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Top proprietary programs and their Open Source alternatives | Loop and Break

Top proprietary programs and their Open Source alternatives

The following fifty proprietary programs are listed in no particular order within broad categories along with their open source alternatives. In some cases you could probably write your own book on frustrations with the proprietary programs shown here. In other cases, you’ll discover that the open source alternative isn’t quite up to snuff yet. And, in other cases still, you’ll learn that some proprietary programs are real gems, but that the open source advocate can replace those gems with equally shiny objects from the open source repertoire.


  1. Windows Vista OS to Ubuntu OS: This is Microsoft’s operating system (OS), and even Microsoft fans have become disillusioned with this product. Open source OS alternatives have expanded; but these OS often are difficult for the average user to install, learn, and operate. Why deal with it when Ubuntu has become so easy to use that even the most computer illiterate can jump into this operating system with very little time spent on a learning curve? In fact, users can purchase a Dell computer with Ubuntu already installed. Remember, however, that when it comes to using open source software that the open source community often focuses on applications that can be used through Windows, Mac, Linux, or Unix with the majority seemingly devoted to Windows.
  2. Internet Explorer Browser to Firefox Browser: Sure, Internet Explorer (IE) is free; but, that’s because it comes packaged with Windows’ operating systems. Free is far different from open source software, where users have more control over how that software works. While you might feel more comfortable with a proprietary operating system, you can still use an open source browser like Mozilla’s Firefox, an exceptional product that expands its use with ‘add-ons‘ created by avid users.

Office Suites

  1. Microsoft Office to OpenOffice: If the price makes you feel that Microsoft has worked you over, then switch! If you compare Microsoft’s Office with other products, then you’re looking for something that includes an email client, a word processor, a spreadsheet tool, and a multimedia presentation application. The only product that provides a competitive edge against Microsoft is Google (that includes Gmail, Google Docs, Google Presentation and more). But, some would argue that Google isn’t truly open source. So, the next best bet alternative would be OpenOffice, an open source project that includes everything you’d find in Microsoft Office except the email client.
  2. Mactopia to NeoOffice: Another Microsoft office suite, but this time meant for MacIntosh computers. Try NeoOffice instead. NeoOffice® is a full-featured set of office applications, including word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database programs for Mac OS X. This suite is based on the OpenOffice.org office suite, but it has integrated dozens of native Mac features and can import, edit, and exchange files with other popular office programs such as Microsoft Office.

Office Tools

  1. MathWorks MATLAB to Scilab: MATLAB is a highly used application for numerical computing. It provides a programming language that allows users to work with numbers in any possible way imaginable through visualization. Scilab is the open source alternative to MATLAB, and it provides visualization of numerical data just as MATLAB does. Scilab is partly compatible with MATLAB, and both tools are suited for Windows, Linux, and UNIX.
  2. Microsoft Access to Kexi: Microsoft Access is a versatile tool for creating database-driven applications and to maintain office or personal data. Access contains an embedded database engine, but it also connects to other databases through ODBC. On the other hand, Kexi allows users to design forms to gain access to and to create data, just like Access. Kexi also contains an embedded database engine and it can import data to Microsoft Access databases. Plus – Kexi is open source, whereas Access belongs to Microsoft.
  3. Microsoft Word to OpenOffice Writer: If you want to break that office suite down and begin to replace the suite item by item, then you can start with this product first. Writer is the word processor component of the OpenOffice.org software package that is similar to Microsoft Word, and with a roughly equivalent range of features. Writer can be used across a variety of platforms, including Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris. Writer also includes the ability to export Portable Document Format (PDF) files with no additional software, and can also function as a WYSIWYG editor for creating and editing web pages. One plus over Word is that Writer carries functions and number formats in its tables from Calc, OpenOffice’s spreadsheet application.
  4. Microsoft Excel to OpenOffice Calc: Another Microsoft product, Excel still carries its productivity pluses as a spreadsheet, but it no longer carries an air of absolute necessity. Google’s Docs can bring an online, sharing atmosphere to your spreadsheets now. As for a truly open source product that can replace Excel, try OpenOffice.org Calc. This tool provides full spreadsheet functionality incl. a huge number of statistical and scientific functions, pivot tables and charts.
  5. Microsoft Visio to Dia: Visio actually is a great application that allows users to go from complicated text and tables that are hard to understand to diagrams that communicate information at a glance. The only thing that spoils the context is the fact that this software is that it’s not open source. Instead, use Dia, a GTK+ based diagram creation program for Linux, Unix and Windows released under the GPL license. Dia was ‘roughly’ inspired by Visio, which should make this tool easy for transition.


