Software Alternatives

Software alternatives

By Stephanie Beene and Vivi Hoang, Information Technology Lab School of Information, The University of Texas at Austin, Spring 2009.

Sure, we’ve got great student discounts on software like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite at the Campus Computer Store. But sometimes the wallet just can’t take another hit. Or Word takes forever to load. Or Photoshop seems kind of like overkill for the simple image editing you need to do.
For those cases, we offer up these software alternatives, most of them free. You don’t have to be shackled to Office or Adobe. There’s lots of great freeware out there that will get the job done. Many of them are open source, which means the application’s code is available for users to view and modify. In addition, a lot of the options are browser-based; you create and edit these files online, and can access them anywhere you can get the Internet. In many cases, these sort of online tools give you extra features, like being able to easily share your files with others or embed the files into web sites.
The resources we’ve compiled here are free unless otherwise noted. As we are few and the applications on this list many, most of them we’ve not vetted. We just wanted you to know of some possibilities out there. Try some out, see what works for you and what doesn’t. If you get a chance, stop by the lab and let us know what you think.

Microsoft Office Suite alternatives

  • Openoffice(— An open-source substitute to Microsoft Office, the Open Office suite includes software for word processing, HTML editing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, math equations and databases as well as built-in PDF export — all in a single interface.
  • Google Docs ( — This web-based app allows you to create, edit, share and upload documents, spreadsheet and presentations. Templates are included. The browser extension Google Gears will let you work in your documents offline and then sync them with online versions. You can export files into the following formats: xls, txt, csv, pdf, html and ods. You do need a Gmail account.
  • ThinkFree Office ( — For $49.95, you get apps for word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations, plus a file manager that syncs your documents on different computers. The suite is designed with compatability to Microsoft Office in mind.
  • SoftMaker Office 2006 ( ) — The free, lightweight 2006 suite (SoftMaker’s 2008 suite is $79.95) has Textmaker, a word processing app, and PlanMaker, a spreadsheet app, that can read and write Microsoft Word and Excel documents. As an added bonus, you can run the programs off your flash drive. (PC only)
  • Lotus Symphony ( - This is a free software package offered by IBM. This package includes word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software in its simplest form. Functionality can be expanded using additional "plug-ins".

Microsoft Word alternatives

  • Abisource(Abisource) — Strives for an interface very similar to Word. It also allows for importing and exporting Word (as well as OpenOffice and Word Perfect) documents and has many of the same features, like grammar check, equations and mail merge, which automates the process of making form letters. Furthermore, it’s integrated with Gnumeric, a spreadsheet application that’s also part of the GNOMEOffice suite ( (PC only)

Microsoft PowerPoint alternatives

  • 280 Slides( — This browser-based slideshow tool, which is still in beta, is described as an Apple Keynote lookalike. You can import and export PowerPoint files. Other features include the ability to embed YouTube videos and Flickr photos, as well as grab colors from the very slick Adobe Kuler color mixer (
  • Empressr ( — Make slideshows with video, audio, images and animations using this online tool. Enter data to generate charts and graphs. Empressr lets you import, edit and save PowerPoint presentations. You can also share your presentations in Empressr or embed them on other sites, plus comment on presentations.

Adobe Photoshop alternatives

  • GIMP( — Short for GNU Image Manipulation Program, this freeware can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer and an image format converter.
  • — A tiny 1.6 megabyte download, Paint.NET is still a powerful image and photo editor tool that includes layer and curve capabilities as well as unlimited history. (PC only)
  • Picnik ( — This web-based image editor (i.e., no download required) lets you fix your photos in real-time as well as incorporate text and special effects. Edit pics from your computer as well as directly your pics on sites like Flickr, Facebook and MySpace.
  • Splashup ( — Another online photo editor. Very polished interface. Tools and palettes are modeled after Photoshop. And it has layers! Allows you to capture images from your webcam or import images from sites like Picasa, Flickr and Facebook.
  • Phoenix ( — Part of the Aviary suite of creative apps, Phoenix is an online image editing tool that also offers layers and compositing (combining separate images to make one image). You can use a limited version of Phoenix free with no expiration date.
  • Adobe Photoshop Express ( — Adobe throws its own image-editing web app into the ring. You get 2 gigabytes of space for free. Unlike the real Photoshop, this web version has no ability to layer or composite images.
  • flauntR ( — Another browser-based image editor, offers a cornucopia of image tools, boasting thousands of photo effects and hundreds of fonts.
  • FotoFlexer ( — This online image editor, which has a simple interface, enables you to composite and layer images without using a traditional layers palette. Instead, you can drag the photos and “push” them back or forward.
  • Sumo Paint ( — Clones many of Photoshop’s major features in a browser window. Gives you a floating toolbox, stacked palette, color bars and familiar menu options like working with layers. Lets you load images from uploads, URLs. No sign-up required.

Adobe Acrobat Professional (for creating PDFs) alternatives

  • PDF Creator ( — Create PDF files from nearly any Windows application. You can print or e-mail those PDFs, merge PDFs, encrypt them, lock them (prevent them from being opened or printed). Use it to create other types of files, including PNG, JPG, TIFF, BMP. Auto-save files to folders and filenames based on tags, like Username, Computername, Date, Time, etc.
  • Bullzip PDF Printer ( — Works as a Microsoft Windows printer, letting you create PDF documents from virtually any Windows application. Allows you to configure quality settings and document properties, insert watermarks as well as export documents in a variety of formats, including BMP, JPG and TIF. (PC only)
  • PDF995 Suite ( — Make PDF files with the “print” command of any application. Its editing features include allowing you to combine docs into one PDF, inserting links and bookmarks and exporting data to HTML and DOC format. The app is free and ad-supported. (To get rid the ads, you pay $9.95 to $19.95.)
  • Cute PDF Writer ( — Like the other programs, works as a printer subsystem that lets you generate PDF Docs from Windows applications. (PC only)

TIP: Those with Microsoft Office 2007 can get a free plug-in from Microsoft to create PDFs. For the plug-in and instructions, go to

Adobe Illustrator alternatives