It wasn’t long ago that Microsoft seemed to have a stranglehold on operating systems and most of the essential software programs. Those days are gone. Apple is resurgent (to say the least) and there are plenty of options to choose from when considering open source substitutes for Microsoft software. Enough, in fact, that most computer users can virtually cut all their ties to Microsoft. Here are seven of my favorites to get you started.
Let’s first deal with the elephant in the room: the operating system. Open source enthusiasts have been working on Linux since 1991 and every version is said to be more user friendly than the previous one. Well, frankly, none were very user friendly until the last several years. With versions like Ubuntu and Fedora, “user-friendly Linux” is no longer an oxymoron. And, the open source Windows emulator, Wine, lets you run Windows software.
If Microsoft Office were to disappear tomorrow, commerce around the world would come to a screeching halt, unless businesses were quick to download Open Office. This is a suite of six programs. It includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, graphics program, math equation editor and a database program. It’s available for virtually every operating system and has been around since 2002. It’s definitely the Godfather of Microsoft-slaying open source projects.
When you just need a good word processor, AbiWord might be your best bet. The latest versions run on Windows and Linux machines. It was originally developed for the Mac OSX operating system, but that support has since been discontinued. However, AbiWord version 2.4.5 can still be downloaded for Apple computers.
Here’s a substitute for Microsoft Money and Quicken. GNUCash bills itself as both a personal and small business accounting program. Users can track various bank accounts, stocks, expenses as well as income. It has a checkbook-style register so the interface is easy to learn. You can schedule transactions, and there are a number of graphs available so you can get a “picture” of your financial situation whenever it would be helpful. Small businesses can keep track of customers, vendors, jobs, invoicing, billing terms, tax information and bill payments. Investors will appreciate its ability to download stock and mutual fund prices.
Some of us can remember the browser wars, when just about every nation on Earth was struggling to make Microsoft uncouple its operating system from its Internet Explorer web browser. It gave the software developer a de-facto monopoly on web browsing. That situation has changed a lot and much of the thanks should go to Mozilla’s Firefox. This excellent web browser has been in release since late 2004. It’s available for all the major operating systems. One of the great things about Firefox is all the free add-ons that have been developed to heighten its functionality. If you need a shortcut or tool for doing something, there’s a good chance an add-on already exists that’s just what you need.
With an interface similar to Microsoft Project and the ability to open MS Project files, this free open source project management application might save businesses and individuals a good chunk of money. OpenProj runs on the Java Platform, so it can be used with virtually any operating system. However, support at times has been sketchy, so make sure it does everything you need it to do before you trust a major project to it.
The folks responsible for Firefox also have a good desktop email client, Thunderbird, and if you install the right calendar add-on, such as Sunbird or Lightning, you have yourself a substitute for Microsoft Outlook.
Chris Turberville-Tully works for an English software company that builds dashboard software solutions.