Good news! You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for computer software! While I don’t have statistics to back this up, it has been my observation that the average home computer is used mostly for word processing and web surfing. If this sounds like you, below are some alternatives to the expensive software you may be used to.
At the time of this writing, most computers being purchased probably have the Microsoft Windows 7 operating system installed. (Hint: The software pre-loaded on computers causes price inflation)
Here is the cost of Windows 7:
|Home / Premium||$119||$199|
The Alternative: Ubuntu Linux
Distributions of Linux operating systems have been around for a long time, however they have they have lacked the user-friendly component needed to gain the support of everyday users. Ubuntu has done a good job of building a stable, user friendly operating system. Ubuntu is less taxing than Windows, so if your computer can run the Windows operating system, you’ll meet the minimum system requirements for Ubuntu with no problem. You might even find it runs faster.
Installation runs smoothly, graphical user interface is comparable to windows. However, as with any new installation, there is the risk of erasing your data if not done properly. If you are unsure, seek help. If you are shopping for a new operating system you may find that you like Ubuntu. They also have a desktop CD image you can download and burn, allowing you to run the OS from a CD without changing your computer at all. If you like it, you can permanently install later.
Level of difficulty: moderate
Maybe you’re not ready to change your entire operating system. Changing your Office Production suite can save you big bucks.
|Home / Student||N/A||$149.95|
The Alternative: Open Office
At the most basic level, these production suites are similar. Open Office does not have some of the advanced features that MS Office does (such as programming macros), but most people don’t use those anyway. Another bonus: Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents will open in Open Office! Installation is included in Ubuntu. However, it also runs on Windows.
Level of difficulty: Easy
Another Alternative: Google Docs
Another alternative to the Office Suite is Google Docs. Cloud computing is being touted as the wave of the future, but I’m not ready to trust all of my documents to Google Docs. However, if your word processing is minimal, it may be an alternative. There is also Microsoft Web apps which has Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I believe you need a Windows Live ID to access it. I haven’t used MS Web apps but it may be worth looking into.
To protect your computer, you’ll need some type of anti-virus software, especially if you run a Windows machine. This is not to pick on Windows, however the fact remains that all technical and security aspects aside, malicious users realize that the majority of users are on Windows. The top contenders are McAfee and Norton:
|McAfee AntiVirus Plus||$39.99||Norton Antivirus 2010||$39.99|
|McAfee Internet Security||$49.99||Norton Internet Security||$69.99|
|McAfee Total Protection||$59.99||Norton 360 / Ultimate Protection||$79.99|
AVG free gives you basic anti virus / anti-spyware protection. It does not hoard system resources and upgrades are also free. There is a premium version, but when I was using Windows, I’ve been satisfied with the free version.
Level of difficulty: Easy
Update: Tom from Canadian Finance mentioned another free anti-virus alternative. Thanks Tom!
Another Alternative: Microsoft Security Essentials
If you’ve ever tried to do more than crop or rotate and image with the default Windows options (such as MS Paint), you’ll quickly learn you’ll need image manipulation software.
|Adobe Photoshop CS4||$199||$699|
|Corel PaintShop Pro||$69||$99|
The Alternative: GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)
Unless you are a professional graphic designer, you probably don’t need Adobe Photoshop. It is a powerful program, but basic & intermediate image editing can be done for much less than $700! Using Photoshop for basic editing is a waste of money. There is so much untapped potential! It would be like buying a computer and only using the calculator function. PaintShop Pro is not a bad alternative for the price. But, if you can brave the learning curve GIMP is free.
Level of difficulty: intermediate / advanced
Perhaps you don’t want to substitute your software. Many companies (especially larger ones) have Hardware & Software Employee Use Programs where you are buy from vendors at deep discounted rates. Typically, this is limited to the “home”or “professional” versions (no enterprise software) of a product and you are only allowed to install on one computer while you are an employee of the company. If you leave the company, you are expected to uninstall the software. I took advantage of this program through my former IT company a few years ago and purchased Microsoft Office 2003 for $20. Vendors vary from company to company, check with your HR or Benefits department to see if your company offers any such deals.
Have you saved money on your computer software?
Have you tried any of the programs listed above?