Why pay for something when you can get it for free? At home and at work, I use many free software programs. With so much free software available, I rarely find the need to purchase a program.
Free Alternatives to Pricey Computer Programs
For every program on your computer that you pay for, there is most likely a free alternative that’s comparable to the paid version. I will talk about 10 of those in this article.
LibreOffice is a free, comprehensive office suite that is compatible with and similar to Microsoft Office. Since it is an open-source program, it is updated regularly. Most home and business consumers can use LibreOffice instead of purchasing an expensive office program.
LibreOffice includes Writer (word processor), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector graphics and flowcharts), Base (databases) and Math (formula editing).
On the website, you can download a guide for each of the programs in the suite. These can be downloaded as PDF files at no cost, or you can purchase a printed copy of the guide.
Visit the LibreOffice documentation page here. You should have no trouble finding the information you need about each one of the programs included in the office suite.
If you are currently using another office program, you can switch to LibreOffice. It supports a wide range of formats so you should be able to open any existing documents.
You can also save documents in other file formats. For example, if you are going to send a file to another person who uses a different office program, you can save the document using the file type they use.
You can have more than one office program installed on your computer, so you can try LibreOffice and see if it works for you. If it does and you are currently paying for other software, you can cancel that subscription. All LibreOffice updates and new versions are free.
There’s a wide range of extensions and add-ons to choose from to enrich the programs. Be sure to get any extensions or add-ons from the official repository found here.
LibreOffice is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
VLC Media Player
VLC Media Player is a cross-platform multimedia player. It supports most multimedia files and can also play DVDs, CDs and VCDs (video CDs).
Not only can VLC play audio and video files you have on your computer, but it can also stream files on your local network or the internet. And you can convert any incoming audio or video content you are streaming and save that content to your hard drive.
Unlike most other media players, VLC does not require you to download additional extensions to play certain file types: They’re are already included in the program when you install it.
If you find that you have a video file that will not play, is outdated, or you have music that is in an older format, VLC can most likely open the files.
You can also use VLC as a podcast player: Just click the “View” menu and then click “Playlist.” Under “Podcasts,” click the “Add” button and add the URL of the podcast you would like to subscribe to. You can also listen to internet radio.
You can also use VLC to capture a screenshot from a video and add a watermark to video files. You can also use it as a screen recorder.
VLC is such a versatile program that it’s worth having on your computer. To see all of the features available, go to the support section of the website here (ignore the donation buttons). The program has a troubleshooting guide, a Wiki and a user forum that you can use for support.
VLC Media Player is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, IOS and more.
Audacity is a cross-platform audio editor and recorder.
It offers audio recording and allows you to import different types of sound files. You can edit, combine and export the files in several different file formats including MP2, MP3, AIFF, WAV and FLAC.
You can use it to convert music tapes to MP3 or CD. Take different sound files and duplicate, cut, blend, or graft them together. Record your voice, podcasts and more.
Many programs offering similar features are not free, so before you spend money on something else, I recommend that you give Audacity a try.
It has a user forum, Wiki and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page you can find here.
Audacity is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and other operating systems.
XnView is a free image viewer, browser and converter. XnView supports all of the major image formats. It can read more than 500 different formats. It offers features including image resizing, color adjustment, cropping, screen capture, the ability to apply filters and other effects and more.
You can create slide shows and webpages. And you can export content to more than 70 different file formats. XnView offers many more options and tools than the image viewers included with most operating systems. You can find a user guide and forum here.
ShareX is a free, open-source screen capture tool. I use the Snip & Sketch tool (more on that later) that comes free in Windows 10, but if you are looking for something with more robust features, ShareX is excellent.
There are numerous capture options including full screen, monitor, region, window and scrolling capture. You can also record your screen.
You can upload your images to multiple websites including imgur, ImageShack, Flickr, Google Photos, Photobucket and others.
The built-in image editor offers many ways to edit and mark up your image. You can also open graphic files you have saved and edit those as well.
ShareX is available for Windows 7 and above.
If you need a program similar to Adobe Photoshop but don’t want to spend the money on it (which can be quite costly), Gimp is a great alternative. It’s one of the most popular alternatives to Adobe Photoshop.
