GO FREE! Replace Your Paid Software

Category: Software

In a previous article on saying goodbye to 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.

Free Alternative Software

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 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 (cloud) 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. Web apps run on any computer that has an internet connection.

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 $219, but there are many excellent (and free) alternatives. The best locally installable one is Libre Office, a free office suite that has compatible replacements for all of the MS Office tools.

If you want to go with a web-based solution, there's Office Online (formerly known as 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. (See my Webmail Smackdown for a comparison of five webmail services.)


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 the free version of Macrium Reflect, 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 personal financial software, Quicken ($59) has been the undisputed champ for a decade. If you want a free alternative, check out the online Mint.com service. For more free personal finance options, see Five Free Alternatives to Quicken.

Likewise, QuickBooks is the preferred solution for business bookkeeping. If you're looking for a free and/or web-based alternative, see Seven Alternatives to Quickbooks.


Photoshop is so ubiquitous that it's become a verb. But the popular image and photo editing software is pricey. In fact, you can't even buy it! Adobe now "rents" access to Photoshop for $20/month. Fortunately, there are some excellent free tools for editing images and touching up photos. See Free Alternatives to Adobe Photoshop and Free Web-Based Photo Editors.


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 7 or 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 A Free Windows XP Alternative for an intro to Linux, and download options.

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

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Most recent comments on "GO FREE! Replace Your Paid Software"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

22 Apr 2014

Agree with bzman Bob, buying or paying for software is somewhat akin or analogous to buying bottled water.

With the preponderance of code writers that exist in the world currently and I suspect growing exponentially I predict that proprietary software and their hangers on e.g.lawyers advertisers et al will be a thing of the past.

Your reply to BaliRob is well made

Posted by:

22 Apr 2014

Pretty informative article, but as usual, I see some missed points. Sorry. ;)

Instead of Libre Office I prefer Kingsoft Office


It's small, free version is 45Mg and has Linux and Android versions as well as Windows. But, Bob, you should mention that all those free Office alternatives barely can support extensive use of MS Office macros and Visual Basic procedures. Document format that MS Office uses now is open source, but not VB or MSO macroses. So nobody should be surprised to see a nasty message that your free Office doesn't support macroses or Vbs when that nobody takes some work home. Some of Offices would ask to buy a higher version of that package (Pro version of Kingsoft Office costs around $70, for example). So be prepared.

Another story is MS Outlook. The only reason to keep this program at office computers is that it is a front end of MS Exchange server as a teamwork server. So mail client is not the default use of reason to keep Outlook. But Mozilla Thunderbird is just a mail client. There is a special extension to fix that problem - Zendesk's ExQuilla Thunderbird addon, but you need to know some Voodoo to make it work. Never had this experience but have doubts that it gives you full functional Exchange client.

Also you should mention Chromebook, since you already published some articles about that gadget and operating environment. I mean another direction of migrating.

Any free online services usually offer very basic things, so one way or another, you need some local program free or paid or some pay for extended online service.

Posted by:

Ken Mitchell
22 Apr 2014

The key thing to remember about free software and services is that if you are not paying for the product, YOU ARE the product being sold. You'll pay for it one way or another, in advertising or in annoyance.

That's going to be a different tradeoff for each person. For Google products, they put advertising at the side of your GMail window, and the ads are often related to the words in your email. Microsoft doesn't connect your email to the ads, but it's still ad-driven.

Posted by:

22 Apr 2014

Bob, You didn't mention a free PDF writer. This is a program many of us use and many would like a free replacement for and Adobe's version. It's hard to pick one without a recommendation from someone (like Bob Rankin) you trust.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Try PDFCreator - http://sourceforge.net/projects/pdfcreator/

Posted by:

22 Apr 2014

Checkpoint (ZoneAlarm.com) has a free version of ZoneAlarm combined with Kaspersky Antivirus. Also, Bitdefender and Comodo have good firewall/antivirus suites that come in free versions.

(And, can be complemented with the free versions of either Ad-Aware or Spybot Search & Destroy.)

Posted by:

Kaarlo von Freymann
22 Apr 2014

Often freeware will not be as good as paid applications, but just imagine what the robber barons would charge us if there were no alternatives. And do we really need all features of upgrades. My 10 year old photoshop 4 on XP is all I need. And of course that is unacceptable to ADOBE, it will not work on 7. I have XP on some machines and 7 on some and an Apple notebook pro. I would be very glad if someone could tell me what REAL TANGIBLE advantages in my work I got from updating to 7. The whole PC business reminds me of Mr.Putin: rob whatever you can get away with. Kaarlo von Freymann Helsinki Finland

Posted by:

22 Apr 2014

Not so simple for me. I am already using Ubuntu, dual booting pc with WinXP and Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. But there is a point where you have to now more about linux than just using the GUI, you have to use the command-line for things a little more complicated.

