Replace Your Paid Software with Free Alternatives

Category: Software

My software strategy for several years has been to move away from commercial (paid) programs to free alternatives, preferably open source or web-based. I'll share my reasons for doing this, and some free software options 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, Mac, or ChromeOS 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. Web apps run on any computer that has an internet connection, and they typically save your files in secure cloud storage. That 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 costs $250, but actually Microsoft would prefer you not buy it. That's because they're pushing customers to Office 365 Home, which is subscription based, and costs $100/year. However, 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 free web-based solution, there's the Google Docs suite. See my article on Free Microsoft Office Alternatives for links to several free office software tools.


In many business settings, Outlook is the de facto email client. The standalone version of Outlook for the desktop sells for $129, 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

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 article Tweak Your Spam Filter for help managing spam on GMail,, and Yahoo.)


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 $80-$120, and then there recurring yearly fees to keep them active and updated. 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.

Backups Ebook Are you prepared for a total loss of your hard drive due to a virus, hardware failure or other disaster? Are you confused by the terminology related to backups? Read my ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS, where you'll learn about backup strategies and how to protect the data in your computer, tablet, smartphone and online accounts.


Acronis TrueImage ($49/year) 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, or EASEUS Todo Backup Free.


When it comes to personal financial software, Quicken ($49) has been the undisputed champ for decades. If you want a free alternative, check out the online Mint service. For more free personal finance options, see 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 Wow, Free Online 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 7 to Windows 10, or considering making the jump to a Mac, you should look at Linux before you decide. Linux tends to require less in the way of hardware resources, so it can be a good option for older computers that bog down with newer versions of Windows. Ubuntu Linux is a user-friendly Linux option that you should consider. You can even try it out before without installing.

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 "Replace Your Paid Software with Free Alternatives"

(See all 25 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

10 Oct 2019

Great article. Maybe because I was born in Scotland and perhaps assimilated the frugality attributed to the Scots, I have always sought out free software alternatives
I have used Irfanview for image manipulation and resizing for many years
Use VLC for video files
I have an old version of MS Word which still works but also have Libre Office and WPS as great alternatives, but Google's equivalents work pretty well too
have used Avira free for many years too and it seems to have kept my computers free of malware, but also have Malwarebytes free to run occasional checks.
Have free versions of Paintshop Pro and GIMP as photoshop alternatives
have the free versions of Advanced System Care, CCleaner and Glary Utilities to tune up computer (They all seem to find slightly different things to clean up)
Am toying with installing Linux on one of my computers but so far haven't taken the plunge

Posted by:

Norris Kenwright
10 Oct 2019

Hi, A neat little free photo editor is "Phoxo", with lots of interesting features

Posted by:

Marc Lapierre
10 Oct 2019

Hey Bob, I enjoy your Newsletter. Ive used free alternatives for years, but there is a point where I draw the line and that is online based apps AND online storage, particularly the latter.

As for the apps, this aversion is simply because I like the warm fussy feeling of knowing that I can compute even if there's internet outage where I am.

Storage however is a whole different ball game. I haven't been a fan of the cloud right from the get go. My thinking has been and is, that cloud services are vulnerable to a myriad of risks, not the least of which is hackers and infrastructure failure. I prefer to have all my data local. I realize this also has risks.

At the moment, given the major data breaches that we've seen, I really don't have a sense the cloud services are bullet proof.

I would love to take advantage of the simplicity and convenience of the cloud, but can't bring myself to use it.

It would be interesting to have you views on this in a future newsletter.

Posted by:

10 Oct 2019

Thank you Bob for a non-partisan review in regards to both OS and software. My only recommendation to your article is that Clonezilla ( should be on your list of back up alternatives.

Posted by:

Mike R.
10 Oct 2019

There's a dichotomy in your article & reader comments. You say you like Web based software (for the usual, seemingly rational reasons) but several reader comments say they want to continue using an old and/or free version of an application--which usually is only possible with locally installed software.

I agree that Web-based software is OK for some things, but certainly not all. By using it you give up control...of updates, backups, features, etc. You cannot "go back" to the prior version which you liked better or which was less buggy. I don't like Web based software for anything mission critical.

Intuit, for instance, has broken QuickBooks Online a few times overnight with a "minor update", which of course was forced on users because it is Web based. They've also had a couple 24-hour complete QB Online server outages..a terrible thing in the midst of tax season! Nor can you get them to restore a backup of your data as of a specific date such as prior to a major accounting mistake you made or nefarious entries made by a disgruntled employee.

