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Where to Find Powerful Computer Programs for Free

Computer software can be frustratingly expensive.  You can occasionally qualify for a “student discount” or find yourself in some other discount-earning demographic (or convince someone who qualifies for the special price to purchase the program for you).  But these discounts are not usually that significant and you’ll still end up paying more than you want to get the programs that you think you need.

The question is: do you really need these pricey pieces of software?

Depending on the program, you may be able to find one or more free alternatives.  These so-called freeware programs are developed by groups of amateur and professional programmers and often can do most, if not all, of the same tasks that brand-name programs can do.  You can’t simply call customer service if your freeware doesn’t work as expected, but support forums and peer-created tutorials are widely available online.

People with a bit of computer savvy won’t have a problem with any one of the free programs listed below.

GIMP

Save some money

Photoshop is one of the most well-known image editing programs in the world.  It can be ridiculously expensive, especially if you buy it as part of Adobe’s Creative Suite.  However, there are free options for image editing that can do many of the same tasks as Photoshop.  The best of these alternatives in dubbed GIMP (an acronym of GNU Image Manipulation Program).  This program works on PC, Mac and Linux, and it can perform almost all of the image editing tasks that are possible with Photoshop.  GIMP users can even make vector images from scratch just like Photoshop users can.   Another member of Adobe’s stable, Illustrator, also has a free alternative.  Inkscape is an image creation and editing program that also works on PC, Mac, and Linux.  In addition to basic illustration and editing tasks, Inkscape also boasts many of the professional tools of its costly peers.  Both GIMP and Inkscape have forums and tutorials that can help novice users negotiate the learning curve.

Open Office

Open Office is one of the most useful free programs available.  In fact, I am using it to write this article right now.  Open Office is an suite of programs that can act as a free replacement for the likes of Microsoft Office and other similar, relatively high-priced office programs.  This is arguably one of the most well-developed free programs out there.  It includes a word processing program that is a very capable stand-in for Microsoft Word (it is easy to save programs in .doc format).  Open Office users can also create spreadsheets, basic illustrations and diagrams, databases, powerpoint presentations.

Audacity

Audacity is a free sound editing program that can be used to polish any type of sound recording.  People who want to perfect their podcasts or other simple recordings have been relying on audacity for a long time.  Perhaps it is not something that a professional recording studio would have on their computers, but for most simple tasks, it is more than sufficient and, of course, the cheapest option on the market.

Online PDF

What about creating .PDF files?  This basic task is a necessity for many people, from teachers and students to small business people.  Online PDF creation services like PrimoPDF can take the headache out of this process (which can indeed be a headache if you have multiple files that need to be converted into a single .pdf file).  You simply upload the file that you want to convert and enter your email address.  Primo and its free peers create the file from your uploads and then sends it to you for free via.

Pencil

Pencil is one of the most powerful (and most useful) free programs available.  It is an illustration and animation program that allows users to create and animate images using vector and bitmap graphics.  This is a useful software for people who want to create Flash-like animations for web sites (files can be saved in .swf or .mov format) or simply want a straightforward illustration program that doesn’t cost as much as Flash and its peers.  This is not the program of choice for movie or video-game animation, but for websites it is more than sufficient.

So before you decide to start spending two months worth of beer money on your next computer program purchase, look for a free alternative.  You might be surprised that you can save your money without sacrificing any quality.

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About Josh Lew Josh Lew lives in the Midwestern US when he is not traveling. He is a columnist for Gadling and has contributed to Hackwriters and Skive Magazine.

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