Then comes the other issue, Software you paid for and had to spend a lot of time learning. In my case CAD and still using some software for electronics, also paid and hard to learn. But I am not going to buy Win7 or 8.x, I will simply not go on line with winXP. Also not getting updates on my other software, just do not want to learn alternatives for all my stuff.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

Re: "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. (See my Webmail Smackdown for a comparison of five webmail services.)"

I access all my email from 1 of 5 devices without using a web-based client. All I did was set up all my email addresses (I have several) to be sent by an IMAP server rather than the usual POP3 server. IMAP actually leaves a copy of a downloaded email on the server until it is deleted, so every machine will see the same email. Delete the email on one machine, and it will be deleted on all. IMAP synchronizes all my email on all 5 machines without any special software. It just works.

I'm not a big fan of webmail and prefer to use an email client. Most of my computers are now Win 8.1 and it does include an email client, but I still prefer Outlook. In the past, I have tried Thunderbird, but every time I tried, it stopped working properly after some unsuitable period of time and I had to switch back to Outlook. Outlook is reliable and worth every penny I paid for it.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

Bob, reference photo editing,I have recently downloaded a free version of Adobe Photoshop CS2 from their website. I'm running it on Win 7 Ultimate with no problems.It works a treat.It may be old but it has a wealth of editing possibilities.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

About 15 years ago, I replaced Microsoft Office with Open Office. OO has kept up with updates to continue compatability with Office and I still use OO.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

Bob's correct, Have your files backed up and the FreeWare WORKS. Loved Lindows, use Ubuntu, and it loaded it's latest and can find any kind software needed to do task at hand. Y'all just seem a bit lazy and narrow minded to assume complacency is a better path to stick with "Established and Extraordinary Costly" SW. OpenOffice... good stuff. And we started the bug fixing far before virus detection was even thought of to which got so bad the OS people jumped on board too... every idea started from necessity. We will reach a point where it all has to work together.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

Ubuntu has a high(er) learning curve. For newbies Linux Mint or Xubuntu is good. for me Xub.. is as good as WinXP although I have moved on to 8.1/Xbu.. dual boot. to burn your linux iso file you can download CDBurnerXP free, slim and burns blu ray, iso and other common formats.

Posted by:

Ma Cain
23 Apr 2014

Some free software works very well but you have to be careful where you download it from or you can end up with a bunch of unwanted programs or even malware on your pc. I have to differ with Bob on web-based apps though. While there are undeniable advantages to them, I still prefer to have my own programs on my pc. Even though these apps are supposed to be safe and secure, It's impossible to know who might be looking over your shoulder or where in the cloud your files are and who has access to them. Paranoid? Maybe, nothing to hide here, lol.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

Thank you Bob and bzman 24 for trying to help me. I cannot expect you to understand just how disadvantaged we are here in S/E Asia in so many ways. I already have the two main modem suppliers and neither can cope with the modern world. For the most part computers experts do not exist because of their inability to understand English - the language of computers. I am unwilling to go to WIN 8 with W9 just around the corner and cannot find a dealer here that sells Win 7 Home Premium 64-bit on a decent make of desktop. The best place to purchase computers in the world today is the US but none of the major players will ship to S/E Asia even using Fed-X or DHL - I depair

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

"Using web-based (cloud) apps reduces clutter on your hard drive... And it gives you the freedom to use your software without being chained to your home or office computer."

But it doesn't give you the freedom of not being chained by that umbilical cord to the internet.

In the 'real' world, internet connections are not 100% reliable, or accessible. Having software on my hard-drive allows me to work when I want, not when someone else dictates.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

@Ken Mitchell. I do volunteer work some of the time. If I was to do volunteer work 100% of my time I would like to know how I am supposed to feed me and my family? There is no unemployment benefits where I live. I have no problems with Gmail adverts -how the heck is Google to pay
salaries? Gmail ads are no big hindarence. Also if you are using Chrome browser Gmelius extension will remove Gmail ads. But you are speaking generally, I get it.I like to be told in advance when I am using freeware that they will send me ads.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

Why I think LIVE MAIL is better.

1) Acessibility-available if internet is there. No hassles-No new setup required.

2) Can change ISP - and not have to tell one and all your new email id.

3)Cheaper-is especially helpful in Eurozone and East,South-East, South Asian countries where ISP charge for providing email id. After all were are looking for FREEdom.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

Even though I consider myself to be of above average intelligence, I found installing any hardware on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS extremely difficult. As others have stated, you have to search for ages to find the right sudo commands and be able to use them correctly, to install some or all hardware.

