Free Alternatives to Popular Software
Software can be expensive, which is why pirating software has become as popular as it is. But not everyone wants to pirate software, and not everyone can afford the name brand software, especially not teens who are trying to learn how to use the programs of a profession that they’re wanting to get into. I’ve had people come to me about the best free programs in a wide variety of fields in the past, and recently had a friend ask me about free video editing software. I’ve tried out a lot of free software over the years, and I think it’d be a shame for me to not share the fruit of my labor with the people I know.
Microsoft Office is usually what people think of when they think of office software. Some computers come with a free trial and, if you’re lucky, some even come with a free, lite version of Office installed on their laptop. But not everyone has access to Word (the most commonly used program in Office).
Google Documents is completely free; you can create documents, spreadsheets, presentations (think PowerPoint), and forms with it. It is an online tool with a downloadable app for phones, tablets, and your laptop. So long as you set it to be able to edit offline, you don’t have to be connected to the internet in order to use it. Your work is automatically saved to Google Drive as you go, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting to save. It’s also handy because you can access your documents from any computer, phone, or tablet and you can share it for viewing or editing with other people.
Apache Open Office
Commonly referred to as Open Office, this suite comes with a word processor, calculator, presentation editor, diagram and 3D graphic editor, database editor, and mathematical equation creator. Open Office’s roots go back 20 years, and is continually supported and updated. It can open, edit, and create documents compatible with major office software, such as Microsoft Office, and is free.
Microsoft Office Online
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, if you’re just dead set on using Microsoft Office, you can use it online for free. All you need is a Microsoft.com account (if you’re using Windows 8 or above, the email address and password you used when setting up your laptop the first time is your Microsoft account). The free, online, version gives you access to Word, Outlook, OneNote, PowerPoint, Calendar, Excel, OneDrive, and Sway. The documents are saved to your OneDrive, much like how Google Docs are saved to Google Drive, and can be shared or simply stored on the cloud.
Graphic Design/ Photo Editing / Digital Art
Adobe has made their creative suites so expensive that it’s ridiculous, and now they’ve switched to an online application that you have to pay yearly for. It’s the go-to suite for creative folks, and many people end up pirating the software because they can’t afford it. Here’s some free options.
Adobe Creative Suite 2
Yeah, you can get Abobe CS2 for free. Adobe did that when they rolled out their Creative Cloud option. I guess it was to offset the fact that people had to pay a subscription fee to use their newest stuff. CS2 comes with Acrobat 3D, Acrobat 7, GoLive, Illustrator, Photoshop, InCopy, InDesign, Premier Pro, After Effects, and Audition. CS6 was the last regular version of Adobe’s Creative Suite before they switched to Creative Cloud, so CS2 is 4 versions before the last regular suite, but it’s still a great tool. You’ll have an older version of what the professionals use, but you’ll still be using the same software.
Inkscape is a free, open source professional vector graphics editor. It is, in my opinion, the best free alternative to Illustrator. If you’re familiar with Illustrator you’ll feel comfortable using Inkscape. It’s not only available for Mac and Windows, but also for Linux. It has broad file format compatibility, so you can edit Adobe files in it. It’s compliant for SVG file generation and export. If you don’t want to give in to the Adobe dark side, this is where you begin with replacing their programs.
There are plenty of programs that boast that they’ll replace Photoshop, but none of them do this as well as GIMP. It’s cross-platform compatibility make it the one you want to use. If you’re used to Photoshop then GIMP will take just a little time to adjust to, but you’ll get it down in no time. GIMP is expandable, created to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to allow it to do anything Photoshop can do, and more.
Blender is a free, opensource 3D program that features a compositor built right in, eliminating the need to export files to third party programs. It is a powerful and handy program for anyone who wants to get into 3D art, create 3D videos, or create video games. It’s highly flexible and is an all-in-one program with tons of extensions. For free 3D rendering, I personally think Blender is your best bet.