  1. Blackboard to Moodle: Blackboard has been the CMS (Course Management System) ‘industry standard’ for educational purposes for many years. This program allows instructors to build courses, manage student workloads, and more. But Moodle has gained significant ground as an open source alternative to Blackboard, as it helps educators to create effective online learning communities in a scalable package that costs nothing to use.
  2. Box to Cabos: If you’re into file sharing, you’ve probably heard of Box.net, if not used them. Not only can you share files, Box allows you to store your files securely online, allowing you to access them from any computer, phone or mobile device for a fee. Cabos, another file sharing program that’s open source, provides simple sidebar user interface, firewall to firewall transfers, proxy transfers, Universal Plug and Play, iTunes + iPod integration, “What’s New?” searches, international searches, and more. All you need is Windows 2000 or later. Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later. Mac OS 8.6 or later. Granted, you don’t have the file storage capacity, but at least you can share files with Cabos without that extra storage capacity.
  3. Microsoft Project to Open Workbench: Microsoft allows users to control project work, schedule, and finances, and effectively communicate project data to other users. But, it costs to do that with Microsoft. Instead, use open source Open Workbench to accomplish exactly the same project details for free. When users need to move beyond desktop scheduling to a workgroup, division or enterprise-wide solution, they can upgrade to CA’s Clarity™ system, a project and portfolio management system that offers bidirectional integration with Open Workbench.
  4. Mindjet to FreeMind: Mindmapping is a way to share ideas among individuals and groups for productivity. This type of activity takes time, but it saves time. So why should you pay for a product when you can save money by using FreeMind? This latter product will accomplish all the Mindjet does and more. That “more” is the fact that FreeMind is open source.

Graphic Programs

  1. Adobe Illustrator to Inkscape: Adobe’s vector drawing system is one of the best in the industry. However, like Photoshop, the price can be prohibitive for some designers and artists. Try Inkscape instead, an open source vector graphics editor similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X. Inkscape uses the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format and it supports many advanced SVG features (markers, clones, alpha blending, etc.). Finally, the streamlined interface is easy to use to edit nodes, perform complex path operations, trace bitmaps and much more.
  2. Adobe PhotoShop to GIMP: Even if you’re paying for upgrades instead of the original package, the price for Adobe’s Photoshop can be prohibitive for some photographers and graphic designers. Try GIMP to see if this open source tool can’t provide you with all the power you need for your photography and graphic design needs. GIMP stands for Gnu Image Manipulation Program, and it’s the solution that comes closest to emulating the Photoshop environment.
  3. Adobe Premiere to Avidemux: Premier is state of the art real-time non-linear video editing for any format including High Definition (HD). Supports 16-bit color resolution, GPU accelerated rendering for faster effects and even advanced DVD authoring. On the other hand, Avidemux provides Windows, Mac, and Linux users with an easy-to-use open source tool for DVD/DivX converting and editing. Avidemux also has scripting support for automation and even offers DVD authoring with the addition of the open source software, dvdauthor.
  4. AutoCAD to Archimedes: AutoCAD is an AutoDesk tool used by any designer who creates design drafts – mostly architects. Archimedes is an open source computer aided design (CAD) alternative that focuses primarily on architectural design. AutoCAD definitely has the winning score thus far, but Archimedes shows promise. The latter program contains all the drawing features a designer would need, but its interoperability is weak. Designers still can export scalable vector graphics, so there’s a real market for this open source tool (this opinion isn’t based upon Archimedes’ newest release).
  5. Microsoft PowerPoint to OpenOffice Impress: You can make a move away from this Microsoft tool with the use of Google’s Presentation or with OpenOffice’s Impress. Both tools represent full-featured presentation applications that allow users to create and modify diagrams and pictures right within the application.
  6. Microsoft Paint to Tux Paint: While not a serious graphics program, it is widely used by many computer users, mostly children Try Tux Paint instead of Paint, as this open source product stands apart from typical graphics people edit software (such as GIMP or Photoshop) in that it was designed to be usable by children as young as 16 months of age. The user interface is meant to be intuitive, and utilizes icons, audible feedback and textual hints to help explain how the software works.
  7. TruSpace to Blender: Caligari offers a range of products that enable designers and artists to produce 3D images – at a hefty price. Blender, on the other hand, provides one tool that provides full multiresolution sculpting capabilities with 2D bitmap/3D procedural brushes (Paint, Smooth, Pinch, Inflate, Grab) supporting symmetry. And, that’s just the beginning of Blender’s capabilities. This open source software is free to download and use.