Whereas in Windows, installing most hardware is just a case of attaching it to your computer and letting Windows install it automatically! If not, all you have to do, providing its drivers are fully compatible with your version of Windows, is insert the installation disk and run it. So of the two, I know which process I prefer!

I also found the GUI on Ubuntu very unattractive and uninspiring compared to Windows, with no quick access task bar or as far as I can remember, no visible clock/calendar on any part of the screen. So whilst free operating systems definitely have their place, I prefer to stick with Windows, in spite of all its critics!

Posted by:

23 Apr 2014

Bob, I am one of the first to recommend, good, solid free programs. I am on a fixed income and completely understand the need to stay, within that income availability. However, I do try to "test" out these programs, before I recommend them, just like you do.

As for a new Operating System, other than Windows and Max OS ... I haven't been interested in any of the Linux/Ubuntu Operating Systems. Oh, I am a geek all right, just not that geeky, okay? I personal think, those that knew DOS, have a better time doing command lines, than those of us, who never used DOS. I am one, who never used DOS and only "dabbled" with it, a tiny bit, when I got my first computer, which was using Windows 95B. The Windows 95B version had a lot more opportunities, to use DOS language. Not so much, with today's Windows versions. Oh, it's there alright, just not as accessible.

Since, I have used some of the best FREE programs, in the past, I am now using their Pro versions. Please, I will always recommend their FREE versions, first. I have just found that, I prefer the Pro versions, because of the ability to "schedule" scans and actions with these programs, so that things are done "automatically" not manually. This is just my personal preference.

I avoided the Web-based Email Service, forever! I thought, it was not only a "hassle", on my part, but, that there would be lots of ads and etc., when using a Web-based Email Service. BOY ... Was I wrong!!! I used Outlook.com and was very impressed. I started using Windows 7, which does NOT have my "beloved" Outlook Express or any Email program. So, I tried Outlook.com. I still, have my husband using it and I am very, very pleased with the service.

I have gone on, to using Outlook, from my Microsoft Office. I still, love a program, where I have more control, over what does or doesn't happen. With me getting way more emails, than my husband, I wanted my Avast! to really better scan my emails, than what it could do with Outlook.com. I know, when I see that comment at the bottom ... "This email is free from viruses and malware because avast! Antivirus protection is active" ... That my email is as virus free, as possible. Plus, my Avast Internet Security does look for malware and SPAM, as well.

Yes, I am completely aware, that Outlook email program from Microsoft Office has many issues, especially those where the program can be compromised. This is why I have Avast! Internet Security, as well as Malwarebytes Premium version. I feel, as those two programs are great protection, as great as I possibly can have. Plus, I also, have other Pro version programs, to help with security on my computer. I must be doing something right, it has been quite some time, since, I have had any "take overs." Well, there was the Conduit issue, last Fall, but, that has been resolved, thank goodness!!!

Now, I have tried to use Mozilla's Thunderbird Email program. I just never could get use to it and it never satisfied to accomplish, what I really wanted, in an Email program. Right now, I am "boycotting" Mozilla, so I will not use either Firefox or Thunderbird or any Mozilla programs. I do not like Microsoft's Internet Explorer, either. I am using Chrome and love it. It is just so easy to use and set up. I guess, I am really getting use to using Chrome and Google, because of my Android Smartphone. It took me awhile, to transfer over from Firefox, to Chrome, but, I am glad that I did.

The ads on Chrome, are not an issue with me. I use the AdBlock Extension, which works wonderfully. Sorry Bob, I know that the ads, help you in payment for your web server, but, ads simply drive me nuts. There are just so many, many wonderful FREE programs out there, for everyone to use.

Just remember, to scan the "executable" installer, when using a unknown program, for the first time. I know, that is what I do and have, for years. I got my very first virus, back in 1997, when I was on AOL and I got it, from an AOL download. I had to completely re-format my whole hard drive, to get rid of it, too. Talk about a "learning curve!!!" Boy, I was really ignorant about computers, in those days. However, I began to learn, what to do and how to do it. Some mighty hard lessons, were learned in those days. I can't tell you, how many times, I had to re-format my hard drive ... But, I did learn and learn well.

Posted by:

05 May 2014

Enjoy your newsletter bob. Some "freeware" that I have used for awhile and been very happy with is Libre Office, VLC media player, and foxit reader for PDF files. I have had good luck with AVG FREE and Avast FREE. I also use and like CCleaner to remove junk files and clean registry. I used to use Zone Alarm, but when it tries to block something, it's hard to know what it is, and when you look it up, it wants you to purchase the Pro version which I guess gives you more info on the site. Keep up the good work!

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