OpenSource/Cloud Software – A Better Alternative?

OpenSource/Cloud Software – A Better Alternative?

There’s been a revolution in the applications industry over the past few years, OpenSource and Cloud based applications are providing viable alternatives to established commercial software. One of the main reasons why so many people are still use commercial software such as Microsoft Office, is that they believe the only way to open a word doc for example is to use Office. Schools are also heavily marketed by the big providers and usually given software for free so children grow up on it without anyone else getting a look-in. Some tech savvy schools are starting to break the mould by providing their students with a more unbiased view on the software industry.

There is also a misconception that OpenSource and free software are substandard to commercial applications. That’s not been true for a long time, the problem with market leading commercial software is that in order to retain its leading position it has to be all things to all men whilst at the same time having enormous amounts of marketing money thrown at it, and of course, guess who’s paying for that?

The fact is that the majority of users will only use 5-10% of the functionality built into an application, would you be happy if your other assets only gave you a 5-10% return on investment? Alternative software platforms tend to be more efficient as the developers concentrate on the 80/20 rule by providing the majority of features used by the majority of people and not the advanced features used by a few. As the OpenSource community is not tied to a particular operating system, you’ll also find that most software is consistent across platforms.

As people are becoming more knowledgeable and in the current financial climate, companies are becoming more open to try something different if it provides them with a cost saving. The knock on affect is that commercial software providers have to rethink their pricing policies so it’s become a bit of a win-win situation. The point I’m trying to get across here is, commercial software can be expensive if you don’t use all the features within it, if there is a more cost effective and compatible alternative out there, why not consider it?

I’m going to provide a few examples of some of the most well-known alternatives out there, they are stable, well supported and more importantly usually fully compatible with commercial software file-types. It’s not an exhaustive list as there are websites out there dedicated to showing you the alternatives such as and I’m definitely not going down the alternative Operating System route as that’s a whole other can of worms!

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LibreOffice is the OpenSource community developed and support version of what used to be called OpenOffice. OpenOffice is now a commercial offering from Oracle/Sun.

LibreOffice is a very stable and fully featured alternative to Microsoft Office. It includes: –

  • Writer (Word)
  • Calc (Excel)
  • Impress (PowerPoint)
  • Draw (Visio)
  • Base (Access)
  • Several other more specialised applications.

It’s been around for several years now and has picked up a large following as people are looking for less expensive alternatives and those that are finding Microsoft’s Ribbon menu system difficult to use.

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Microsoft Office 365

Office 365 is Microsoft’s June 2011 released cloud based applications suite. The suite has a great price point and depending on which package you choose it includes: –

  • Web Word
  • Web Excel
  • Web PowerPoint
  • Web Access
  • Web Outlook
  • Exchange
  • Office Comms Server
  • Lync
  • SharePoint
  • Local Full Version of Office Pro 2010

Office 365 is a natural choice for anyone wanting to stay with MS Office but wanting to move to cloud based applications, some of the packages include a full copy of Office Pro 2010 is you want to work offline.

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Google Apps

Google Apps come in several varieties Free, Business, Government, Education and Not-for-profit. The applications are the same but the levels of support, storage space and security features differ accordingly.

Apps was actually launched back in 2006 so it’s been through a thorough testing period and is now not just used by SME’s and those looking for a free hotmail/yahoo email replacement. There are some large enterprises using the product such as Virgin, Land Rover, Jaguar, National Geographic and Motorola to name but a few, as well as some government agencies that are very security conscious.

Packages can include: –

  • Gmail
  • Calendar
  • Docs (Documents, Presentations, Spreadsheets, Drawings)
  • Sites (for Web and Intranet Sites)
  • Voice and Video
  • MS Office Cloud Connect (for integrating MS Office with Google Apps)

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Mozilla Thunderbird (the same people that develop FireFox) produces this excellent and well used POP/IMAP email program. This is not a replacement if you want to connect to an Exchange server though.

It’s especially useful to those people using the old and now unsupported Outlook Express.



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Yes I know, reminds me of a Tarantino film too but this is another great piece of popular software. It’s an alternative to Photoshop, Photoshop is a very expensive product although there is Photoshop Elements and that is a very cost effective.

GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program and is very well supported by the community and can open the majority of file types, it can also be “skinned” to look like Photoshop if you prefer that layout.

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MailChimp helps you design email newsletters, share them on social networks, integrate with services you already use, and track your results.

We use MailChimp for our newsletter distributions but its capable of handling much more complex campaigns and more importantly it also manages your mailing list for you, allowing people to sign-up or unsubscribe as required. I find the reporting tool is an invaluable tool to see if your campaigns are targeting the right people or not.

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Aviary is a cloud based suite of applications that’s becoming very popular especially in schools, it includes: –

  • Photo (Image, Effects & Capturing)
  • Design (Vector, Image Markup and Colour Matching)
  • Audio (Editor and Creator)

It also comes in several varieties depending on your needs – Free, Business and Education.

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Scribus is an OpenSource Desktop Publishing application and is an alternative to Microsoft Publisher or Quark for example.

Underneath a modern and user-friendly interface, Scribus supports professional publishing features, such as color separations, CMYK and Spot Color support, ICC color management, and versatile PDF creation.


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Ever wanted to easily and securely share files with someone else? Then DropBox is the tool for you, it’s basically a cloud based storage platform that allows you to upload and download files and share them with other people.

The free version of DropBox comes with 2GB of storage.


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I hope that gives you an idea of some of the great pieces of Cloud and OpenSource software that are out there. Don’t be afraid to try them you might be pleasantly surprised, plus you can then delete that dodgy copy of office you have loaded on your pc and bask in the knowledge that you’re finally no longer running illegal software!


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