16 Open Source Alternatives for Your Favorite Programs

In this information age, the words “paid” and “proprietary” seem to be among the dirtiest words that you can possibly slap on a piece of software. But let’s face it- lots of people use commercially-made software on a daily basis whether they like it or not, often paying a premium price for functions that they could’ve gotten for free…

Yes, you read that right. FREE. And “free” here does not merely mean that you can get software without paying money for it. This is free in the sense that you can do anything you want with the software- customize it, do tweaks on its code, share it with other people, without fear of having a corporate lawsuit thrown at you. This is the beauty of the open source movement.

If you’ve decided to make the jump to the world of free and open source software, here are some of the best open source alternatives that you can find for popular proprietary software that most people use:

1. Linux Mint (Operating System)

If you want a sleek and fast operating system that is as powerful as the latest Windows iteration, then go for Linux Mint. Based on the uber popular Ubuntu, Linux Mint has been the beginner Linux distro of choice for people coming from Windows operating systems. Its interface is pretty similar to Windows, and it already comes pre-packaged with a variety of open source alternative software that people will need for most computing tasks. Also, it’s extremely lightweight and takes up a such a small space on the hard drive (unlike the egregiously bloated Windows) that it can be safely installed on older computers.

2. VLC (Media Player)

There’s a reason why VLC is touted as the “Swiss Army knife” of digital media files- it can play almost anything out of the box! No need to download additional codecs or tweak anything in the settings. Just download it and you’re done.

But VLC is not just a mere media player alone. Did you know that it can also convert media files from one file type to another (e.g. .mp3 to .ogg), play damaged videos, and record/capture desktop videos? It can do a whole lot more than what plain old Windows Media Player can offer.

3. Audacity (Audio Editor)

Proprietary audio editing and recording software like Apple Logic Pro or FL Studio Producer are kind of expensive ($149+). For students and people on a budget who just need something they can use to do basic audio edits and mix/splice tracks with, there’s absolutely no reason for them to spend that much money on overbloated, expensive software.

Thankfully, Audacity performs most of the functions that these commercial software can do. This multi-track editor can also add numerous effects to your audio, convert tapes and records into digital format, and improve the quality of audio tracks.

4. 7zip (File Archiver)

Of course, you can use the popular file archiver/compressor WinZip for free indefinitely. But how many times would you have to click through that annoying prompt that asks if you want to pay up every time you use the software?

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If you don’t like being prompted to shell out money everytime you’re trying to zip or unzip a file, then try 7zip. It supports more compression formats than WinZip, and best of all, you won’t have to deal with the annoying prompts anymore.

5. PDFCreator

Adobe Reader allows you to create PDF files, but it’s only limited to a set trial period. You have to get a subscription to the Adobe PDF Pack online service if you want to extend this function and use it for good.

If you don’t want to pay up, then there’s an easier solution for your PDF-making needs, PDFCreator will let you make PDF files from any Windows program. Just use it like a printer in Word or Excel: the document will instantly “print” into a new PDF document.

6. GIMP – GNU Image Manipulation Program (Image Editor)

GIMP is not a Photoshop alternative- it’s a Photoshop COMPETITOR. And a free one at that. It is the image editor of choice for most Linux users, but the software itself is also available for Mac and Windows users.

While Photoshop is the industry standard for image/photo editing, GIMP is perfect for enthusiasts who want a no-frills photo editing experience without the steep price tag (a full edition of Photoshop costs $600+). It has many of the features that Photoshop offers; should you want to make it “feel” more like Photoshop (especially if you’re used to the former) you can easily customize the UI according to your preferences.

7. Inkscape (Vector Graphics Editor)

If Adobe Photoshop has GIMP as its hefty open source alternative, then Illustrator has Inkscape. This lightweight program can be used to draw, edit, and manipulate Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) files. Since SVG files are also supported by Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape is cross-compatible with the commercial software. There’s no need to worry about compatibility issues or projects going awry if you’re gonna be working with someone who uses Illustrator.

8. ClamWin (Antivirus)

Norton, AVG, Avira, and Avast are all excellent and very reliable antivirus software in their own right, but you still need to pay up to get full virus/malware protection from them. The open source ClamWin, on the other hand, doesn’t require its users to pay for anything. It gives you maximum protection, right out of the box.

ClamWin boasts high detection rates for viruses and spyware which are pretty comparable to the detection rates of most proprietary antivirus programs. The best thing of all, you can actually store a portable copy of ClamWin on a USB drive so that you can have complete antivirus protection anywhere you go.

9. ownCloud (Cloud Storage/ File Hosting)

Think of ownCloud as Dropbox- only free and without the data limits or pricing restraints. As an open source project, ownCloud’s code can be freely customized and tweaked. This means that you can set up your own ownCloud server at home, without anyone dictating the limits on what you can store on it. The only factor that would determine the amount of storage space that you’ll get is the amount of free disk space on your computer where ownCloud is installed.