Web Editors

  1. Adobe GoLive CS2 to Mozilla SeaMonkey: GoLive is an integral part of the Adobe Creative Suites products, so it works with your InDesign documents and allows those documents to be converted to Web pages. But, you might want to try Mozilla’s SeaMonkey before you commit to the total Adobe suite option. The Mozilla SeaMonkey project includes a Web-browser, email and newsgroup client, HTML authoring program and IRC chat client. The Composer is simple but it handles tables, CSS, positioned layers and more without sweat. Add-ons currently include Scribefire, the blog blog editor that integrates with your browser and lets you easily post to your blog.
  2. Adobe Dreamweaver to NVU: While this tool is a powerful WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) HTML editor, other options exist that can save money. NVU (pronounced N-view, for a “new view”) is a complete Web Authoring System for Linux Desktop users as well as Microsoft Windows users to rival programs like FrontPage and Dreamweaver. Use NVU to create Web pages and manage a Website with no technical expertise or knowledge of HTML.
  3. Macromedia Flash Professional to OpenLaszlo: Developers use Flash to create multimedia events on the Web. Since the program utilizes vector-based graphics, it provides a venue that goes beyond the Web. As an open source product, OpenLaszlo provides developers with a platform to create zero-install Web applications with user interface capabilities of desktop client software. In other words, OpenLaszlo applications developed on one machine will run on all leading Web browsers on all leading desktop OS. These applications, like Flash, provide animation, layout, data binding, server communication and more.
  4. Microsoft FrontPage to Bluefish: While not as powerful as Dreamweaver, FrontPage is a widely used proprietary application used to create Web pages. Take a gander at this list to understand your many open source options for HTML editors. Try Bluefish as one option that can save you money and, possibly, time.
  5. Windows Notepad to ConTEXT: Yes, you can get the world’s most versatile HTML editing tool absolutely FREE when you purchase Windows version 2.0 and above. But, why would you want to do that when you can work with open source ConTEXT? This application is a small, fast and powerful freeware programmers text editor, developed to serve as a secondary tool for software developers.
  6. Altova XMLSpy to XML Copy Editor: XMLSpy is one of the most popular XML editors on the market today. Its editing features and support for both schema and DTD development along with XSLT, XQuery and XPath development make it an ultimate XML tool. As an open source alternative, XML Copy Editor is a versatile XML editor primarily focused on text editing with XML files. However, XML Copy Editor provides many other features including validation of DTD and XML schemas – as well as XSLT and XPath with tag-free editing. Both tools are Windows applications.


  1. Adobe Acrobat to PDFCreator: Yes, you have a free trial to create a PDF through Adobe. However, this PDFCreator easily creates PDFs from any Windows program. Use it like a printer in Word, StarCalc or any other Windows application.
  2. Adobe Framemaker to DocBook: Adobe Framemaker software represents a powerful authoring and publishing solution for technical communicators who want to author and publish technical documentation in multiple languages. While this software is reliable, so is DocBook, an open source publishing tool. Additionally, you have access to all the free wikis and documentation that shows how to install, use, and customize the tools and stylesheets.
  3. Microsoft Publisher to Scribus: When it comes to Desktop Publishing (DTP) Microsoft’s Publisher provides more control over document elements than Microsoft Word through a DTP-oriented approach. However, professional users still consider this program an entry-level application. Since it’s part of the Microsoft Office Package, many users will find its costs negligible as well. With that said, Scribus offers an open source DTP alternative. Scribus brings award-winning professional page layout to Linux/Unix, MacOS X, OS/2 and Windows desktops with a combination of “press-ready” output and new approaches to page layout. Scribus supports professional publishing features, such as CMYK color, separations, ICC color management and versatile PDF creation.


