After you delete the demo-ware on your new PC, what then?

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A few of us have been talking about what it takes to build a workable machine, with as little interference from Microsoft, and at the lowest cost. The vast array of productivity software out there that is free (or nearly so) means that many people are no longer bound to live under the oppressive rule of Microsoft’s overpriced regime.

For obvious reasons, we favor the MacOS for ourselves; but if you already have non-Mac hardware or are simply trying to outfit a new(er) machine without killing your bank account, here are some staples to be aware of. For those looking to replace Windows outright, look into Ubuntu and Linspire, two flavors of Linux that are doing well to serve the needs of desktop users that aren’t uber-geeks.

Check the chart and hit the download links to find great FREE software for Macs (M), Windows (W), and Linux (L) configurations:

Application M W L
OpenOffice, an office suite that will save you $400 (that’s what Microsoft’s version costs — this one is free). Mac users should try NeoOffice, the most ‘Mac-like’ OpenOffice build. Applications include:

  • Writer: word processor
  • Calc: spreadsheet
  • Impress: multimedia presentations (can also export to SWF)
  • Draw: simple diagrams to dynamic 3D illustrations
  • Base: database
  • Math: equation editor
NVU, a web authoring replacement for FrontPage and DreamWeaver. UPDATE070927: NVU is no longer in development by the folks; someone has taken up the code and rebranded it to continue development efforts — find KompoZer at For those who prefer to do their web development in a non-WYSIWYG editor, look at TextWrangler for the Mac and PSPad for Windows. M W L
GIMP, the ‘Graphic Image Manipulation Program’, which is a full-on competitor to Adobe’s Photoshop — and even allows the use of plugins designed to work with Photoshop. (MacOS version requires X11; see site for details.) There is a ‘wrapper’ built for the GIMP that makes it look and behave more like Photoshop, so your skills will translate. Find it at M W L
Picasa is Google’s knock-off of Apple’s bundled iPhoto — some users even like it better. W L
ClamWin is a Windows package of the popular ClamAV, available for Linux and other UNIX variants). Mac users should try the nifty front-end, ClamXav. M W L
Pidgin (formerly known as GAIM) is a multi-network chat client that lets you connect to friends on MSN, AIM, Yahoo, Jabber, ICQ, and others in a single ‘buddy list’ window. The best port of the same features for Mac users is Adium. M W L
PDF Creator lets Windows users print to searchable PDF (like Mac and Linux users can do natively due to the CUPS printing system, which can export to PDF). NOTE that PDFCreator does not work in Windows Vista — and so far everything we have tested in Vista does a poor job of generating clean portable documents… on the up-side, OpenOffice (above) exports to PDF without additional assistance; and Microsoft’s Office 2007 can use a filter (free download from Microsoft) to save directly to PDF as well. W
Skim is a PDF reader and note-taker for OS X. It is designed to help you read and annotate PDF files, but is also great for viewing any PDF file. (Windows and Linux variants on the way…) M
Firefox is the biggest competitor to Microsoft’s web browser, Internet Explorer. It is favored for handling spoofing and phishing attacks better, and has proven less vulnerable to security issues. M W L
Mozilla is an internet tools suite that includes a web browser (Firefox), email client (Thunderbird), calendar (Sunbird), and web authoring tool (Editor), with more on the way. M W L
VNC is remote-control software that lets you share your screen, train another user across your network, or manage other computers without leaving your desk. M W L
Citrix client lets users connect (with authorization) to corporate networks regardless of their client platform. M W L
Open323 is an H.323 client to connect to (or replace) Microsoft’s NetMeeting. There is a Mac version, but XMeeting is even better. M W L
Gizmo Project is a VOIP (Voice Over IP) tool using SIP to allow voice conversations with other Gizmo Project, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, or Windows Live users. M W L
FileZilla and Putty are FTP and SFTP clients for Windows. Mac users will appreciate CyberDuck. M W L
FireBurner is a package for organizing and burning CD-ROMs on Windows and Linux. Mac users should check out Burn or ImageBurner. Also highly recommended is CDBurnerXP, which is still free — but isn’t open source because it includes some proprietary libraries. M W L
BackupPC is a backup solution that allows Mac, Windows, and Linux clients to backup files to a network server. M W L
Copernicus, Jing, and fgrab are free ‘screen-capturing’ or screencasting utilities (video, not still-image) for the Mac. Windows users have Jing, AviScreen, CamStudio, Windows Media Encoder, VirtualDub and Taksi; Linux users have XVidCap. And regardless of platform, the web tool works right from your browser with nothing to install. M W L
NEW category (watch this space): Drawing DrawBerry, InkScape – vector graphics editor with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X, using the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format, DrawIt Lite for Windows , , , , , , ,
Kismet is a wireless network sniffer for Windows and Linux that will help you locate, identify, and troubleshoot wireless connections in and around your environment. A build for Mac folks that I use all the time is KisMac. M W L
OpenProj is a free, open source project management solution — a replacement of Microsoft Project and other commercial project solutions. It even opens existing Microsoft or Primavera files. Provides Gantt charts, network diagrams (PERT Charts), WBS and RBS charts, earned value costing and more. M W L
WebHuddle is a Java-based webconferencing platform. Works for all desktop platforms and browsers that can run Java applets. Try it at or install it on your own web server. Also check out DimDim (YouTube) and OpenMeetings M W L

There are a handful of apps out there that are not free, that I am still tied to, for both emotional and functional reasons (GraphicConverter is one that I have paid for happily). But for the most part, the software listed above goes a long way — if not all the way — toward serving 90% of users’ needs without opening a wallet a single time.

Save your money for the hardware, and your ISP bill!

What would you add to the list?

Related Reading:

Say Goodbye to Adobe Creative Suite

So, Santa Claus Brought You a Netbook?

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6 thoughts on “After you delete the demo-ware on your new PC, what then?

  1. Great list, however I’d leave nVu off the list, as it is still buggy. I crashed it just a month ago in less than an hour. Replace it with Eclipse Web Tools. Not much WYSIWYG, but much more stable and can deploy to a local webserver and handle much more than HTML.

    I’m also missing Thunderbird the great E-Mail client from Mozilla. Firefox/Thunderbird is the better combination than the Mozilla suite, which as far as I know has not much of a future.

    I have also replaced FileZilla, a great tool with Windows SSH. It transfers files as fast as FileZilla and adds the ssh shell access. Although it does not do pure FTP, but I don’t trust no webhosting w/o ssh shell access anyway.

    Busy, providing technical service for non technical users of OpenOffice

  2. What about something for burning CDs that lets you have more control than just audio, video, or data (for instance, if I want to make a CD from an ISO image)?

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