Free Alternatives to Staple Software Packages

February 15, 2011

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(Guest Post by Lindsey Wright – Thank you!)

One of the highest costs home school students face is purchasing software so that they (and their computer) are well equipped to complete assignments. Luckily, if you are a student on a budget, there are software programs that will allow you to accomplish most of your education without spending a ton of money. In recent years independent programs have developed a variety of free software packages that have replaced old staples like Microsoft Office. There are so many free software alternatives you might feel overwhelmed if you’re new to searching them out. However, there are a few programs in existence that are absolute must-haves. Read on to determine which programs are worth checking out.

  1. OpenOffice.org (OOo) is a powerful free alternative to the popular Microsoft Office Suite. The basic applications that constitute OOo include Writer, Calc, Draw, Impress, Math and Base, the former four being equivalent to MSWord, Excel, Visio and PowerPoint. The default save extensions in OOo are proprietary, such as .odt, but you can save in, and work with, MS Office formats without any compatibility issues. Similarly, the MS Word templates work well in OOo Writer, and so do the MS Office macros in OOo Calc. Yet what is best of all is that OOo runs lightly, and a single Writer document takes only about 70 MB worth of memory to run.
  2. Foobar2000 is to audio players as Bruce Lee was to martial arts. Fast, compact, simple and elegant. The philosophy behind Foobar2000 is that there should be more music and less software. Visually, the program is fairly spartan, but it can be customized easily to suit your tastes. You can change visualizations, and configure libraries and layouts to make things more comfortable. There are also a lot of components available for Foobar2000 that allow for commands such as system shut down and music scheduling.
  3. As far as burning CDs and DVDs is concerned, CDBurner XP is a great free alternative to Windows Media Player. The interface is very simple; upon opening the program you can select from Data, Audio, ISO, Copy and Erase functions. As for the functionality, you can even burn Blue-Ray and HD-DVDs with this program. From Bulgarian to Ukrainian, the language support is strong and it also runs lightly (18 MB). While CDBurner XP doesn’t come with a DVD burner, it works well and is free, which is pretty hard to beat.
  4. Foxit Reader is a worthy adversary to Adobe Reader. In fact, people who are used to Adobe Reader will feel right at home when using this program. Foxit Reader has advanced features, such as the ability to highlight text, measure and scale, and turn PDFs into text. The software is very fast as well, stable, and takes about eight MB of RAM.
  5. Hate viruses and love free anti-virus programs? Avast! Free Antivirus is an amazing piece of software, which basically runs itself. The latest interface is clean and the software flows intuitively. The program scans files and folders in real-time, as they are opened or manipulated and analyzes suspicious program behavior. Avast! Free Antivirus uses fewer than 16 MB of RAM while running casually on default settings.

These programs are easy on your system, fast and efficient. The programs are free but their combined value is immense. Microsoft Office and a subscription based Antivirus alone would cost you a couple of hundred dollars a year. In terms of usage, OOo definitely takes home the awards. The service the program provides is so critical that the fact that it’s free shouldn’t cause anyone to pass it up.


Lindsey Wright is a music educator, computer repair consultant, and substitute teacher in Washington state.


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