While computers might be more affordable than ever before, a lot of software that many people use every day can greatly bump up the cost. Popular applications, such as office suites, photo editing software and operating systems all cost a fair bit of money and it’s easy to almost double the cost of a cheap new computer if you need a fair bit of productivity software. Fortunately, however, free and open-source options are also very popular, and due to their popularity, they are often widely supported and frequently updated, making them viable alternatives to industry-leading solutions. The following takes a look at three of the most popular software items and their most influential free counterparts:
GIMP Instead of Photoshop
Windows provides only a very basic utility for editing photos, which is hardly enough for anyone but the most casual of users. Adobe Photoshop is one of the industry leaders in advanced photo editing and graphic design for both individuals and businesses, and like many other software suites, it is now available as a subscription-based product with prices starting at $9.99 per month. In the longer term, this kind of payment model often makes the software much more expensive than buying it once, although a subscription package does provide the benefit of free updates as soon as they are released.
Enter GIMP, the world’s most popular free alternative to Photoshop. It might not be as easy to use, not least because it comes with a relatively limited set of training and tutorial options, but it is completely free, and there are plenty of helpful resources available on its open-source website. It also provides a number of other benefits, including drastically lower disk space requirements and compatibility with files designed in Photoshop. While on the subject of digital drawing, it is also worth mentioning another program, Inkscape, which is a free, open-source vector graphics editor, making it an excellent alternative to Adobe Illustrator.
Ubuntu Instead of Windows
Costing $119.99 for the official download, Windows 8.1 Pro presents a considerable extra expense for those upgrading from an old operating system, building a new computer from scratch or buying a computer that does not come with an operating system preinstalled. Although the upcoming Windows 10 is planned to be offered as a free upgrade for Windows 8 users for the first year of its release, it is expected that the world’s most popular operating system will eventually command a similar fee as well. Many people aren’t too open to the idea of using an alternative operating system due to compatibility concerns, but you might just be surprised by the options.
Linux-based Ubuntu is a completely free and open-source operating system that quickly came to be one of the most popular Linux builds for home users. It is updated frequently, with the latest major release being version Ubuntu 15.04 Vivid Velvet in April, 2015. Ubuntu presents a number of advantages including almost limitless customizability, numerous open-source software packages, extensive driver support, reduced security risks and excellent ease of use, particularly on desktop and laptop computers Ubuntu and other Linux-based operating systems might not be suitable for gamers, due to compatibility issues. However, there are emulators that provide limited support for games and other software made for Windows.
LibreOffice Instead of Office 2013
Microsoft Office 2013 is the world’s most popular productivity suite, and many home and business users simply can’t do without this selection of software that includes a spreadsheet editor, word processor and much more. Microsoft Office is now available as either a subscription-based product in the form of Office 365 or for a one-off payment. Prices for the former start at $6.99 per month for home users, although the cheapest license only allows you to install the software on one computer at a time.
Because of the high prices demanded by this essential office software, free alternatives such as OpenOffice and LibreOffice have long been popular. However, while OpenOffice was once the alternative of choice for most users, LibreOffice has become the most popular option in recent years. LibreOffice is widely compatible with many operating systems, including Windows, OS X and any Linux distribution, and it also offers extensive compatibility with different formats, including those that are native to Microsoft Office. Functionality is similar, and the applications provided by LibreOffice provide a user-friendly set of controls, most of which should be instantly familiar to any Microsoft Office user.
Although retail software can present its own benefits, open-source alternatives can be every bit as good without costing anything at all. Community-developed software is not just for the budget-conscious either, and some open-source software, such as Linux, powers most of the world’s enterprise servers and supercomputers. Additionally, popular free software tends to be widely supported by ever-growing knowledge bases, highly active communities and even paid customer support options.