Friday, March 13, 2009

For the Cyber Savvy Mommy.

10 free alternatives to popular, pricey programs -

You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on programs like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. You can find free feature-rich alternatives online. Don't let the fact that they're free dissuade you from trying them. These programs are terrific. Why do people create free programs? Many programmers believe software should be free. TIPS: Ask Kim

The following are some of Kin's favorite freebies. But you can download them and explore the features yourself. You'll find download links at

Create documents, spreadsheets and more...

Microsoft Office is the de facto standard office suite. You probably use it at work, but that doesn't mean you need it at home. The free OpenOffice includes a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation program and is compatible with Microsoft Office files formats.

Download e-mail - OpenOffice doesn't contain a Microsoft Outlook equivalent. You'll need to look elsewhere for a program to manage e-mail. Mozilla's free Thunderbird offers many of the same e-mail features as Outlook.

Manage appointments with a calendar - Lightning is a free calendar add-on for Thunderbird. Or download Sunbird. It provides the same features as Lightning in a free standalone program.

Lay out professional documents - Scribus is much like Microsoft Publisher or Adobe InDesign. You'll get professional-quality page layouts in a free easy-to-use program.

Edit photos - Photoshop is the Holy Grail for many photographers. However, the $600 price tag puts it out of reach of many. You don't need to settle for a lesser photo editor. The free GIMP rivals Photoshop in terms of features — and complexity!

Refine your drawing skills - Like Photoshop, illustration programs can be quite costly. You can spend hundreds of dollars on Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw. Inkscape lacks some advanced features, but is a worthy free contender. Inkscape is compatible with many different file types.

Be creative with graphics - Microsoft Paint is included with Windows. It isn't a serious graphics program, but many casual users rely on it. In contrast, the free Tux Paint is specifically designed for children. Large buttons make it easy to create drawings and graphics.

Edit digital videos - The professional-grade Adobe Premiere video-editing program is more powerful than most people need. Avidemux is free and ideal for home users. It simplifies the video-editing process and works with a variety of file formats.

Design Web pages - Do you want to create your own website? I recommend a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) HTML editor. You can design Web pages without learning any coding. Dreamweaver is a popular WYSIWYG editor, but you'll get the same features with the free Nvu.

Create PDF files - PDF files can be read on virtually any computer without formatting inconsistencies. Most people won't use Adobe Acrobat enough to justify its price. Enter the free PDFCreator. PDFCreator resides in your printer list. Install it and select it as a printer to convert a file to PDF. However, PDFCreator does not let you edit PDF files.

Manage your money - Every household and business needs an accounting program to manage finances. TurboCASH is much like QuickBooks.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet. To get the podcast or find the station nearest you, visit: To subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters, sign up at: Contact her at

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