Five programs you can afford in a financial meltdown

The choice is clear: switch to open-source software

It's the afternoon of September 30th and for reasons beyond my understanding the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) is up more than 3.5 percent after yesterday's financial fiasco. Hello, Wall Street, what part of "No one has a new bailout deal; the House hated the old deal, and it's the week of Rosh Hashanah so it won't be a full week at Congress anyway" do you not understand? Even if you believe the bailout will magically work wonders for the economy -- I don't -- it's not going to happen this week.

No matter what happens to the bailout, it's a safe bet that times are going to be hard. So what can you do if you're not in Congress and you want to get new programs, but not pay an arm and a leg? After all, it's not like you can print money. Unlike, say, the US government. The choice is clear: switch to open-source software.

Like what you ask? Like these five prime examples of open-source software that's every bit as good, if not better, than their proprietary equivalents.

1) Microsoft Office: OpenOffice. Here's your choice: You can pay about a US$110 street price for Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, which includes the basics office trilogy of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word, plus OneNote, Microsoft's take on a digital notebook, or you can pay nothing, Nada, for OpenOffice.

If there's anything you can't do in OpenOffice, which is soon upgrading to version 3.0, that you can do in Microsoft Office, I don't know what it is. There's also, as far as I can tell, almost no learning curve in moving from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice. I flip back and forth between the two office suites and I honestly can barely tell the difference between them whether I'm writing, working out my budget on a spreadsheet or - shudder! -- working on a presentation.

2) Outlook: Thunderbird. If you want to do real e-mail on Windows with Microsoft products, you're pretty much stuck with Outlook. I hate Outlook. A long time ago I called Outlook a security hole that masquerades as an e-mail client. I haven't seen any reason to change my opinion. It's amazing to me, even now, to contemplate just how many ways Outlook allows trouble to come visiting your computer. Thunderbird, on the other hand, has nothing like Outlook's problems.

I'm not crazy about Thunderbird 2.0.0.17. It's a good, solid program, but I feel it's been neglected by Mozilla since it was spun off as a project on to itself so Mozilla could focus its attention on Firefox. That said, I'll take it over Outlook any day of the week.

Besides you can either buy Outlook 2007, as a stand alone program for about $90, or as part of Microsoft Office Standard 2007 for US$315, or you can download Thunderbird. The price of the Thunderbird download: Zero. Zip.

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