  1. AIM to Pidgin: Give it up. AIM, AOL’s Instant Messenger, no longer rules. The open source alternative is Pidgin, a multi-protocol Instant Messaging client that allows you to use all of your IM accounts at once. Let’s break that down: No matter if you use Windows, Linux, BSD, and other Unixes. You can talk to your friends using AIM, ICQ, Jabber/XMPP, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, IRC, Novell GroupWise Messenger, QQ, Lotus Sametime, SILC, SIMPLE, MySpaceIM, and Zephyr. Can AIM do that? No? Well, then.
  2. FeedDemon to RSS Bandit: FeedDemon for Windows constantly searches through feed search engines with keyword-generated searches as well as generalized searches. It also allows offline reading as it ‘prefetches’ your subscribed feeds. NewsGator also synchronizes with FeedDemon so you can gain access to news without your computer. Except for the fact that FeedDemon isn’t open source, it’s an ideal, robust reader. But, for open source fanatics, RSS Bandit provides an equally robust alternative RSS and Atom reader that allows you to keep track of all of the news feeds you follow. Its newspaper view can be customized and the templates are compatible with those used in FeedDemon. Plus, RSS Bandit allows you to synchronize everything with NewsGator online. Finally, RSS Bandit also provides access to news on news servers (similar to Google Groups) – it uses NNTP to read and post to newsgroups anywhere on the net. It integrates to Google Groups by linking to posts on their website.
  3. Microsoft MSN Messenger to aMSN: Microsoft offers MSN Messenger to the masses as freeware on Windows, and it’s grown from a simple IM application into a trendsetter in a competitive market. Features include voice and video chatting, gaming, remote support – on top of that it allows connection through mobile devices when you are not near a computer. aMSN, the open source Windows alternative to MSN, aims to mimic its proprietary competitor as much as possible. Most of its extra features are added through plug-ins. You can add, at your leisure, POP3 email support and translation, voice clips, Webcam support, Chat logs, Conferencing support and more.
  4. Microsoft Outlook to Thunderbird: Say that you decided to switch to OpenOffice, but you need an email client to replace Microsoft’s Outlook. Try Mozilla’s Thunderbird, an application that carries a similar interface and that is easy to use. Additionally, you can use Lightning to integrate Mozilla’s Sunbird calendar application with Thunderbird.
  5. Skype to Wengophone: Skype is a very strong freeware internet VoIP (Voice over IP) product in the telecommunications industry. It started with a simple and free PC-to-PC telephony, but today offers full integration with existing telephone systems. Skype today also offers voicemail, video conversations and sending SMSs. Its open source alternative, WengoPhone, also provides free PC-to-PC calls as well as chat and video conferencing. Created by Wengo, this phone also can provide SMS and call-out features that allow users to communicate with any phone at reasonable prices.


  1. iTunes to Songbird: If you’re accustomed to the equation where “Apple + iPod + iTunes” equals a ton of money, then you might consider a switch to Songbird. Songbird is an open source player and a platform committed to “playing the music you want + from the sites you want + on the devices you want.” Songbird thereby challenges the conventions of discovery, purchase, consumption and organization of music on the Internet.
  2. Nero Burning Rom to K3b: Nero Burning Rom is a popular tool to burn CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. This software includes backup, cd copying, audio features and more, and it’s easy to use. But, it’s not open source like K3b (Windows). This latter program creates and burns CDs and DVDs, including ripping with DivX/XviD encoding, DVD copy, ISO burning, Video CD (VCD) creation, Audio CD creation for almost any audio file, CD-TEXT support for audio CDs, support for DVD-RW and DVD+RW and much more. Oh, and did we add that it was easy to use?
  3. Quicktime to Darwin Streaming Server: Apple’s QuickTime 7 Pro is good for everything from creating podcasts to transcoding media in more than a dozen formats. And, the software isn’t that expensive when compared to other products. But, why not use an open source application that shares the same code base as Quicktime Streaming Server? Darwin Streaming Server is an open source project that’s perfect for developers who need to stream QuickTime and MPEG-4 media on platforms such as Windows, Linux, and Solaris.
  4. TiVo Desktop to Galleon.tv: Tivo-to-Go users were disappointed to discover that their Tivo software wouldn’t work with Windows Vista. Some answers to this problem included spending more time and money on various solutions that might work to restore that software’s functionality. One solution included using the open source software, Galleon, instead of trying to “fix” Tivo or Windows Vista. Galleon is a free open source media server for the TiVo® DVR which allows you to enjoy many kinds of content and interactive applications right on your TV. The server runs on your home computer and organizes your media collection so that they can be viewed on your home network. Galleon also brings Internet content and applications to your TV.
  5. Windows Media Player to Miro: This application seems ubiquitous…no matter what you try to open, Windows Media Player is in your face, right? Well, replace that in-your-face attitude with Miro, an open source program that turns your computer into an internet TV. Miro has 2,500 unrestricted channels with a huge selection of HD content. Plus, you have access to any publisher with video RSS feeds, including anyone on YouTube, Revver, Blip, and many, many more.


