Free and cheap software that kills the big guys

Here are 15 applications (mostly free), that can credibly replace big bucks software

People say the best things in life are free. That certainly includes software capable of doing just about everything that major commercial applications can do.

We've found 15 "giant killers" that compete well with behemoths such as Microsoft Office and Photoshop. Some of our selections are open-source software, while others are "junior" versions of commercial products, put out by the vendors themselves. All but one are free.

Lots of software companies release demo versions that are little more than teasers for the package they want you to buy. The apps from big-name vendors that we've included here are different: With one exception, they are neither "crippled" versions nor time-limited samplers that cease to work at just the wrong moment.

Our Davids are worthy challengers to the Goliaths of the industry. Read on to see how they can help you get work done--easily, and almost at no cost.

Office Suites, Business Applications

When it comes to giants in the land of software, none are as big and powerful as the titans of Microsoft. Of programs foolhardy enough to challenge them, few have returned to tell the tale. But the following programs, though small, possess incredible strength.

The Fifth Element

Most programs that have tried to compete with Office have come from other large companies, such as Sun, with enough cash to try to one-up Microsoft just for bragging rights.

And then there's Ssuite Office's The Fifth Element. (Yes, "Ssuite" is spelled correctly, and, no, we're not talking about a Bruce Willis movie.) The Fifth Element, which has come from South Africa to take on the Colossus of Redmond, is an office-application collection with a wider range than Microsoft Office has. Any decent suite can do word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and e-mail. The Fifth Element also includes a browser, plus tools for managing LANs, holding chats, and making calls using VoIP. For media-oriented tasks, it provides a drawing module, photo and album editors, sound recorders, and MP3 and video players. That's not all--it has a search engine, a sort engine, an envelope printer, encryption, and a chess game, too, offering more than 30 programs overall. And if that's not quite the right combination for you, Ssuite Office supplies several other office-software packages of various levels of complexity, all free.

For all its breadth, The Fifth Element is shallow--and that's meant in the most complimentary sense. Most operations require you to go no more than a couple of clicks into a menu. The most common tasks neatly appear at the top levels of the screens, making for quick learning and use. The design is a welcome relief from the madly swirling, morphing menus in Microsoft Office 2007. One reason for the simplicity, beyond making The Fifth Element a snap to use, is that most of the programs appear to be frankenware, pieced together from publicly available code. That makes them a kludge, but they're very nice kludges.

Download The Fifth Element (Free)

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Ron White

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