Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know that I’m a huge fan of open source software. I don’t think it’s smart for people to drop upwards to thousands of dollars on software unless they have that kind of money to waste, or have a need that isn’t being met by the open source community. And then there are the less legal alternatives, which I’m not against, but then again I can’t promote them here, either =)
So here’s a nice list of open source alternatives for people who want to save money by using open source software.
1) Use Linux instead of Windows
The transition from Windows to Linux is not as hard as you may think it is. When people think Linux, they think of an ugly black and white command prompt. This may be true if you’re thinking of running Linux as a server, but as a desktop you have a GUI similar to Windows and Mac, in the form of KDE or Gnome. If you have applications that require Windows, you can usually run them by installing a program called Wine. It can take a little getting used to, but for those buying a new PC or refurbishing an old one, Linux is the route to go if you want to save money and get better performance, security, and stability than you’ll ever get with Windows. For newbies, I’d recommend Ubuntu or Fedora.
2) Use Gimp instead of Adobe Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop will run you between $700 and $1000, maybe less if you purchase from an independent software distributor. If that’s a little steep for you, consider using Gimp instead. It has a lot of the same functionality of Photoshop, and can read files created in Photoshop (.PSD) as well. My sister is a photographer and just when she thought she was used to Photoshop, I introduced her to Gimp so she can do her photo editing outside of school, and she said it does as good of a job as Photoshop does. Similarly, I hear that Inkscape makes an excellent alternative to Adobe Illustrator.
3) Use OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office
My Dad, who has headed the IT department of his company for years, didn’t believe me when I told him that the thousands his company was spending on Microsoft Office licenses every couple years could be a waste of money, since OpenOffice has the same kind of functionality. The base package of OpenOffice contains alternatives to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access, all of which have the same familiar interfaces and support for files created in their proprietary alternatives, but without the expensive licensing costs and resource requirements. The software in OpenOffice also has a number of features that the other does not.
4) Use Thunderbird or Evolution instead of Outlook
Outlook sucks. I can’t tell you how many calls I got about it when I was in technical support, where email would suddenly stop working and the customer wouldn’t want to believe that their beloved Outlook was the problem. It usually comes bundled as part of the Microsoft Office suite, but you can buy it standalone. Why would you want to? Thunderbird is free, and a lot more efficient, feature-rich, stable, and secure than Outlook. Love the Outlook feel? Evolution is the Linux alternative to Outlook, only it doesn’t suck as much.
5) Use ClamAV or AVG Instead of Norton, TrendMicro, or McAfee
I’ve heard from many people that even though ClamAV is free, it’s better than its leading enterprise alternatives. It also works on Windows (Via ClamWIN) and Linux. Need a firewall too, but don’t want the steep cost of Norton Personal Firewall? Consider APF or Smoothwall.
6) Use Turbocash instead of Quickbooks or Microsoft Money
I personally haven’t used Quickbooks before, but I heard it’s comparable to Turbocash, which is perfect for smaller organizations or individuals needing software for finance management.
7) Use VirtualBox instead of Microsoft Virtual PC, VMWare, or Parallels Desktop
I generally used Virtual PC in the past to play with other operating systems, but you may find a use for it if you’re a software developer or you have applications that work on one OS but not another. Virtual PC usually ends up being free quite some time after its initial release, but it only runs on Windows. VirtualBox is open source and runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows, and supports a large variety of guest operating systems.
8) Use OpenVZ instead of Virtuozzo
Virtualization with something like Virtuozzo isn’t the same as using something like VirtualBox in terms of mass-management of virtualized servers. If you’re offering VPS hosting or need to run multiple servers on one, you’ll want to use something like Virtuozzo. Virtuozzo may be the best, but OpenVZ doesn’t fall far behind at all…and it doesn’t carry the multi-thousand dollar licensing costs.
9) Use OpenWorkBench instead of Microsoft Project
I’ve always found web-based software like dotProject to be more effective for project management, but if you need a more local solution for your PC, try Workbench instead of spending dough on Microsoft Project.
10) Use Partimage instead of Norton Ghost
Norton Ghost will generally cost around $70, but Partimate is free and essentially does the same thing. I’ll mention though that Norton Ghost only works on Windows, and Partimage only works on Linux. So Partimage is something you’d consider using if you’re switching from Windows to Linux and can’t use Norton Ghost anymore.