this is the best MS Office replacement.