Scribus is a free, opensource desktop publishing program. It’s not as pretty an intuitive as Adobe InDesign, but it will get the job done. It works differently than InDesign or Quark does, but it isn’t hard to figure out. It can’t handle a lot of images like InDesign or Quark, so it’s not as powerful, but if you’re looking for a simple InDesign replacement then Scribus is your program.
Video & Sound Editing
Windows Movie Maker
I know, I know. Windows Movie Maker is free to download, and it is a lot more versatile and powerful than it was a few years back. It’s simple, and works via drag-and-drop, but if you need a free video editor and you’re on a Windows machine, then this is a good choice.
Audacity is a good replacement for Adobe Audition. It runs on all the popular operating systems, including Windows, OSX (Apple), Linux and more. However, it only provides functions for capturing and editing. Audacity contains no publishing options. You have to manually upload your finished product through another service. It also works with a wide variety of audio formats, including open source formats (like OGG). But it’s not compatible with proprietary formats (like WMA or AAC).
There are a ton of HTML editors out there, and honestly it can be daunting trying to figure out which one is the best because of the very nature of what the program does. There are WYSIWYG editors and plain text editors. I personally hate WYSIWYG, but I have to admit that they’re good for people who don’t know HTML. Adobe Dreamweaver is loved by many because it is both a WYSIWYG and standard text editor.
Notepad / Notepad++
Notepad comes on all Windows machines. It’s simple, and you have to know HTML in order to use it, but it is an absolute free version that is right at your fingertips. An even more powerful form of Notepad, Notepad++ is even better than Notepad. Again, this is not a WYSIWYG editor, it is a text editor. Notepad++ has the ability to highlight and check code syntax. It also supports tabbed file editing.
Okay, let me begin by saying that I am not personally a fan of Wix because it is a WYSIWYG web app. However, if you don’t know how to code or you just don’t feel like coding, and you need something like this… Well, of all the ones I’ve tried out, I have to admit that Wix is the best of it’s kind. They have some really neat free themes that you can use, and they have even more that you pay for. It’s not completely awful, but I just plain don’t like a WYSIWYG. That’s a personal preference, not a condemnation or insult.
Some people have multiple email addresses, and it can be a pain when you need to check them all. Email clients come in handy because they can display all of your email, from all of your accounts, in one program. I’ve tried exactly two email clients. Both of them are great, and they work exactly the way they’re supposed to.
Thunderbird comes from the same group that brought us Firefox. It used to be my preferred email client until I got a free download of Outlook from my college. The only reason I switched to Outlook was because sometimes Thunderbird would mess up and I couldn’t switch email accounts. But that was a user error caused by me not naming my original email account I imported into Mozilla. I didn’t figure that out until after I switched, and I’m far too lazy to put all my email addresses in again. My bad. Anyways, Thunderbird is a great email client.
When you’re ready to upload things to your website you need a good FTP client. You could always upload directly from your cpanel, but having an ftp client can also be more secure.
FileZilla is, by far, my favorite FTP client. It’s cross-platform (Windows, Apple, and Linux), completely free, and open source. It has more features and functionality than a lot of the paid programs that are available. The interface is straight forward, and should be no problem for a beginner to figure out. Seriously, it’s the best. I’ve been using it for years with no intent to switch. That said…
CyberDuck is only available on Windows and Mac. The GUI is better than FileZilla’s, with more bells and whistles for people who want their program to look slick. The overall look of CyberDuck is incredibly user friendly and easy to navigate (probably more so than FileZilla). However, when we’re looking at functionality, it isn’t as good as FileZilla. Really, it just looks a lot prettier.
There are literally thousands of programs out there, and these are just a few of the ones I’ve checked out. It’s important to try different programs out when you’re looking for something that works just right for your needs. Before you throw down a bunch of money on a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud or Microsoft’s office packages, try out some different free alternatives. You will, most likely, walk away with an appreciation for open source software and a love for free software.