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Aside from the usual file storage function, ownCloud also has a few more extras for its users. It has a built-in text editor, PDF reader, phonebook, video streaming and media player. It’s an all in one cloud solution that is both free and highly customizable.

10. Pidgin (Instant Messaging Client)

Keeping up with all of your chat clients can be quite a task, especially for those “socially-inclined,” so to speak. Imagine having to open up tab after tab of chat boards and messaging web apps, and getting one confused for another or accidentally closing one when you still have a conversation going on with a friend. It can be quite a nightmare.

But Pidgin is here to save the day. This nifty little app allows you to use multiple chat networks all at the same time. For example, you can be exchanging notes with a coworker on Google Talk while keeping up with a friend on Yahoo. No need to switch from one tab to another just to catch up. Another great thing: Pidgin automatically encrypts all of your messages as soon as the chat client receives and sends them.

11. Scribus (Desktop Publishing)

Are you working in the field of publication? Do you like to design newsletters, manuals, and book covers? Always had an interest in learning how to properly layout page elements on a magazine or any other published piece? Then Scribus is just the right program for you. While Microsoft Publisher is a popular desktop publishing software that is used by most layout designers in the industry, Scribus offers a free alternative that is just as good.

Still not convinced? Scribus has its own blog of success stories for your reading pleasure. The blog tells some inspiring tales of people who managed to save thousands of dollars just by using Scribus, authors who were able to self-publish and design their own book covers, and some non-government organizations who used the open source software for their newsletters, magazines, and pamphlets.

12. ApacheOpen Office (Productivity Suite)

Microsoft Office and all its component programs (Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint) has been the standard productivity suite for many businesses and enterprises. The problem is, a subscription to MS Office can be quite pricey.

If you want the same amount of power and function as MS Office but do not want to shell out money, then Apache OpenOffice will probably be the best productivity suite for you. OpenOffice uses open standards for its native files, but the programs can also read, edit, save, and write files in proprietary formats like .DOC or .DOCx. This means that you can easily open your Word files into OpenOffice Writer without much trouble. The same goes for the other programs in the OpenOffice Suite, namely Calc, Impress, Draw, Base, and Math.

13. WordPress (Content Publishing Platform)

Google’s Blogger has been around for ages. It’s dependable, easy-to-use, and secure. This is the domain of those who like journaling and writing long, essay-type, blog posts, and don’t want to spend too much time on the technical aspect of blog design.

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Of course, a service that old has its own limitations. While Blogger is dependable, it’s just not powerful enough for people who want a little more “oomph” in their blogs. WordPress, its open source alternative, is far more powerful and has a host of customization options that Blogger can only dream of.

For example, you have full control and freedom over your blog, and you can customize it as you wish. You’re not stuck with pre-determined templates. If you want to extend the functionality of your blog (and probably turn it into a full-blown website or eCommerce shop) you can easily do so just by installing various plug-ins that can add any kind of feature or functionality. And for a small fee, you can have your own domain name and unlimited space (Blogger offers only 1GB of space for its users).

14. Mozilla Thunderbird (Email Client)

Microsoft Outlook is boring; Mozilla Thunderbird is the real deal. This popular email client is easier to set-up than its proprietary counterpart; just provide your IMAP, SMTP, and SSL/TLS settings, plus your name, email address, and desired password, then you’re good to go. Aside from this, Thunderbird also has a host of other cool features that are missing from Outlook. For example, if you want a personalized email address (e.g. yourfirstname@yourlastname), you can conjure one up within Thunderbird and the system will automatically set it up for you. The software has its own Activity Manager, Message Archive, and Search box. It also has Smart Folders that can help you cut back on the junk mail and easily manage multiple email accounts with just a simple click of a button.

15. Mozilla Firefox (Web Browser)

Here’s another well-known offering from Mozilla. Firefox has been around for a decade or so, and its longevity stems from the fact that it is one of the most reliable web browsers that you can ever download onto your machine. Internet Explorer is passe, outdated, and too much of a security risk, while Google Chrome is a resource hog and isn’t developer friendly (and for some people, there’s also the issue of it being a Google product). Mozilla Firefox is sleek, and comes with an extensive offering of plug-ins that can help you make your web browsing experience an awesome one.

16. KeePass (Password Manager)

KeePass keeps your passwords safe! If you’re having a hard time managing your passwords for your email, social media, gaming, and other website accounts, then KeePass will help organize everything for you. It also gives you another layer of protection from hackers by encrypting your passwords with some of the most secure encryption algorithms known to man.
So, there you have it. The world’s best open source software, summarized into just one page. Computing need not be expensive and complicated. Why go for expensive commercial software when you can have free ones that are just as good (or even better)?

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