Open Source: Save Money with Free Software


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The point of this article is to point out ways to save money. There is plenty of software out there that is completely free. You can download it and begin using it immediately. We are not talking about bootleg, pirate software. We are talking about open source and free software.

Free software is software that you are allowed to download and use provided you accept the terms of the license agreement. There are many licenses software is issued under and you can investigate those for yourself. The GPL, BSD and MIT licenses are very popular.

Open source software is software that allows you to build upon and modify it. Much of the free software is also open source. For most small businesses, you may never have the need to modify software to suit your needs. The important point about software being open source is that if you decide to, you can modify the software to suit your own needs. If the software goes in a direction you do not agree with, you can have your own programmers “fork” it and make it your own product. How that works is beyond the scope of this article but the key thing to remember about open source is that it gives you flexibility that you do not typically have with off-the-shelf, commercial software.

If you are interested in what one of these programs can do, Google it and see for yourself. There is no harm in trying.

Productivity Software

Replace Microsoft Office
Most business users typically use Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. There are free options available which may not be identical, but are similar. The software can even open and save documents in the native Word and Excel formats. There have been many versions of this software available and released under different names, but currently it is called LibreOffice. LibreOffice lets you create word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, databases and more.

Replace Adobe Acrobat Pro
PDF files are very important in business and are often used as a way to send documents to other people. They are well suited for this task as they preserve how a document looks and other information like fonts and images. While I use Adobe Acrobat Pro to create my PDF documents, if you need to do it on a budget you can use a program called PDFCreator.

Replace QuickBooks or Quicken
Try GnuCash. While it may not be as good as QuickBooks, it does work. Perhaps you need to manage some bank account information. While this may not be the solution for a Fortune 500 company, it may work for your business. Importing your current data from QuickBooks is not easy, but it can be done.

Replace Photoshop
GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It has much of the functionality of Adobe Photoshop. The user interface is nowhere near as polished and a professional graphic designer might find it lacking in features but for many casual and not-so-casual users it is more than sufficient.


Replace Internet Explorer
Install Firefox. This is probably the most well known software of any in this article. Back in the day most people used Netscape and then transitioned to Internet Explorer. Now many people are choosing to use Firefox or one of the many other browsers available.

Replace Outlook
Thunderbird is a fully functional email client. It is made by the same people who make Firefox. It may not be Outlook, but it provides much of the same functionality.

Replace your FTP Client
Many of you probably do not use FTP but I thought this should make the list as it is an excellent program. Use FileZilla for transferring files across the internet. It is more reliable than many programs you are able to purchase.

Replace Remote Desktop
If you have the need to remotely control another computer VNC is a good choice. You can share your screen with someone else, or even troubleshoot their machine remotely. There are many versions of VNC out there and some of them may suit your needs.

Audio and Video

Replace ProTools, or not
If you need to modify sound files you can use a program called Audacity. If you edit audio professionally you probably use ProTools. If you need to do some casual editing Audacity may suit your needs.

Replace Final Cut Pro or Premiere, or not
Sure, it is no Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, but Open Movie Editor does provide the basic functionality you need to edit video. If you are interested in learning about video editing and want to get started for free, this is a good start.

Replace Quicktime Player or Windows Media Player
VLC is a media player that opens and plays many different formats. This can be a suitable replacement for QuickTime Player as well as Windows Media Player.

Replace your video conversion software
Handbrake is a program for converting video into different formats. It supports many file formats. You do not necessarily need to buy expensive software to convert video as Handbrake might serve your needs.

Replace 3D Studio Max, or not
Need to make a 3D model? Most professional solutions are very expensive. If you need to make a casual 3D model of whatever, look no further than Blender. If you are interested in learning some of the fundamentals of creating 3D models and rendering this is a good place to start.


Encrypt your data
Perhaps you have employees that travel with laptops. Using encryption software like Truecrypt can help protect your private data in the event a computer is seized or stolen.

Replace WinZip
Need to make zip files? Try 7-Zip. It has more options than WinZip and is free.

Replace your Antivirus software
ClamAV is good software and runs on a variety of operating systems. It may not be Norton Antivirus, but it offers good detection and is widely used. It probably uses less memory as well.

Replace Notepad or TextEdit
If it is good enough for many programmers, then it is probably good enough for you. Notepad++ is a text editor that has many options and is a major improvement over something like Notepad that comes standard on your Windows machine.

The Downside

Much of the software does not have adequate manuals or support. Sometimes using open source and free software can require some “tinkering”. For many corporate environments the lack of support options can cause it not to be used. If you find a bug in some commercial software package you can call and complain to the company. With free software you may not have a number to call, only an email list where you can make a nice request to get the issue fixed. If you have in house software development expertise you could make the fix yourself.

Balance the cost (no money, just time) with the functionality and in many cases you end up ahead.


Much of the open source and free software mentioned here is very functional. In most cases it is not quite as good as the commercial equivalent. But for many users it is sufficient. As a computer professional, I primarily use the commercial packages as they do offer more features. The free packages mentioned here are being improved often and for many users provide all that is needed.

I would like to close this article with a thought for you to help explain how this software can be useful. Imagine you are hiring an intern for the summer. You probably do not want to shell out thousands of dollars to buy another computer and load it with software. You can take some old machine out of your storage closet, load it up with free software and turn them loose. No cost to you and your intern has the basic tools they need for their job.

If you are going to try a new category of software in many cases it can be a good idea to start with a free package and see if it meets your needs. As you learn what you need out of a program you can then evaluate if your funds are well spent buying a commercial software package.

About the author

Bob Lindquist is an expert consultant with extensive experience building web sites, databases and performing internet marketing work for his clients.  He has over 20 years of experience working with clients from a wide variety of industries along with a degree in Computer Science.  Bob is a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

In his free time, Bob is a volunteer Firefighter / EMT and has served on the boards of several not-for-profit groups.

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