  1. CuteFTP to Filezilla: Sure, CuteFTO is cute, but it’s not free. Sure, it’s reliable, but so are many other File Transfer Protocol applications. Try Filezilla, a fast FTP and SFTP client for Windows with tons of features – easy to install, easy to use, very reliable, secure, and open source.
  2. iBackup to ZManda: Who can you trust with your backup files? It’s difficult to decide, as price alone means nothing. You want safe, reliable servers or tools that can keep your backups available and intact. iBackup has proven to be worthy of that task, but you might want to look at ZManda as well. This open source solution protects more than half a million of servers and desktops running various versions of Linux, UNIX, BSD, Mac OS-X and Microsoft Windows operating systems worldwide. Not only do they backup information, they’re into recovery as well.
  3. Norton Ghost to Partition Image: Norton Ghost isn’t a shabby backup system, as it’s a complete tool that backs up everything but the kitchen sink. If you have a complete disk failure, Norton Ghost can bring it back to life on a new hard disk (although you don’t need to make a complete backup every time). You can take this backup to external drives, CDs or DVDs. If you’re an open source advocate, however, Norton Ghost doesn’t cut the cake. You’ll want something like Partition Image (for Linux) or Ghost for Unix (G4U) for Windows or Unix users. Both tools are disk cloners that act differently, but they’re as robust as Norton Ghost. Read more at their respective Web sites before you make the jump. (For a complete rescue disk including Partition Image see SystemRescueCd).
  4. Rational Purify to Valgrind: IBM’s Purify is a well respected and much used debugging tool. It uses topnotch memory corruption and memory leak detection to keep hard-to-find bugs from any application. As an open source alternative, Valgrind also detects leaks and other memory related programming errors. But, it also detects threading bugs and includes a call-graph profiler that detects bottlenecks in code. as well as threading bugs. A user might say that Valgrind is better than Purify, even if it is open source.
  5. WinZip to 7-Zip: Some of us grew up with WinZip, so it’s sad to say goodbye. But, we all gotta leave home at some point, and when the open source 7-Zip beckons, maybe you should heed the call…


  1. Kaspersky Anti-Virus Personal to Winpooch: Kaspersky Anti-Virus probably is among the top products on the market for Windows-based anti-virus tools, mainly because it’s well known for its outstanding detection rates. It commits to multiple tasks as it protects against viruses, script viruses, checks file archives (such as zip files) and removes viruses from mail. It also provides protection against spyware as well as adware. As an open source alternative, however, Winpooch also scans files on your computer, detects malware, and prevents all the viruses, trojan horses and other problems that Kaspersky hunts down as well. Winpooch, by the way, adds a real-time scanning capability that ClamWin (noted below) lacks.
  2. McAfee VirusScan to ClamWin: McAfee is well known as one of the oldest companies in the anti-virus market. Many individuals need to deal with this software company, as its tools come packaged with many new Windows OS computer systems. The plus side to McAfee is that it is reliable and that it offers 24/7 support. The downside is that it’s not open source. ClamWin, on the other hand, is a free Antivirus for Microsoft Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/2003. It features high detection rates, scheduler, automatic download of virus database updates and a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook. As noted above, ClamWin doesn’t provide on access realtime scanning, but when combined with WinPooch, this capability is added.
  3. Norton Personal Firewall to WIPFW: Many people could work with Norton in their sleep, as this company has been around that long. The Norton Personal Firewall for Windows will monitor and check all Internet traffic and it will reject any attack or intrusion attempt. Ubiquitous popups and permissions are part of the game, as it seems that each new Website carries its own set of Norton no-nos. As an alternative, WIPFW is a firewall for Windows based on IPFW for FreeBSD UNIX. It provides virtually the same features, functionality, and user interface as Norton Personal Firewall. The big difference? WIPFW is open source.


  1. Authorize.net to OpenSSL: Granted, Authorize.Net’s preferred payment gateway connection, Advanced Integration Menthod (AIM), provides the highest level of customization and security to merchants for submitting transactions online. But, why pay for a secure SSL when you can get an open source product for free? The OpenSSL Project is a collaborative effort to develop a robust, commercial-grade, full-featured, and Open Source toolkit implementing the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL v2/v3) and Transport Layer Security (TLS v1) protocols as well as a full-strength general purpose cryptography library. A worldwide community of volunteers uses the Internet to communicate, plan, and develop the OpenSSL toolkit and its related documentation manages the project.
  2. Microsoft Money (Plus) to TurboCash: While Microsfot Money Plus is much more than a personal accounting software, Turbocash can boast that claim plus more. Turbocash is open source and free to use. In fact, you might compare TurboCash more to Quickbooks than to Microsoft Money. However, as a personal finance tool, TurboCash is much more user-friendly to the average home budgeter than Compiere.
  3. Quickbooks to Compiere: Few people are unfamiliar with Quickbooks, as this software has made its way into many a small business computer. If you feel that few opportunities exist to switch, think again. Compiere, produced by Global Era, provides one solution to open source ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solutions for any small to large business. Compiere 3.0 marks the introduction of Compiere Professional Edition, a new premium offering targeted at larger organizations that require more advanced services and commercial licensing from Compiere.


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