I used desktop QuickBooks a lot, and can stay with either a new version or an old version for as long as I like--assuming I don't use any of the required-update features like their version of Payroll. In any case, I DO NOT allow QuickBooks to auto update, preferring to wait a couple weeks after an update has been released to be sure it is stable before acquiring it.

Web-based software is not the panacea which many people think it is.

Posted by:

10 Oct 2019

Recently, you had an article about updates. Are this group of free applications kept updated the paid ones are, especially for security holes?

Posted by:

Jim K
10 Oct 2019

Thanks, Bob. I am a big fan of Google docs, and have become pretty good at the included Apps Scripting, which can automate all kinds of tasks. Much better than the VBA scripting in MS Office.

Posted by:

Greg C
10 Oct 2019

I recently found out about Sumatra pdf. I have used both Foxit and Adobe's free readers. Both have advantages, but Sumatra is a VERY light app that is NOT just a one trick pony. I love it !
Sumatra PDF is a free PDF, eBook (ePub, Mobi), XPS, DjVu, CHM, Comic Book (CBZ and CBR) reader for Windows.

For WinXP license holders who want a fully patched & updated version: Integral Edition 2019.8.17
( many point of sale systems still use XP & MSoft still patches it up )

Posted by:

Louie O.
10 Oct 2019

I have never had much luck using Acronis TrueImage. Macrium Reflect is much easier to use, but it has failed occasionally also. I have never had an issue with AOMEI Backupper though. It has an easy to understand interface as a bonus.

Posted by:

10 Oct 2019

Bob, one of your better articles, especially with all the links and references to your other related articles. Good reader comments this time too with nice additions mentioned.

Posted by:

10 Oct 2019

A variety of online PDF tools:

Online video cutter:

Online video converter:

Online photo editor and animated GIF maker:

Posted by:

10 Oct 2019

with anti virus over the years i've tried norton and eset, and other assorted free stuff, but now i love my pcmatic, none are 100%, but pc does for video and audio, never happy with the free stuff, so far i've settled with avs, ans about 50 bucks for life, can't beat that!!!

Posted by:

10 Oct 2019

I have used Libre Office for a few years now and am happy with it.It does most of the stuff that I had when I used Microsoft Office.Easy to use

VLC works fine with video and audio files that I have.

Posted by:

10 Oct 2019

I use (paid) McAfee now and used (paid) Norton before that. When my subscription is up, I'll look for something free. I've had a (very few) problems with free security apps before, though.
Everything else I use is free. LibreOffice, VLC, Malwarebytes (free version), etc., etc. For backups, as one commenter above stated, AOMEI Backupper has worked fine for me. (And I use Timeshift on my Linux installations.)
Keep up the good work and I'll check out the article on free antivirus.

Posted by:

11 Oct 2019

I use Avast have done for years now - tried Norton back in early days of windows when it came with computers - and then Avast - tried other free bees but Avast is the one. Does have offers VPN which I am trying now free trial- having had Cyber Ghost which worked on lap top but not on PC for some reason Paid version. Tunnel Bear free didn't work on either. Tried Avast's paid tune up program - didn't do the job - say now have updated it but with PC running sweet - dont want to upset it. Now contemplating what to do Jan 20 when 7 is no longer patched.Thunderbird for email Greek Uninstaller free. All good programs and of course C Cleaner, IDM, SAS life paid, & Win Patrol old favorites. PC is old as well as Lap top but still running and both would take W10.

Posted by:

11 Oct 2019

Pablo asks about updates. I use Linux and updates for all the software come as soon as they are released. The Mozilla project is even doing some updates in the background.

if you are using windows, you can subscribe to a mail list for many programs and get a message when updates are available.

often the developers have two versions on the go with one with fewer updates (only for serious problems) to avoid having to update as regularly. security updates come out as soon as a problem is fixed.

Posted by:

11 Oct 2019

Macros from MS Excel do NOT play well with the open source free alternatives. If it's written in Excel, it will only work in Excel.

Posted by:

Ryan James
13 Oct 2019

With many "free" programs, that I have used and loved, they turn into an "opps!, you now need to pay for the things you love. Gotchya!"

Posted by:

Kenny D
13 Oct 2019

I use j.river jukebox fto play and rip audio files, and Leawo bluray player to play video and dvds.
Geek uninstaller works great. Macrium Reflect has been the most reliable imaging software for me throughout the years.

Posted by:

14 Oct 2019

I have VLC installed, but the program that I use regularly instead of that one is MPC-BE player.

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