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I’ve been seeing a lot of “open source alternative” lists on digg, slashdot, dzone, etc… recently. You know the kind. “Top 5 open source alternatives to popular proprietary software”. The vast majority of these lists have about a 50% hit rate. The misses, as I consider them to be, don’t have any real advantage to the end-user, they’re just compatible with a philisophical attitude you happen to have.

I think it’s time someone took a stand. Some software is worth paying for. Most of us are never going to look at the source code anyway. And having a dedicated staff who gets 8 hours a day to devote to this software, and is actually held accountable in some fashion if that software sucks, can often actually lead to a good product.

So, in no particular order, here’s my list of 5 solid, awesome, insert-buzzword-here closed source applications that I use instead of any (F)OSS alternatives.

1) “Trillian”:
(F)OSS alternatives: “Pidgin”: , “Adium”:
Trillian got off to a rocky start back in the day- Mostly due to IM services griping and trying to shield their protocols from third-party apps. You know the story, the ships got smarter, the electronic thumbs got smarter… But it’s really an amazing peice of software. And the plugin community has vastly more useful add-ons than Pidgin or Adium. My main gripes against the other two- Pidgin (formerly GAIM) has a hate on for cygwin libraries I already have installed on my laptop- Even getting around that, the UI just… I felt Pidgin was working against me instead of with me. Adium is fantastic, and I consider it a close runner up. But, sadly, Adium isn’t (yet) available for Windows. Which brings us to the next item on my list.

2) “Windows”:
(F)OSS alternatives: Roughly 14 bajillion flavors of linux and unix, OS X (well, sort of, and not anymore).
Look, I could write an entirely seperate entry on this one. The convenience of a pre-install, the hardware support, the software communities, the lack of inferiority complex and fanaticism running rampant among it’s users… I’ll admit it. I have a dual-boot laptop, and I love fiddling around with Gentoo. That doesn’t mean I’d wish it (or even Ubuntu) on my mom if she had things she needed to get done. And since they still won’t let you build a computer and stick OS X on it (hacking aside), the pricepoint for value for a Mac of any flavor tends to run too high. That’s not to say I don’t LIKE OS X- It’s awesome, and it’s the only proof I’ve ever seen that unix is ready for the average user on the desktop- But if I can’t control where I put it, I don’t want it.

3) “TextPad”:
(F)OSS alternatives: “Kate”: , SciTE , Notepad++ , a slew of others (Context, PSPad, oh, how the list forever grows!)
TextPad is not an IDE, it’s a programmer’s text editor. It’s also good enough to be a notepad replacement. Regex search/replace, syntax highlighting, plugin functionality, and the great grand-daddy of them all, external tool support. My inability to replace this application with something open-source is one of the things that kept me from moving over to linux. I mean it, I really love TextPad __that much__. Mostly, because you can add your own compilers/runtimes quickly and easily. Want to compile your java app? ctrl+1. Want to run it? ctrl+3. And you can add as many as you have installed on your machine. Ruby, Perl, Python, whatever you want. I think I have like 5 different languages ready to compile and run, and it’ll even capture the output for you and show it as a document. I was a little verbose in emphasizing that I’m not a windows FANATIC, per-se, just a fan who believes it’s best for his personal style… That’s not the case here. I’m a textpad fanatic. I really am.

4) “iTunes”:
(F)OSS alternatives: “Amarok”: , XMMP , “Songbird”:
I resisted iTunes forever. I really did. I always loved winamp, it still holds a special place in my heart. And when I had to download new versions of Quicktime, I specifically sought out the download file that didn’t have a bundled iTunes. I didn’t own an ipod, and didn’t want to buy music (I’d already transferred all my CD’s to MP3, and on top of that… Yes, fine, I admit that at one point in my life, I used napster on a college network.) when I already had thousands of songs. I tried other stuff… But XMMP is just a winamp clone. Songbird is like iTunes but less functional and more confusing. And Amarok, while pretty cool, just doesn’t have the organizational power. I needed something that could search and organize thousands of songs. Multiple playlists. Smart playlists. Moving things BETWEEN playlists. Sorting by whatever the hell you want. Not to mention, braindead easy subscription to podcasts made life much more entertaining. And yes, I have an iPod now, and I purchase music. And I’m going to pay 30 cents extra per song to get all the DRM removed. Why? Because, let’s face it, I already know the songs I want, and none of them are on eMusic.

