Free Alternatives to Expensive Software

Here at Y-Not Tech Services, we know that using sophisticated software is a part of doing business. And for a small business, it can be an expensive part of the business. In this article, we’ll explore alternatives to some of the most popular (and expensive) software out there. After that, we’ll take a look at when it makes sense to use these free alternatives and when it doesn’t.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Word is one of the most widely used software programs out there. It’s a standard in both the Education and business worlds. Sometimes, you’ll end up with documents made in Microsoft Word from school or work and find you can’t open them at Home. The same can be said for an Excel or PowerPoint file. That is where a free alternative will come in handy. There are a number to choose from here.

  1. Libre Office. This is my go-to option when I need to open a file made in Office on a machine that doesn’t have Microsoft Office installed. It is a full-fledged office suite with many features.  If you will have a need to open Office files somewhat regularly, but not often enough to warrant purchasing Microsoft Office, this would be my recommendation.
  2. Office Online. Microsoft actually makes a version of Microsoft Office available online for free. You just need a Microsoft Account. Pretty simple to use, but depending on your connection using a web app can have varying performance. Office Online combined with One Drive, makes for a great on the go solution if you need to access the files from multiple devices. An added bonus is the collaboration options.
  3. Google Docs/Google Drive. This option is very similar to Office Online. Google Docs was even available long before Microsoft’s free online offering. It offers online storage through Google Drive and collaboration options as well. I’ve used both Google Docs and Office Online and haven’t noticed any huge differences between them.

Who should pay for Microsoft Office? Almost anyone using it for business. You’ll find that many documents will lose part of their formatting when going from Microsoft Office to other software. This means that if you are using documents that colleagues created in Office, they might not look the same and may lose some functionality. I had to make the switch to Office when I started getting business documents made up for me to use with Y-Not Tech Services. I got some marketing materials made up and they looked horrible in Libre Office, Office Online and Google Docs. I decided to get Microsoft Office and they looked as intended.

Adobe Photoshop

The industry standard for image manipulation. Adobe Photoshop contains WAY more features than this humble technician could ever hope to use. I have never owned a copy of Photoshop, although I did use CS3 in school for a while. I’m not a Graphic Designer or a Photographer or anything else that gives me a reason to have a deep understanding of Photoshop. Keep that in mind as we explore some free alternatives to Adobe Photoshop.

  1. GIMP. GIMP is an open source image manipulation software. I use it regularly. I’m told it has nearly all the features and options of Photoshop, but I can’t personally vouch for that. Anything I need or want to do, it is able to handle. One of the features I like the most is its ability to read .PSD files so I can open up files that my designer sends me and make small tweaks, text adjustments without needing to send the file back to them and request these small changes that I can do myself. Want to cut a person and add them to another picture? You can do that in GIMP. That and so much more.
  2. Pixlr.com Pixlr is a web app (like Office Online and Google Docs) for image manipulation. It’s designed to work similar to Photoshop and can work in a pinch if Photoshop and GIMP are not installed. I’ve found myself using it from a client’s device on occasion when they need an image re-sized or touched up a bit. It can also be useful on machines where you are not granted installation privileges.
  3. Microsoft Paint. No, MS Paint, doesn’t compare to Photoshop. It doesn’t come near to having the features that come with Photoshop. So, why is it on the list? Although Paint is not comparable in features to Photoshop, it can often be a simple alternative. When all you need to do is crop a photo or something else that MS PAINT CAN DO, there’s no need for anything more complex. BONUS: Check out this great artwork done in MS Paint because the artist didn’t know Photoshop. Impressive!

Who should pay for Adobe Photoshop? This one is a bit harder to answer. Graphic Designers and Professional Photographers will probably want a copy of Photoshop. But there are many hobbyists that will also want it. Ultimately, if you’re not sure you need it try GIMP out. If it doesn’t cut it, look into purchasing Photoshop.

Microsoft Outlook

OK, this is technically part of the Microsoft Office family, but since it’s a program with a unique purpose I thought I would cover it separately. Outlook is a widely used Email and Calendar application. It has robust features and is a mainstay in the business world. It handles E-Mail, Calendar, Contacts and more.

  1. Mozilla Thunderbird. Thunderbird is a very popular alternative. It handles E-Mail in a streamlined and easily managed way. The base program does not include a calendar or Task list, but these can be added using add-ons. Thunderbird is probably the first program to try if looking for a free dedicated e-mail program.
  2. Windows Mail. Many of my clients mourned the loss of Outlook Express, Microsoft’s free basic version of Outlook, when they upgraded past Windows XP. The essence of this program has continued to live on in Windows Live Mail in Windows 8 and now, Windows Mail in Windows 10. This program is probably pre-installed on your computer if you’re running Windows 10 and if it’s not, you can find it in the Windows Store. It’s easy to set up and integrates great with Windows 10, so check it out!
  3. Gmail. Web app based email has great functionality. I’ve always found it the easiest to use. There is virtually no set up required and you can use it from any internet-connected computer in the world. I actually have my business e-mail forwarded to my Gmail account so that it’s easily accessible where ever I am. I generally have my own laptop and smart phone with me, but on the rare occasions I don’t and I need to check on something or send an important e-mail I can usually find a computer to borrow and get it down with ease.

Who should pay for Outlook? The biggest group of users who should pay for Outlook are those that work for a company that uses Outlook. This way they can access Meeting invites, Task Lists and Email without worrying about any interruptions to the work flow and probably get some limited tech support from the IT department to get it all setup and working with the companies Exchange Server (assuming we’re talking about a work account that is). I really don’t see a need for Outlook for personal use. The only thing might be familiarity if you use it for work and know the program well. Your time is valuable so if purchasing Outlook saves you a few hours setting up and learning a new program you’ll come out ahead!

I covered three of the most popular software’s out there, but there are free alternatives to almost anything! To find a replacement for most anything, check out http://alternativeto.net/. Be sure to read your EULAs to make sure you are following any license restrictions these alternatives might have. Contact me if you have any questions or you’d like guidance on alternative software.

Tony

Lethbridge, AB and area

403-915-8574

PS I’ve just launched my newsletter containing tips, tricks and deals. Sign up here!

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