Sunday, May 02, 2010

Free Alternatives

A few years back I bought Adobe Acrobat so I could make professional-looking e-books, and I've regretted it ever since. Not only is the program really complicated and difficult for a technoidiot like me to use, it's way more software than I ever needed. But at the time I bought into the idea that you get what you pay for, at least in software.

Not so. In the years since, almost all of the new programs I've acquired have been freeware or shareware. When I find something I like, I make a donation or register the product (and shareware created by independent designers is often very modestly-priced compared to the big-bucks versions on the market.) The next time my Microsoft Office program becomes outdated and/or Publishing demands I upgrade, I think I'm going to switch over to Open Office instead (trying to keep up with the way Microsoft keeps changing Word, which becomes more difficult to use every year, is just not worth the aggravation.)

Here's a list of the pricier programs and some free/low-cost alternatives that may serve just as well:

Adobe Acrobat - $449.00 and up; free fully functional 30 day trial.

Free Alternative: PDF995 - a free PDF maker trio suite with many of the same features as Adobe; installs as a print driver and shows a sponsor page in your web browser every time you use the freeware version (to skip the ads, buy the product from $9.95 for one program to $19.95 for the entire trio.)

Adobe Photoshop: $999.00 and up; no free trial version that I could find but they used to let you buy a subscription to make a certain number of .pdfs online for another hefty fee. (Sorry, my notes were mixed up on this. Adobe Acrobat used to have the hefty-fee/subscription online .pdf option.)

Free Alternatives: GIMP or -- both are free image and photo retouching freeware with many of the most desirable photoshop features; was originally developed to be a free replacement for Microsoft Paint and grew from there.

Carbonite - $54.95/year for unlimited online backup space; 15 day free trial

Free Alternative: Dropbox* - 2GB online and backup storage; offers pro accounts with more storage you can buy for a monthly subscription fee. (Windows, Mac, Linux and iPhone)

Microsoft Office: $169.95 and up; 60 day free trial of Office 2007 available

Free Alternative: Open Office - free software comparable to and compatible with Microsoft Office, offering Writer (the word processor), a spreadsheet, database program, drawing program, and presentation program.

Microsoft Outlook: included in Microsoft Office above and part of the free 60 day trial package.

Free Alternative: Chaos Manager -- a compact and easy-to-use virtual calendar and PIM freeware. I've been using this one since January and I absolutely love it because it has exactly the features I need.

QuickBooks: $159.95 and up; free to try online.

Free Alternative: GNUcash is a personal/small business accounting freeware for GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows; includes what you need to manage bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses.

The downside to using freeware is that you don't get all the bells and whistles as you do with the big-name, huge pricetag programs. Also it's often difficult to impossible to get tech support for freeware. So if you like all the extra options, and you want to pick up the phone and get answers whenever you have a problem, these freeware programs are probably not right for you.

*Thanks to Charlene Teglia and her helpful article on backups here for the link as well as her frequent recs for GIMP.


  1. Ha! You've come to the GIMP side! I've been eyeing Chaos Manager, glad to know that works well for you. I will give it a try. Oh, and Open Office will now display editing comments from Word, which was the last hangup I was waiting to see resolved before making the switch. So long Word.

  2. Excellent! My child wants to play with photos. GIMP, here we come!

  3. I had Open Office for a while. I liked it well enough, but I did have one major problem w/ it - it took forever to come up on my computer. I would click the icon & go grab a book to read while waiting. I don't have the same problem w/ Word.

    It's entirely likely that it's just an issue w/ my computer, but I'm happy that I switched to Word.

  4. There's also a free version of QuickBooks that I've been using for over two years now without a single problem -- QuickBooks SimpleStart.

    The CNET review where you can download the software is here:

  5. I got photoshop on a promo at a greatly reduced price which is a good idea because it left me with almost enough money to pay for all the college level classes I need to learn how to use it!

    Maybe I'll just uninstall it and try Gimp.

    As for OpenOffice, I do have MSOffice, have had it forever, but I also use OpenOffice at times. I like them both, but if I ever am tempted to pay for an Office upgrade, I'll just use full time.

    Carbonite...I do use that and am VERY happy with it. I know it's $59 a year, but I can pick and choose what I want to restore and I can restore throughout the year, anything I might need. By the time I figured out how much it would cost to backup my 160G harddrive to Dropbox, Carbonite was the better alternative for me.

    I have never used Outlook. There were just too many hoops to jump through with that one. I use Thunderbird and there is now a google calendar add on so I don't have to use the Lightning add on, I can google and share and it all works through tabs in the program. Awesome!

  6. I use MS Office on my primary computer, but opted for OpenOffice on my netbook so I didn't have to fork out another wad of ca$h just to be able to scribble a few lines from a coffee shop. I like Open Office's swriter, and it does do most of the same stuff as Word.

    But beware to other RWA-type contest-entering writers: saving an OpenOffice file as "Word" does NOT result in the same exactly file as does MS Word. And the two apps have different word counts. Both of those features can really fubar you when entering electronic-entry writing contests because your formatting and word counts may not match what the judges require!


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