The ubiquitous nature of computers has led to a boom in software applications. Software programs are updated on a periodic basis and new programs are written to make our lives a little easier. Many commonly-used software programs arrive at a cost and a personal finance enthusiast may start to look elsewhere for free alternatives that can do the same job.

I agree that there are some users who need the paid software (a professional photographer would probably want to stick with Adobe Photoshop) but many others could get by with free tools and save money. Open source software programs address this section of the population.

Open Office – Text, Spreadsheet, and Presentation

Many home computers default to Microsoft Office for their text, spreadsheet, and presentation needs. Microsoft sells the Office Home and Student 2010, single install version for $129.00 on their website.

Considering that most home users would not be using Publisher or Access, they would probably purchase this version. However, if a home has more than one computer, then they would need the 3 PC version (sold for $159.00). Instead of shelling out this cash, users could try Open Office, which offers a suite of Text, Spreadsheet, and Presentation programs that should take care of most common needs.

GIMP – Image Editor

With digital cameras aplenty, readers may like to play with image editing tools for red eye correction, adjusting sharpness, correcting colors, reducing noise, etc. The well-known image editing tool offered by Adobe – Photoshop – is available for $699.00 (for a full version) and upgrades are sold for $199.00.

An alternative to this tool exists in the form of GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. For the typical user, without any advanced needs, GIMP would offer enough resources to complete their tasks and then some.

Thunderbird – Desktop Email Client

Certain home users may prefer an email client like Microsoft Outlook to receive all their emails on the desktop rather than having to visit every account on Gmail, Yahoo!Mail, and Hotmail.

If a user shifts to Open Office, then they may feel lost without their beloved Outlook that would have come as part of the Microsoft Office suite. Such users can try Mozilla Thunderbird as an alternative.

Microsoft Security Essentials – Antivirus Software

Antivirus is an essential software component for all Windows-based computers. Many companies like Norton and McAfee offer antivirus programs for a price. However, Microsoft has been kind enough to release its Security Essentials suite for free. If Microsoft’s tool does not capture your imagination, you can try AVG Antivirus.

Ubuntu – Linux Operating System

This one may seem beyond the reach of an average computer user but with a little help from an existing Ubuntu user or self-study, most people can wave goodbye to Windows and convert to this open source alternative.

I agree that there will be times when a new Ubuntu user will hate the non-availability of their favorite Windows program. The long-standing nature of Windows has made it inseparable to most users; it might take people with a willingness to learn to embrace this open source system.

Ubuntu can be trialed as a Live CD meaning that a user can run the operating system without installing it on their hard drive, while getting a feel for it. Also, Ubuntu can be installed as a dual-boot option meaning that the existing Windows operating system can live on the same hard drive and you will have the option to select the one you want to use every time. Nonetheless, this alternative requires some technical aptitude and may not be for all.

Readers can search for more open source alternatives at osalt and alternativeTo.

Do you use open source software programs? Do you miss the ones you paid for or is the change not even noticeable?

About the Author: Clark works in Saskatchewan and has been working to build his (DIY) investment portfolio, structured for an early retirement. He loves reading (and using the lessons learned) about personal finance, technology and minimalism. You can read his other articles here.

If you would like to read more articles like this, you can sign up for my free weekly money tips newsletter below (we will never spam you).


  1. Subversive on September 26, 2012 at 11:22 am

    I’m an IT guy, and even I don’t use any of those except MSE. The cost in time and effort to make things compatible with what the rest of the world is using is simply too high. Specifically:

    – It’s extra work to save OO documents in a format that the people you are sending to can recognize, and as far as I know (I could be wrong on this), OO still can’t save in .docx format, so you’re stuck saving in .doc format, which means your document probably won’t show up how you envisioned it when your recipient opens it in Word
    – GIMP is complicated, unituitive, and generally hard to use. If you need the functionality that GIMP offers, you’re probably better getting Adobe Photoshop Essentials for around $100. If you don’t need this much functionality, then Picasa is a better choice for basic photo editing
    – MSE is quite good, I support this recommendation
    – No experience with Thunderbird, but for home use it’s probably fine. The only caveat is when you bugger up your computer/e-mail and need your resident IT guy’s help (ie: Me, in my family), he won’t know anything about it and will be less likely to want to help you in future
    – Ubuntu is cool, but this is seriously not realistic for any but the geekiest. It’s a complete shift in how you compute, and considering any machine you buy is likely installed with OEM Windows at nearly no cost, it’s not really saving you any money. The only time it might be useful is if you have an old computer with an outdated version of Windows on it and you want to turn it into a file server or something without paying for an OS. Still, that’s a project for the nerds among us, not your everyday user.

  2. Coin Sleuth on September 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Definitely agree with Subversive on GIMP. That program gives me a headache.

  3. apw on September 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    My father, ex-bus driver, at 70+ uses Ubuntu and LibreOffice. Not as large of a shift as commenters make out. He’s a creature of routine and doesn’t feel the need to switch.

  4. Jeremy on September 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    For the vast majority of users, OpenOffice is great and works well. It opens every word document and PowerPoint presentation, and Excel spreadsheet I’ve ever been sent.

