Open Source Alternatives to Commercial Programs

Posted by: Rea Maor In: Misc - Friday, April 13th, 2007

A little look-up guide to commercial programs and their open source equivalents – with a little taste of how they’re doing:

  • Microsoft Office to Open Office – In Open Office, there is almost a one-to-one perfect match between the programs in this and the Microsoft Office packages. OO Spreadsheet to Excel, OO Presentation to Powerpoint, and OO Word Processor to MS Word. If all you need is a word document processor, you might also check out ABIWord. ABIWord is just one program rather than a suite, but can handle everything from Rich Text Format to HTML, TeX, and weird exotic stuff like Palm Document and Applix. On the whole, Open Office is close enough to Microsoft office for most home user purposes. The exception is Presentation, which is behind on features and stability to Powerpoint so far.
  • MSN, AOL, Yahoo Messenger to Pidgin (formerly Gaim) – Gaim had to change its name to Pidgin following a trademark dispute. If all you want to do is use the basic messenger services, Gaim will do just fine. But the various extra features of the commercial Instant Messenger programs, such as avatars and email integration, are always going to be ahead. It seems that those Free Software types are more likely to chat in IRC or ICQ or something equally geeky. It goes like this: “Can I write scripts in it? Then I’ll stick with IRC, thanks.” So IM programs don’t get as much popularity in the open source world.
  • Adobe Photoshop to Gimp – We gave that it’s own post here. Best to keep the giants in their own room, where they can’t stomp on the rest of the threads!
  • Adobe Illustrator to Inkscape and SodipodiInkscape is praised far and wide in the open source world. For once, this is an open source program that gets no complaints about its interface – if you’ve used Illustrator, you can almost use Inkscape with your eyes closed. However, Inkscape is less powerful. If you want a feature-to-feature match to Illustrator, Sodipodi is more powerful, but more bulky and cumbersome as well. Inkscape supports plugins to provide additional features, but you need some witchcraft involving the PyGTK library to support those.
  • Internet Explorer to Firefox – Of course I’m kidding. Firefox beats Internet Explorer inside, outside, and all around. Fewer security exploits, tons of features, customizable down to the last pixel, themes, plug-ins, and tabbed browsing years before the IE. What’s that you say? Firefox is a memory-hog? We-e-ell, maybe. These days, the web browser is becoming the whole point of having a computer for most home users – how much of your computer time do you not have a web browser open?
  • Microsoft Outlook to Thunderbird – Quick, before everybody switches to GMail and makes this discussion meaningless, Thunderbird is a close competitor to Microsoft Outlook. What is important to you in an email client? If it’s security, Thunderbird leaves Outlook eating dust. The Bayesian spam filter in Thunderbird is native and efficient, where Outlook needs a separate program. But what if it’s features that you want, such as calendar integration, powerful filtering and searching, image blocking, and a host of other little conveniences? Back to Outlook you go, then.

In summary: It is important to understand the “why” behind the way open source programs do things. For one thing, open source programs start on an open-source system, which is usually a Unix version. So, take email clients for example. Unix owned email before Microsoft was even founded, so less attention was paid to GUI-based email clients at the outset. Most Unix users would just as soon manage their email from the command line or something really crazy-geeky like getting Usenet feeds in Emacs. The assumption is that you don’t really need powerful email searching in a GUI client – why don’t you just write your own Bash script to use ‘grep’? So the ‘geek assumption’ is still with open source programs.

Another factor is the lack of standardization of interfaces. Whereas getting your programs all from a couple of vendors ensures that the interfaces will all blend together, the open source world tends to be kind of an anarchy, where every developer invents their own ideas of what the interface should be like. This doesn’t have as much effect when the programs are all from one development group – so Gnome and KDE programs all work together more coherently.

In the end, the right solution is up to the individual user.

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3 Responses to “Open Source Alternatives to Commercial Programs”

  1. Rehuel Says:

    Great idea for a post. Hope you don’t mind me copying the idea.

    By the way, the official name is ( It seems as there is a company in the Netherlands called Open Office (, so the developers decided to go for one global name. If it could not be used in the Netherlands, then they would change the name. So they branded the “.org” with the product.

    I can’t find the link on the site (maybe because it’s 5am and I have not seen my bed yet) but I found some explanatory link in Dutch

  2. Rea Maor Says:

    No.. no.. feel free to copy the idea, just remember to give Credit 🙂

  3. From Windows to Ubuntu: Alternative software | Rehuel punt kom Says:

    […] I need to make a note that the idea for this article was drawn from Rea Maor’s article Open Source Alternatives to Commercial Programs. […]

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