5) “Microsoft Office”:
(F)OSS Alternatives: “Open Office”:
OpenOffice is a bit of a conundrum to me. There’s so much griping about how Microsoft Office is slow, bloated, and unstable. So someone went and wrote an alternative in Java, essentially making it slower, more bloated, less stable, and with about the same inter-application document consistency as loading up the Acid Test on IE and Firefox. And people were like, “Woo, Office is Dead! Long Live OpenOffice, it’s so much better!” No it isn’t, but I’ll give you this much- It’s price point is __way__ more fair, and instead of pumping it full of features and digging it’s claws into the underlying OS, they’re actively working on making the overall application better, and they’ve done an excellent job of bringing document format standardization into public awareness. I really do think OpenOffice will make an EXCELLENT application, better than the Microsoft equivalent, a full version or two from now. It’s just not there yet, and as fans of quality software, we really need to suck it up and recognize that.

None of this, by the way, is meant to imply that I __prefer__ propriety software to open-source applications. What I’m trying to say is that end-users owe it to themselves to be a little more agnostic about the matter, and when they size up the quality of a product, they should be looking more at the software, and less at the license. As a matter of fairness, I’ll fire off a couple of open source apps that I consider brilliant, indispensable, and unequaled by anything else out there under any license.

“Paint.NET”: is somewhere between MS Paint and Photoshop. Power, ease of use, easily updatable, you can edit photos or draw stick figures with this thing, whatever your heart desires.

“Firefox”: is really just the best browser I’ve ever used. IE 7 was a very impressive improvement (Oh, come on. Admit it.) But it’s still playing catchup.

“7-Zip”: recently beat out winrar as my archiver of choice. It uses more memory during intensive operations, but the compression ratios are amazing, the speed is quite impressive, and honestly, the UI is so good that you don’t even notice you’re using the application, all you’re thinking about is what you’re getting done.

Hope you enjoyed the list. Feel free to comment if I left anything out.


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For instant messaging, I really like Kopete.

OS X, is not free, nor is it open-source

Finally, the only closed-source software that I prefer over open-source is probably Picasa (even though I loved kPhotoAlbum)

Man, you’re sticking your neck out :) Good on you for producing this list, I can feel the flames coming your way soon though.

I agree with most of your list – my colleague here at work is also a TextPad fanatic, I personally prefer PHP Designer 2007 but that’s because I’m a pure PHP coder.

Additions – no matter how much the F/OSS people claim it is, there is no way in hell that the GIMP is better than Photoshop. I’ve given the GIMP a good shot at proving me wrong, but I’m sorry, it’s just not ready.

Come to think of it, that’s the only addition I can think of :)

Have you realised that *NIX systems are not at all an alternative to windows? I’ve never been able to do under windows all my dev work i do on myfavourite distro, and apart for playing games windows is no good to me (and it now comes in a new flavor, the slow-your-cpu-with-vista’ xperience)

Well i wont go on any longer seeing the trollish-type message it is…

and by the way, do you know about TextMate on OSX? i think it _is_ actually the best proprietary editor, even if my personnal taste would bettter go to emacs, which i can really tune the way i like even more than mates.

I would like to add Parallels (or VMWare) – Could never have lived without it, on Windows or the Mac.

Great post!

I personally prefer Miranda over Trillian & Vim over Textpad.
But I also prefer Opera over Firefox, x2plorer over ?, Office over OpenOffice.
And I do agree that FOSS is not always the best option.
As an end user I do not differentiate between FOSS and a proprietary but free solution.

As much as I hate to admit it, in some aspects you are right. I haven’t used trillian and textpad and I gave iTunes a try but I still stick with Winamp, XMMS and Amarok but in regards to Windows I do have to admit you have a point. I have been an Ubuntu user for almost 2 years now, but I believe it still has a lot to go until it can be a good alternative to Windows. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the extraordinary evolution and adoption they had since they started and I simply love their goals and philosophy, but until games and hardware companies start supporting Linux we still have a long road ahead, and these are just to name a few. The problem is that normal users don’t want geeky stuff, but such things can still be found in Ubuntu, however less and less with each of their releases, so kudos to them, I hope they keep it up.
With I had a different experience, I am currently using it both on Windows and on Linux and I am happy with how it works, for the usual stuff I do, like keeping some simple sheets and writing a few documents, it’s just great and it is not even that slow.

For me its Lightroom (or similar raw photo developer), which is a very large reason why i use Windows as my desktop.

Re. TextPad. I’ve used TextPad extensively so I think I can confidently point out a better, open-source alternative: jEdit ( It has all the features you mentioned about TextPad with the possible exception of external tool support (I simply haven’t looked for that feature in it, and it may well have it). Tons of plugins, syntax highlighting, powerful searching, great file browsing model (better than TextPad’s), code completion, AND it’s cross-platform.

