GOING FREE: Replacing Your Paid Software

Category: Software

In a recent article on migrating away from Windows XP, I mentioned that my strategy was to move away from commercial software to free alternatives, either open source or web-based. I'll share my reasons for doing this, and some free software that you can explore. Read on!

Free Software Alternatives

When moving from one operating system to another, there's bound to be some fallout. Some older versions of the software you're using may not be supported on the new system. And if you're moving from Windows to a Linux or Mac OS platform, it's almost certain that you'll need to find replacements for your most commonly-used software applications. But why move away from the familiar commercial software tools you've been using for years, and endure new learning curves? I've got three good reasons.

The first is simply to save money. If you're made of money like that motorcycle dude in the Geico commercials, this may not be a concern. But for most of us, saving a few hundred bucks is something to strive for.

Second, it eliminates the license key hassle. Using free software saves you the aggravation of finding your software license keys, when you need to re-install apps on a new computer, or after upgrading your operating system. Chances are good you've lost that piece of paper with the 25-digit license key, or the email that you got when you purchased software online.
Free Alternative Software

Free software doesn't require a license to prove that you own it, so if you need to re-install a program, just download the latest version from the Web and off you go. In addition, with “open source” software, the programming source code is freely available. This gives other programmers the ability to inspect and learn from the code, and fosters a community-based approach to software development. It also goes a long way towards eliminating the fear that a program may contain nefarious spying or data collection capabilities.

Third, I'm a big fan of getting away from locally installed software. Using web-based apps reduces clutter on your hard drive, completely eliminates the sometimes confusing process of installing software, and also takes care of updates without any action required from you. And it gives you the freedom to use your software without being chained to your home or office computer.

Free, Open-Source and Web-Based Software

All that said, here are some of the most common commercial software tools, and some high-quality, free alternatives that can replace them.


Word, Excel and Powerpoint are staples in most offices, and on home users' computers as well. Office Home & Business 2013 costs $220, but there are many excellent (and free) alternatives. Some of the best locally installable ones are Libre Office, and IBM's Lotus Symphony.

If you want to go with a web-based solution, there's Office Web apps, and the Google Docs suite, both free. See my article on Microsoft Office Alternatives for links to each of the above, and even more free office software tools.


In many business settings, Outlook is the de facto email client. Outlook 2013 sells for $110, but the free Mozilla Thunderbird desktop email software will do the job equally well. Free web-based email clients include Google's Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Microsoft's Outlook.com.

One benefit of using a web-based email solution, as opposed to a desktop client, is that you can access your email from any computer, tablet or smartphone with an Internet connection. They also tend to have excellent built-in spam filters that don't require constant updates.


One of these popular internet security suites probably came pre-installed on your computer when you purchased it, along with a limited-time free trial. Both cost about $80, and then there recurring yearly fees to keep it active. But surprise, there are lots of free anti-virus tools available.

AVG, Avira, and Avast! (the three A's) are some of the most popular. My article Free Anti-Virus Programs has links to these and several other free internet security tools that will protect you from online threats. I've also got some advice there on whether you're better off with commercial of free internet security software.


Acronis TrueImage ($49) is probably the most popular backup and recovery software for home users. But there are some freebies that will do the job equally well. Check out EASEUS Todo Backup Free, or explore some of the free cloud-based backup services in my article on Free Backup Software.


When it comes to home and small business financial software, Quicken ($59) has been the undisputed champ for a decade. If you want a free alternative, install Gnucash or check out the online Mint.com service.


It's true that most computers run some version of the Windows operating system. You might think it comes free with new computers, but's that not the case. PC vendors must pay a licensing fee to Microsoft for every computer they ship, and that cost is passed directly to the consumer. And upgrades are never free.

If you're facing the prospect of migrating from Windows XP to Windows 8, or considering making the jump to a Mac, you should look at Ubuntu Linux before you decide. Ubuntu is a free, open-source operating system. See my article Download Linux for Free for an intro to Linux, and download options.

What software have you replaced with a free alternative? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "GOING FREE: Replacing Your Paid Software"

(See all 32 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

15 Apr 2013

The big corporations in the computing world figured out, a while back, that the only part of computing that hasn't become completely commoditized is bandwidth, so they're flogging a paradigm that maximizes bandwidth usage in order to maximize their profit. And a lot of people are willing to go along.

Some of us do things using our computers in places where there is no way to get a decent internet connection. We won't be using the cloud much. And some of us just don't trust anyone else with our data, not necessarily because we don't trust the parties who would be storing it, but because of the simple fact that our data, alone, is not nearly as attractive a target for thieves as it would be, all gathered up with a bunch of other peoples' and companies' data.

Posted by:

Robert Hagen
15 Apr 2013

About the "office" software. Libre Office is ok but you cannot create MS-Office files, only view them. OpenOffice by Oracle let's you create them as well as view them. Those are the only two I have tried. Open Office is way better.