    Most people should be sharing .PDF if they use these programs, which OO does well. For those that need to work collaboratively, OO is literally free for everyone to get.

    GIMP is a pain, but so is PhotoShop. It depends on your needs. If you need advanced image editing, GIMP is just as capable and easy to learn as PhotoShop (neither are easy to use).

  5. Steve Zussino - Canadian Coupons on September 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    I am not a fan of some open source or freeware. For many power users, I recommend using the Microsoft suite but for beginners, just stick to the freeware version if you use it sparingly.

  6. Connie Solidad on September 26, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    I always love finding cheaper or even free alternatives to costly computer programs. I use AVG Anti-Virus and have messed around with both OpenOffice and the Linux OS. All great software for no cost at all.

  7. me on September 26, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    I use GnuCash to manage my personal finance. Excellent software. I also use OpenOffice; haven’t use MsOffice for years.

  8. Sarlock on September 26, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    I use Paint.NET. It’s also free and much simpler to use than GIMP/Photoshop, though it obviously lacks a lot of the advanced features of both programs. It does everything that I need out of a picture editor, so I’m happy with it.
    I’m horribly addicted to Simutrans. It’s modelled after the old Transport/Industry Tycoon games. It’s open source, has an active development community and has really evolved in to a great game (if you like that sort of game, that is).

  9. Subversive on September 27, 2012 at 10:58 am

    I’ll have to check that out, Sarlock. I used to *love* Railroad Tycoon.

  10. Elbyron on September 27, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I agree with Jeremy: GIMP is a pain but so is Photoshop. I use them both, GIMP on my work computer and Photoshop at home, but a beginner should not attempt either of them. It’s only because I’ve used Photoshop for so many years that I can usually get done what I need to do with relative ease, and GIMP was easy to learn because it’s quite similar – just missing a few of the fancier tools that are seldom used.

    I used to use OpenOffice back in my university days, and while it got the job done, I didn’t really like it much. However, if you don’t do a lot of document editing I think I would recommend skipping on the high cost of MS Office.

    Thunderbird isn’t bad – I’ve used it mainly as a newsgroup reader but it can do decent email as well. But if you’re just trying to get your Gmail, hotmail, yahoo, and other accounts all in one place, it’s probably easier to just configure Gmail to access all of them. In the settings, under the “Accounts and Import” tab, look for: “Check mail from other accounts (using POP3)”. Having all your email in one online location is better than a desktop application, because you can then access it from any computer or smartphone.

  11. Brian on September 27, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    There is really no excuse for the large majority of home users to have ANY desktop office software installed on their computers (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation). Both Microsoft and Google give you these for free online. They actually give you a lot more than that too, such as free storage for other files, and even a free web based music player and storage for all of your music in the case of google. They each have their strengths over the other, and both are vastly superior to installing/maintaining software on your own computer.

  12. sharbit on September 28, 2012 at 1:02 am

    I’m a programmer and I’ve used most of these but wasn’t impressed.

    Instead of going to opensource: Register in a course that you’re interested in at your local colledge or university and buy the “good” stuff at student prices.

    I’m always taking part time courses so most of the stuff I have was aquired at discount.

  13. Matt on September 28, 2012 at 8:04 am

    I’ve been using Linux at home for well over a decade.
    It isn’t for everyone, if you’re attached to your windows or Mac software, you might find the transition difficult.
    For only a few hundred dollars it might not be worth it.

    Openoffice does open and save .docx, .xlsx etc, but not the binary versions (ie .xlsb)
    GIMP is pretty easy to use, once you get used to it.

    And that’s the thing, Linux ( I run Debian/Stable) is different, and you’ll have to learn to use it, the more you understand how the system works, the better it gets, and I personally prefer it to Windows.
    I like that I have a constantly upgraded system, without dealing with the different versions of Windows that keep coming out and sometimes don’t work with your existing software. Every Linux program I was using 15 years ago compiles and runs just as well today as it ever did. A fresh install takes a few minutes of configuration and then it just runs.
    Try installing all your applications on a Windows machine, it can take days!

  14. QEW on September 29, 2012 at 1:03 am

    I am IT guy and I have following tools in my arsenal. PDFCreator is a must have. It lets u create PDF from any application and is free. You pay big bucks for Adobe Standard. IrfanView is another stellar application which I use instead of PhotoShop/GIMP and it is free again. Instead of WinZip, use 7 zip and it can create compressed files in any, rar etc. and is FREE too.

    You wont be disappointed with any of these apps.

  15. Andrew @ She Thinks I'm Cheap on September 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    For those who are not technically inclined, I recommend:

    Google Docs with Google Drive for a free, basic office experience

    Google’s Picasa for image viewing and editing

    AVG Free Edition for anti virus or MS Security Essentials

    Trusteer Rapport for added security protection (if your bank provides it)

    VLC Media Player for playing movies and music

  16. felicia on October 22, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    are there any sub software for access

  17. Clark on October 23, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    @Felicia: You can find alternatives to MS Access at the link below:

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.