Given that I have to develop on Windows, Mac and Linux machines because I work in various places, being able to use the same text editor everywhere is a huge bonus for me.

Don’t get me wrong, TextPad is nice, but I think jEdit is at least as good. But hey, to each his own for this kind of stuff.


Sorry to say that, but apart from the actual features of the database, the tools for management, analysis, troubleshooting etc are lightyears ahead any (F)OSS alternatives.

you’re list is accurate, very so. The only additions i can think of are the creation tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, PageMaker, Quark, sound tools, video editing…). There really aren’t as good free solutions to these problems.

However, free software is mostly aimed at developers, sys admins, people who actually know a thing or two about computer in general. And in that it excels.

But for creation/design, its not even close (yes, Gimp sucks).

Please stop spreading the rumors that OpenOffice.Org is written in Java (it’s not). I’m a big Java fan, especially since it pays my bills, but let’s be accurate here. There are some optional components of oOo that use Java (specifically the database), but the core system is C++. Even these components are native compiled on modern linux distros using gcj.

I could write list called “Five people that are better than five other people” and it would have as much validity. I mean, kudos for your opinion, man, and if this works for you then rock on, but this is purely subjective. You don’t even define what “just better” means.

Windows? I’ve got five boxes running Ubuntu. To hell with Windows’ lack of a reasonable command line, binary bias, cruft-gathering registry, idiotic update “validation” utilties, once-yearly (if you’re lucky) service packs … ugh. Yes, there are some things Windows does extremely well. But “just better” than *nix? I wouldn’t even know what you mean.

Textpad? I realize that text editors are a religious choice among programmers, but, dude … Textpad? Among its “features” are listed, “It can handle file sizes up to the limits of virtual memory” and “Text can be in either the ANSI (Windows) or OEM (DOS) code sets”. Whoop-de-freakin’-do. I’ve used Textpad and, I’m not sorry to say bud, but you and I get into a debate on the merits of Textpad vs., oh, Vim, and the only point you’re going to have is learning curve issues. After that, I win every point. Every one. All of them. All the points. You lose. I win.

Of your other choices the only one I can unqualifyingly agree with is iTunes, which delivers a set of highly desirable proprietary services. Trillian *is* great software and I also like Microsoft Office, but you’d need to define your criteria for “better” before I’d absolutely agree. Otherwise you’re not saying anything meaningful beyond, hey, “I like these!”

Okay. Hey. I like chocolate ice cream. It’s the best of all the other flavors.

Oracle – ugh!

The only product the company makes that is even reasonably acceptable is the RDB and that is an overcomplicated monster that takes far more trouble than it is worth to keep running. If you really need it’s power, then you might be stuck with it. For 99% of the rest of us, DB2, PostgreSQL, SqlServer, MySql, probably even Derby are better choices. I don’t hate Oracle as a company, but I *HATE* their products.

Oracle Portal – absolute garbage
Oracle AS – functional, but not nearly as good as WebLogic
TopLink – can’t even compare to Hibernate
JDeveloper – bloated mess. NetBeans is *so* much better.

It’s not entirely clear what point you’re trying to make. I use open source and commerical software, as do many other developers I know, but my choices differ from yours. Here’s some:

2) Who’s the developer? You or your mother? For development, Linux is a much better platform, and, like you, I could write a separate article about this. Read this:

3) Ever heard of commerical SlickEdit? Runs on your buddy Windows and *Nix. Bragging about a product that has a built in keystroke to compile a Java source file is an odd argument.

5) Get your facts right. Open office is not written in Java, and the fact that you think it is shows that you don’t know a lot about open source. Most open source groups didn’t look too kindly on Java until Sun open sourced the JDK. They certainly would not have promoted an office suite written in Java. On the point of usability, I use Open Office at home and use MS Office at work under duress. I’m happy with OO as it is.

As far as I am concerned, iTunes is horrible. Thrice I have tried it, each time on a different machine. It has yet to actually work without causing noticable lag on my machine. Personally, I play everything in VLC – sure it may not have the best interface, but that thing will play just about any media file you have.

As far as text files go: wordpad/write in Windows, and vi in *NIX.

On the topic of ease of use, I’d say you haven’t given Ubuntu a proper run. I loved it because the live CD not only let me try the system, but allowed me to use and configure the system while still installing it. It means I didn’t have to wait out the installer before I got right into using it.

On the matter of Office suites, Microsoft Office if it is already installed, OpenOffice otherwise, simply because I’m too lazy to dig out my Office install disk.


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Suggestion :
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– Dragg and drop feature
– Zounds of effects
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