EDITOR'S NOTEL Not true. Libre Office can save in MS Office formats. It's generally recognized as more advanced than the OpenOffice from which it sprung.

Posted by:

Lin Daniel
15 Apr 2013

Web-based solutions...hmmm
Sorry, your internet connection is down. Your day is wasted.
Sorry, that server is suffering issues. You can't reach your software with any reliability, or at all.
Sorry, that company has just shut its doors, due to financial or legal issues. (what *was* the name of that company that had its complete file sharing system shut down because *some* of the files shared were illegal?)

Web-based stuff as backup, to share files, for a lot of things, absolutely yes. But my home or office computer will always be the primary source. I have multiple options for getting data to someone, but only if I have the data in hand. I've seen and had too many incidents where I need access RIGHT NOW and can't get it, sometimes for hours or days. Not going there.

And for the record, I have three complete backups of the data on my systems, one of them off site. None of them web based. Me paranoid? Why do you say that?

Posted by:

15 Apr 2013

I am still using my QUICKEN 2001 on Windows 7 for my home financial needs and it does all that I require.

Posted by:

15 Apr 2013

One week ago one of our laptops threw a wobbly.

The startup was weird or failed and after rescuing what I could I resorted to the 'revert to factory' gizmo..... which left me with a doorstop that cost megabucks just under 3 years ago.

Ubunto loaded like a dream and although we lost all the un-backed up files and programs it is now working away merrily.

Yesterday I read on another techy newsletter about the 'windows security update' that had probably caused the damage on my and many others computers.

I seem to remember many similar 'problems' when new windows versions were introduced (dating back to 3.11...) ............... Now if I was a paranoid conspiracy theorist......

That really finishes me for Microsoft. We still have 3 computers running 7 but when it's time to upgrade it will be one of the Linux distros or maybe android will be for PCs and laptops, with a little luck!

Thanks for all the good stuff,


Posted by:

Rocky Perkins
15 Apr 2013

Bob. Have loved your blog for a long time and listened to many suggestions. I took the plunge and purchased a new HP Envy 23 with Windows 8--for a time Office Depot is throwing in the home microsoft office 365. What do you think of 365? (It was FREE) Thanks

Posted by:

mark pero
15 Apr 2013

Hi BOB ,I just switched over to Mozilla /Avast /Comodo and now i am looking at ZorinOS or moonOS, do you have a preference ? I am in love with Mozilla ,it is exactly what i was looking for ,simple,plain,easy on the eyes and to the point! I personally hated Outlook!! Thanks bob for all your help ,your the best !

Posted by:

William Corley
15 Apr 2013

I downloaded Thunderbird Version 17.05 a couple of weeks ago, and really enjoy using it. I use Outlook on two other computers, but Thunderbird seems to work better with my ISP (AT&T) than Outlook. Outlook shuts down on me, and thus far, Thunderbird has not. I hope Thunderbird will continue to be available. Thus far, I am quite impressed with it. I no longer trust Outlook.

Posted by:

15 Apr 2013

If you don't want to spend a small fortune on the likes of Photoshop and Lightroom, there are loads of free picture editing applications out there.
PhotoScape, PhotoFiltre, Helicon Filter, Dynamic-Photo, IrfanView.
Two of my favourites are GIMP and Luminance HDR, which are both open source and available for Windows and Linux.

Posted by:

15 Apr 2013

With 5 computers, combination of OS X and Windows, Office 365 Home Premium is the way to go for me. The "problem" with the free replacements is that on one in my house is willing to use them, and some of them have existed for years, so they've gotten better and better. For me, I personally like Libre Office since it works on my iOS and Android devices as well as my Macs and PCs.

Now, about saving a few hundred dollars, consider, that Office 2011 for Mac (but is actually allows 3 installs - so OS X is covered in one purchase), then each of the 3 Windows machines, that we have, where there was no "3-pack" so that equates to some $800+. The $100 per year, provided that Microsoft doesn't raise the price too soon, will save me a lot of money (so will staying with the "old" version of Office). I have to move from Mac to and from PC (I use both at work and both at home, regularly), and for my systems, Libre Office is what I use (and I do donate).

I do all of my mail on my Mac and iPad (sometimes iPhone), so I just use the email client that comes with OS X and iOS. All my work and school which is on Google Apps for Business/Education, and all my other personal mails, are nicely handled in the OS X and iOS mail client. Obviously you can't use OS X/iOS mail on Windows, for that, in a pinch, I use Thunderbird.

