12 December 2012

Low cost and free software alternatives

If you've just bought a new computer you'll soon find there's more to pay to get it up and running and useful. By the time you've bought your Internet Security software and a combined suite like Microsoft Office you're looking at over $300.

There’s even more you could pay if you need to use your computer for more specific tasks, like photo editing or desktop publishing.

However, there are cheap and even free alternatives to the most used, and more well known, software products.  While there's a wealth of great, free, web-based apps available that work perfectly on your Windows PC via your browser, when you’re connected to the internet, my list is of software that you download to your computer.  

There’s nothing wrong with using these lower cost and free alternatives to the better known products.  Some are from smaller companies that just don’t have the name or marketing budget of say, Microsoft or Adobe; they get there products known by offering them at a lower cost or free, hoping that you will upgrade to their more full-featured paid versions.  Others are Open Source, which means they are created by companies with the philosophy of free distribution and access, usually as a protest against the monopoly of the big software companies.  The one drawback with free software is that you often don’t have the product support, or instructions to help you figure out how to perform a particular task. 

Today’s list is for Windows users, next week I’ll post the MAC list.

Office suites

These products include individual tools for word processing, and creating spreadsheets and presentations.  The products below are all compatible with Microsoft Office, which means you can open, edit and save Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, although with the free versions you may find that some features are not completely compatible and sometimes the formatting may be affected.  This is only a concern when you are editing and saving Microsoft Office documents in one of the free versions, or you are editing and saving documents created using the free software in Microsoft Office.

Instead of Microsoft Office

Lower cost:

AshampooOffice 2012 $59.99

This product is receiving great reviews, in some instances rating higher than Microsoft Office.  It includes word processing, spreadsheet and presentation products, and all are 100% compatible with Microsoft Office.  The interface is toolbar based, rather than the Ribbon of Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010.  If you have an older computer this product is perfect, as it takes up a lot less space than Microsoft Office. 

Ashampoo Office Presentation


Libre Office

As well as word processing, spreadsheet and presentation tools, LibreOffice also includes desktop publishing and database software (alternatives to Microsoft Publisher and Access), and a math and equation program.  This product offers the best compatibility of any of the free Office alternatives.  The interface uses a toolbar, rather than Microsoft’s Ribbon, but it is very easy to use.  If you’re changing over from Microsoft Office 2003 it will all be familiar.

LibreOffice Writer

Kingsoft Office Suite 2012

Kingsoft is a Hong Kong-based company.  The big difference between this product and the other free office suites is that it has a Ribbon interface, similar to Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010.   This is a relatively new product but is getting great reviews.  It includes alternatives to Word, Excel and PowerPoint and is compatible with all three.


You already have free word processing software on your Windows computer.  Take a look in the Accessories folder and you’ll find WordPad.  It is a basic version of Microsoft Word, but if all you need is something to write a few letters, why buy something else.

Desktop Publishing

Instead of Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Publisher

Lower cost:

Serif PagePlus X6  $99.99

Rated No. 1 in a recent review of desktop publishing software.  It is very easy to use, allowing you to create a wide variety of printed material, as well as ebooks and files to be published online.  You can try the free Starter Edition before committing to buy the full version.

Serif PagePlus

Print Artist Platinum $50

With an amazing 27,000 templates and more than 375,000 graphics you can easily pick the design you want, add some graphics and text and you’re done.  The only drawback is in not having enough photo editing tools.


Serif PagePlus Starter Edition

The best free desktop publishing software is the Starter Edition of Serif PagePlus, as mentioned above. 


Scribus is open source desktop publishing software.  Scribus includes all of the professional tools for working with images and text, and their website features lots of how-tos, and tutorials to help you.



AVG Anti-Virus Free2012

Used by millions around the world, and currently rated better than its own paid version by PC Magazine, it's great at both blocking and removing malware.

avast! Free version

Avira Free Antivirus2012

Photo editing

Instead of Photoshop

Lower cost:

Corel PaintShop Pro $84

(Ultimate version on special for $77 at the moment)
Great photo organising and editing tools, and easier to use than Photoshop.  More features than some of the more expensive software options, and with video and print tutorials to help you learn the program.

Serif PhotoPlus X6 $90

The easiest photo editing software to use, with on-screen tips accompanying every function and video tutorials to guide you.  This program has an amazing range of tools for working with your photos.

Serif PhotoPlus

Photoshop Elements $150

This basic version of Photoshop still includes many of the features of the full version, but with fewer options.  One of the best features is Guided Edits – work your way through editing your photo step-by-step with on-screen directions.  



The best of the free options, GIMP is free open-source software with all the image editing tools you could need. It has more features than the other free software options, so if you’re just beginning in photo editing you may want to try one of the more basic alternatives.

Serif PhotoPlus Starter Edition

The free version of PhotoPlus detailed above.  It doesn’t have all the features of the full version, but this is still a great basic photo editing program, and you can upgrade to the full version later.

Windows Live Essentials: Photo Gallery

Windows Live's photo organiser and editor makes slideshows, stitches together panoramas, fuses similar photos to get rid of the bad parts, and has a number of editing tools for fixing pictures.  

Zoner Photo Studio

Photo Studio has the most common editing tools (red-eye reduction, blurring, etc), as well as photo organising tools.  It also has some fun features, such as creating panoramas and 3D versions of your pictures, or postcards, calendars and greeting cards.


Graphic Design

Instead of Adobe Creative Suite 6 Design Standard: Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign $2170

Lower cost:

Corel Draw Graphics Suite $629

Includes a vast number of tools for vector illustration, page layouts, drawing, photo editing, and website design.  It may look scary at first, if you are new to graphic design, but there is plenty of support and a massive user manual to help you.

Serif DrawPlus $100

DrawPlus gives you a graphics studio for digital art, illustration, and painting. Draw vector art, sketch ideas, design professional quality logos & graphics, paint naturally, turn photos into artwork, and create Flash animations.  Considerably easier to use than Adobe or Corel Draw.

Serif DrawPlus


Serif DrawPlus StarterEdition

The free version of DrawPlus mentioned above.  This is the ultimate free drawing and graphics software, with vector drawing, brush, pen, and pencil tools; blend modes for advance artistic effects - perfect for designing web graphics and creative print projects.

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