You've just spent a fortune on a new computer and now you need some software so that you can use it for work or study – but it looks like it's going to cost you about half as much again. Put that credit card away though, because you might not need to fork out at all if you use open source software instead.
Open source basically means that the code behind the software is publicly available – but in the past the free alternatives to big-name software packages have been clunky and lacking in functionality. Things have changed now though and here is our selection of some of the best offerings...
Time was you pretty much had to have Microsoft Word and Excel if you wanted to be able to share and work on documents created by other people. If you're just looking to do some basic – or even quite advanced - word processing and keep your accounts then check out Apache Open Office and LibreOffice. These two similar packages offer most of the functionality and much of the look-and-feel of MS software for free. They also provide great cross-compatibility the paid-for programmes – which used to be a bit hit-and-miss with open source software.
Adobe's ubiquitous Photoshop is so dominant in the world of digital photo manipulation that the title has even become a verb – as in "she looks photoshopped in that picture". However with even the basic Elements package costing £70 or more, it might be worth checking out some of the free alternatives instead. The most-popular is probably GIMP – or GNU Image Manipulation Program to give it its full name. Many of the icons are similar enough to make the transition relatively straightforward – and it's widely used enough to make finding help online easy too. If you just want to do basic image manipulation, this is probably all you need.
Digital technology allows us to take many, many more pictures than we used to in the days of film – but having 10,000 photos of your family is pointless if you've no idea how to find any of them. That's where a photo archive application comes in – and DigiKam is a really good open source option. As well as helping you organise your snaps, it can also help you create slideshows, enhance pics if you've got a spot of redeye and sync with your social media accounts. Not bad for free, eh?
Sometimes a spreadsheet (or four) just doesn't cut it and you need to turn to specialist accountancy software – especially if you're running a small business from home. But if you have simple needs then why pay for all the bells and whistles on something like Sage when there are free, open source software options which can do everything you need? GnuCash and TurboCASH are two of the most popular systems, offering the ability to track income and expenditure via a ledger and to export figures into financial reports.
Art and design
Adobe Illustrator is the stock tool for the professional graphic artist, but it's not cheap.
Inkscape is a free rival which allows users to create vector graphics in a similar style – enabling users to create charts, diagrams, designs, logos and painting-like images. It has a good reputation and as the pre-eminent free design package it has plenty of online support – including its own wiki site.
WARNING: Be careful to only download software from trusted sources with a good reputation.
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