Expensive Software and their Free and Open Source Software Alternatives

Ouch! Those pricey software are really starting to hurt in this crumbling economy. Every year, people spend billions of dollars on propriety software when they could easily get their work done on something a lot cheaper; and by cheaper I mean free. The rapidly ascending popularity of Free and Open Source software coupled with the dampened economy has convinced many users to seek out free alternatives to propriety software they use in their day-to-day life.

While many use Free Software because they cannot afford commercially available ones, there are a few folks who refuse to use any kind of proprietary software (e.g. Richard Matthew Stallman). Whatever their reasons might be, if you’re prowling the Internet for some great free alternatives to all those expensive software, look no further.

Here’s a list of some expensive applications and their free and open source alternatives:

Photo Editing

The Expensive choice: Adobe Photoshop
Price: $629

Adobe Photoshop CS5 costs around $629, which one will surely say is quite expensive. You could buy a netbook or even a full-fledged laptop at that price. Though some people might argue that this is a tool that is used by all the pros of the digital media, it’s still quite expensive. Now, if you’re working in a professional studio, you can’t go around behaving like an evangelist trying to convert people to use FOSS alternatives. However, if you spend $629 from your pocket just to fix red-eyes in one of your recent party snaps, you could do much better than that.

The free alternative: GIMP

The best alternative to Photoshop right now is GIMP (see: Why GIMP is Better than Adobe Photoshop). Yeah, weird name I know, but they’re planning to change it soon. Anyways, coming to the main point, GIMP is Free, it’s open source and it’s easy to use. The term ‘easy to use’ itself is quite ambiguous as there is a lot of subjectivity involved in its usage; so, I’d rather prefer using the term ‘easy to learn’. Once you download and install GIMP, you can start exploring the interface or just browse through the manuals they’ve released. If you don’t have time for all that and just want to make a quick reflections-filled logo for your website, no problem. Just google the words and a list of community-made tutorials (including videos) will show up. If you’re not a visual person, you can always purchase (or freely download) books written specially for turning you from a GIMP noob to a GIMP Pro in no time.

Video Editing

The Expensive Choice: Final Cut Pro
Price: $400

If you spend tons of money just to edit that family vacation video of yours, there are some nicer alternatives for you. You can simply download free software like Openshot, Avidemux or Virtual Dub or even use Windows Movie Editor. If, of course, you’re working on a movie or a big video project, you’ll need something more professional. Now, Final Cut Pro is the de facto industry standard when it comes to video editing. The $400 Mac-only software is insanely popular amongst filmmakers and video editors. If you’re a little strapped on cash, don’t even think of investing you hard-earned money on FC Pro. And if you don’t own a Mac yet, that would simply pile up your costs taking your budget through the roof. Thankfully enough, there’s an amazing open source alternative that you can use for free.

The Free Alternative: Lightworks

Currently, the best alternative for FC Pro is Lightworks, the recently open-sourced video editor. Even though the open source version is in beta, it’s almost as stable as any other ‘professional’ software. And yes, don’t think of Lightworks as some unpopular underground software for editing enthusiasts, it is quite a well-known application that has already won the technical Emmy and Academy Awards. The Academy-nominated film (for editing) King’s Speech was edited using Lightworks. It is completely free for the moment, and you can download it any time from their website just by registering for an account.

Office Software

The Expensive choice: MS Office
Price: $384

The quintessential office software, MS Office has been used everywhere: from colleges to governments, from schools to offices; it is quite omnipresent. The professional version costs around $384, which could take an organization’s budget through the roof especially if it is a small company or a startup.

Free alternatives: LibreOffice and Google Docs

A good replacement to the dreaded MS Office is LibreOffice, which has almost all the features that Microsoft offers, plus many other unique ones. Another advantage of using LibreOffice is the fact that it’s cross-platform, so whether you’re a PC, Mac or Linux, you’ll have the same experience everywhere. If your work involves simply editing documents and low-level spreadsheets work, then you can opt for Google Docs. Having Google Docs for your organization will ensure easy collaboration between employees and clients. Recently, Google Docs has started adding offline capabilities to its apps, making it a great investment for a small organizations and startups.


The Expensive Choice: AutoCAD
Price: $949

When it comes to 2D, 3D design and drafting, AutoCAD is always the first choice. Developed by Autodesk, this Computer-Aided Design (CAD) application has been around since 1982. AutoCAD is a trusted name CAD department and has been a standard in the industry for quite a long time. However, the high price ($900+) makes it almost inaccessible for new businesses and startups that have limited budget. Thus, many FOSS developers have come out with free alternatives to AutoCAD that will be good enough for your engineering needs.

The Free Alternatives: BRL-CAD, Open CASCADE, QCAD and FreeCAD AND Varkon

If you’ve been following our site religiously, you must have noticed a small post we did about the free and open-source CAD software. The 5 alternatives, which are BRL-CAD, Open CASCADE, QCAD, FreeCAD and Varkon, offer the engineer or designer a fair amount of choice. Some of these applications are in development, and some are quite mature (e.g. BRL-CAD), so the user won’t feel that he or she is using just a poorly written copy of AutoCAD. So, quickly head over to our earlier post and choose your favorite CAD tool from the list.

N.B: Prices are from listings and are subject to change, but then again, it doesn’t really matter.

Written by: Abhishek, a regular TechSource contributor and a long-time FOSS advocate.


  1. best free CAD tool is Draftsight

  2. Cool thing about Lightworks! It will be released for Linux at 19th December 2011! Cannot wait to get it, it was very useful this post
    Thank you!