All program updates are free, so you can always stay up to date when you are using Gimp.
It acts as a simple paint program but is best known for its more sophisticated abilities including layers, filters, automatic image enhancement tools, customizable brushes, third-party plug-ins, photo manipulation (including retouching or restoring) and much more.
While Adobe Photoshop takes up quite a bit of hard drive space, Gimp is much leaner. The installation package is also much smaller, so it takes less time to install the program.
Adobe Photoshop is notorious for being slow. Gimp does not have that issue. It seems super fast, and I have had very few issues with its overall performance.
Adobe Photoshop has big system requirements, (RAM, hard drive space, graphics card, etc.), so it may not run on your computer. Gimp isn’t nearly as “hungry,” so it should run easily on most modern computers.
You will need to read the tutorials on how to use the program. Like Adobe Photoshop it will take some time to learn how to use the many features. But I do find Gimp to be quite intuitive and easier to use than some other similar programs. Its tutorials are easy to understand; you can find those here.
Gimp is available for Windows, Linux and Mac.
Bitwarden is an open-source password manager. Community members are constantly working on the program to make updates and enhancements, and the program allows outside security companies to test the software to make sure it is safe and secure.
I like Bitwarden because it’s plain and simple but definitely gets the job done. The free version has all of the features most users need. There are also paid personal business plans available. You can view details here.
Bitwarden offers a desktop app for Windows, MacOS and Linux. It has apps for Android and Apple devices. In addition to the desktop app, you can also use the web-based browser extension, and you can log into Bitwarden using just your browser. Supported browsers are Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera, Safari, Vivaldi, Brave and Tor.
Bitwarden uses AES-256 encryption on its servers. It does not carry key identifiers, so if you forget your master password, there is no way to access the program. You will see this warning when you create your account. So you’ll want to make sure you have the master password saved in several secure locations. I keep a notebook in my fireproof home safe with this type of information.
Bitwarden offers sync between devices, which is key for me in a password manager. There are no limits to the number of passwords you can store.
You can use the import data feature to import databases from many other password managers. I was quite impressed with the size of the import list and the number of programs Bitwarden supports. It also allows you to export your vault in several different formats: .json, .csv and .json (encrypted).
Bitwarden has a support page that includes videos to help you get started with the program. Visit the support page here.
If you are looking for a full-featured email program, check out Mozilla Thunderbird. It’s free and open-source. It includes email, calendar and contacts and is made by Mozilla, which also makes the Firefox web browser.
Thunderbird is highly customizable and offers a large selection of add-ons, which you can use to customize the program to suit your needs.
Like tabbed browsing in Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird has tabbed email, which I’ve found to be convenient for reading and working with multiple email messages.
It offers a wide range of security features including junk mail filters, phishing protection, remote image protection and automated updates. To see a complete list of features go here.
You can add contacts to your address book with one click by selecting the star when reading a message. Thunderbird offers a very nice help section here.
Microsoft Print to PDF
In the past, if you wanted to convert a document on your computer to a PDF file you had to install a third-party software package. Not anymore.
Microsoft Print to PDF is a virtual printer. When you are working with a file that you want to convert to a PDF document, you simply click the print option in the program, just as if you were going to send the document to a physical printer. In the list of printer choices, you will see “Microsoft Print to PDF.” When you select that option, a dialog menu will open. You choose a location on your computer where you want to save the file and give it a file name. That’s it!
Snip & Sketch
The Snip & Sketch tool will capture all or part of your screen and save that capture as an image file. You can then use the built-in tools to mark up, highlight, crop and share the image with others.
When you use Snip & Sketch to capture an image, you have the option to capture a rectangular snip, free-form snip or full-screen snip.
Important Tips for Installing Any Software
When installing any free software be sure you go directly to the vendor’s website to download the program. Third-party websites may install junkware, malware or additional software you do not want or need along with the program being offered.
Even when you’re on the correct website, be on the lookout for ads and prompts to download other software. Be sure you’re downloading the software you want and not something else that pops up on the site.
During the installation of any program, pay close attention to each screen as you go along. If you’re not careful, there may be auto-selected settings that install other programs you don’t want. Most programs have a custom install option. I find that’s almost always the best choice.