Free alternatives to expensive software

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If you buy a new computer, part of your purchase decision is what software you need to also purchase. If you have a lot of specialized needs, you could probably spend more on the additional programs than you did on the computer itself. But the fact is, you don’t necessarily NEED to do that – there are free alternatives to almost every program available today.

free software

First a big word of warning – don’t go on Google and start searching for “free software”. If you do that, just about¬†every website you find in the search results will almost certainly infect your computer with all kinds of malware and viruses. Searching Google for “free” anything (games, music, software, screensavers, etc.) is one of the most common ways to choke your computer with bad stuff. You need to know specifically what you’re looking for, which is what I’m going to tell you about here.

Expensive software: Microsoft Office  (shelf price $115 Р$200 depending on version, or by subscription)
Free alternative: LibreOffice (get it here)
LibreOffice is the suite of programs that I usually install on the refurbished laptops that I sell. It allows you to create, open or edit just about any document that would normally be associated with Office programs such as Word documents or Excel spreadsheets. So if you create a document in Word format and email it to someone, they will be able to open it in Word. There’s another program called Open Office, also free, which has been around for quite some time as an alternative to MS Office. For me, I just find LibreOffice to be more intuitive and easier to use. They have similar functionality, so you can try each one and see which you prefer.

Expensive software: Adobe Photoshop ($1525 for an older version, or newer one by subscription)
Free alternative: Gimp (get it here)
Gimp has been around forever and has quite a following. If you have used Photoshop before, you will probably catch on to Gimp fairly easily. However, they are both full of features that can take some practice to learn well. But there are lots of tutorials online if you are dedicated to learning it and taking advantage of all that it can do.

Expensive software: Microsoft Outlook ($110 alone, or also available as part of certain versions of Microsoft Office)
Free alternative: Windows Live Mail (get it here)
One of the most popular email programs ever used was Outlook Express, which came installed as part of Windows. But the last version of Windows that included it was XP, so Outlook Express is no more. However, Microsoft replaced it with Windows Live Mail and I think it’s just as good or better than Outlook Express. It does just about everything you would want an email application to do. But it’s not included with your Windows installation now – you have to go and download it as part of the Windows Essentials group of programs.

Expensive software: Adobe Audition ($800, or by subscription)
Free alternative: Audacity (get it here)
These programs are for creating and editing audio files. If you have any occasion to record your voice or someone else’s voice (or both), either of these would work well. Audition has a lot of “bells and whistles” that the average person would not need, which is one reason it’s pretty costly. For most people, Audacity is sufficient (and it has quite a few features itself). One of the most common uses for an audio editing program is to create a podcast, and both of these programs are very popular with podcasters around the world.

Expensive software: Acronis True Image ($50)
Free alternative: Macrium Reflect (get it here)
These programs are for backing up your computer files and folders. I use Macrium for 2 types of backup every day:
First, I clone my primary hard drive to a second internal drive in my desktop computer. So if the first one dies, I just switch over to the second one and I’m back in business. Second, I have Macrium create a system image that gets stored on an external drive. This means that everything on my computer is compressed and put into one file, in case I need to put all of it on a new hard drive after a crash. Yes, it’s sort of a duplicate effort. I do 2 other different backups each day as well – after preaching “back up your files” for so many years, it would not look good if I lost anything in a crash!
To be fair, Acronis is not that expensive at $50. And Macrium Reflect is only free for personal use, and they do have other versions with extra features that they do charge for. But for most people, the free version will work fine.

Expensive software: Windows ($75 – $200 depending on version)
Free alternative: Linux (get it here)
I know you’re probably not likely to make this switch, but I had to include it. If you have a computer that needs an operating system and you don’t want to spend money on it, this is a viable alternative to buying Windows. Works especially well on older computers that might not even have the power to run Windows. I especially like the version called “Cinnamon” – it’s very intuitive, and actually works very similarly to Windows 7, so it’s not like you have to be a programmer to be able to use it. But like most people, my primary computer runs Windows 7.

There’s one exception!
There’s one area where I cannot recommend the free alternatives: antivirus/antimalware software. I see lots of computers that still use free ones like Security Essentials, AVG, Defender, etc. The best I can say is that those things are better than not having ANY protection. But they are definitely not sufficient, and chances are you will eventually purchase a good strong antivirus solution anyway. My Managed Service Plan (details) is the best protection I know of – it not only includes strong software, but it also includes unlimited virus removal and a constant monitoring to make sure your OTHER software stays up to date and safe. I currently have over 190 clients using it and it works great.

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Jack Holland
April 13th, 2015

Great podcast, very informative. Thank you!

Ken McCrory
April 13th, 2015

Scott: I truly enjoy your podcasts and have learned a great deal that has not only kept me out of trouble but given me some terrific tips as well. Along those lines I just listened to your latest “free software” podcast and thought the Macrium Reflect program would be very useful. However, when I went to their website all I could find, other than an offer to buy their home or business version, was a 30 day trial version. Couldn’t find an actual free version download link anywhere on the site. Anyway, I’m wondering if they no longer offer the free version or if I am just not looking in the right place. Thanks much and keep up the great work!

Scott Johnson
April 13th, 2015

Thanks Ken. Here’s the link – http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx I’m also going to change the link in the article so that it directs to the free version.

LaGaspa McDougle "Ghetto Geek"
April 14th, 2015

Scott, “cinnamon” is a desktop environment but one of the easiest/most popular for Mint, a distribution (loosely Linux name for a Operating System) that is best for beginners wanting to try Linux.