Posted by:

15 Apr 2013

Thanks for the suggestions Bob, and thanks for not just mentioning online options - some of us have data restrictions that mean using online only apps all the time can take us over the data limit, getting quite expensive ;)

I've used Libre Office a little - putting it on both my son and daughter's computers as neither "needs" to be using M$. For email I use the built in email handler in Opera browser - one thing I love about it is not having to wait for a new program to launch when I click on a link in an email. I also love the filters/labels it uses for sorting email - much more intuitive than those in Outlook (which other-half uses)

Posted by:

Oswaldo Gómez
15 Apr 2013

Hi, everyone! Bob, I have to say that the term that better describes this article is 'sensible'. People that have to say farewell forever to their beloved Windows XP go into the bitter adventure of chosing where to move. Quite a cultural shock, may I say.

Moving to Free Software or even WEB alternatives is pretty much the way to go. I chose BOTH ways. Got Linux Mint 13 (more user friendly to new users, IMHO, and still the most popular distribution, according to distrowatch.com) for specialized tasks, and a new Crhomebook that allows me to perform common tasks even unplugged from the web (in some cases, not all). And yes, I share your feelings about getting away from locally installed software.

Using a decent CAD sotware, like AutoCAD, put me back to windows from time to time until I found Dassault Systemes' DraftSight, which is free for personal/non commercial use, and available in various OS, including Linux. Highly recommended.

Finally, I think you forgot to say that viruses are ineffective against your linux box and web applications. If a web application gets attacked (never by a virus, by the way) there is a team of people that tackle the situation ASAP. You have nothing to loose but a couple minutes of work.

Posted by:

16 Apr 2013

I can see the usefulness of a lot of these programs however Libre Office is a Java based program requiring Java on your computer Until I can feel safe with Java (which I don't and wont for a long time) I will avoid Libre Office.

Posted by:

16 Apr 2013

LibreOffice, Thunderbird, XnView, GIMP & Inkscape. The only drawback I see is that, according to their job ads, many employers require proficiency in using M$ software.

Posted by:

Bob Deloyd
16 Apr 2013

I installed Lubuntu on my 3 netbooks; 2 Dell Mini 9 and a HP Mini-note, and I'm really happy because they don't run like honey on a cold winter's morning. The reason I went with Lubuntu instead of Ubuntu is I didn't like the GUI of Ubuntu and Lunbuntu is a lighter version of Ubuntu that doesn't slow my netbooks down like XP or Ubuntu did.

There is something called a Secure Boot, or UEFI, (a surprise to me) which prevents programs like the GRUB bootloader from creating a dual boot system; like Windows 8 and Ubuntu Linux. I wanted to dual-boot Linux on a newer HP 64bit laptop running Windows 8 and tried several methods to get Linux to boot up; creating a new partition, and I even tried Ubuntu's new download that was supposed to work with UEFI, but each time GRUB would refuse to load and Ubuntu wanted me to delete Win8! Not the solution I was looking for. I really don't like Win8 and just might go ahead and delete the dang thing and go with Linux.

A thought: a lot of us started out with AOL, it was like the internet with training wheels, and we moved on from that.
Most of us started off with Windows and I believe now is the time to move away from that....

Posted by:

16 Apr 2013

Cleaning utilities:
Glary utilities
Advanced system care6

Zone Alarm free fire- http://www.pcmag.com/image_popup/0,1871,iid=363189,00.asp
Comodo Cleaning essentials- http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2372364,00.asp?obref=obnetwork http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2371155,00.asp

Spybot S&D
Super antispyware free edition

Posted by:

Dan Norwood
17 Apr 2013

I have MSO2007 for most of my work with Open Office by Oracle as a 2nd program - The nice thing about having both is that I can open 2 excel files in different programs with different windows and I don't have to deal with multiple windows inside one program - I pay $70 for Norton 360 & I love it - My cloud computing may be on the cloud but all computers are synched so if the web is down and my hot spot is down then I can still work on the files - I have never found that both my LAN and Hot SPot network were down at the same time unless the electricity is out and I can't drive anywhere. I'm trying to break away from MS but it's hard - I have 5 computers all linked to a cloud but my personal information is not in a cloud. I'll try to expand my comfort zone with some of this software.

Posted by:

18 Apr 2013

Thanks Bob, for this very good article. I've been using Linux, as well as Windows, for many years now.As a matter of fact, I'm using a distro of Linux called Trisquel right at this moment.
The free software available today has come a long way...I even use some live cds of Linux to recover files from windows os that have crashed. I hope more people will try out free applications and programs...they might just be surprised as to how well a lot of them work!

Posted by:

18 Apr 2013

In the discussion on free and open source software you could also think about using LaTex, although I can imagine that for many users it may be inconvienent because it is script based and not what-you-see-is-what-you-get. It is very versatile and it goes to show there are other ways to get your work done without depending on microsoft

Posted by:

Bruce Fraser
20 Apr 2013

Free alternative to Quicken: Microsoft Money. It's no longer developed, but the last version (# 17, released in 2009) is free: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/search.aspx?q=money+sunset.

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