Tired of the cost and security concerns that result from using Microsoft products? Not to worry--solid alternatives abound.
For many people these days, Microsoft is to computing as Kleenex is to facial tissues -- practically the same thing. Microsoft probably has no problem with this, but sticking with just one supplier is not always a great idea. Increasingly, there are solid -- and practical -- reasons to minimize our commitment to Microsoft software.
For one thing, Microsoft software can be expensive. Why pay hundreds of dollars for Microsoft Office, for instance, when low-cost and even free alternatives are available?
Then there's security. As is often the case with the rich and powerful -- or at least the highly visible -- there are those who want to make trouble for Microsoft and its users. Many of the security threats hatched by these characters focus on the Outlook e-mail/contacts/calendaring program and on Internet Explorer, which has been the subject of a constant stream of security patches and upgrades in recent years. In addition, there have been viruses that attack Word and other Microsoft Office applications.
For true rebels, another reason to avoid or switch away from Microsoft is that, well, it's Microsoft. The company has a near monopoly, not only with its Windows operating system, but also with core applications such as Microsoft Office. A lot of people have trouble with the concept of monopolies.
I found all these reasons valid to varying degrees, so a few months ago I set out to wean myself from Microsoft products -- at least, to a certain degree. I decided to stay with Windows itself for a couple of reasons. First, like the vast majority of computer users, I'd already paid for Windows when I bought my PC. I seriously considered Linux and auditioned four desktop distributions, all of which are stable and delightful to use, but lack the multimedia support I need. Of course, Apple provides significant non-Microsoft options, but while its hardware is top-notch and Mac OS X is elegant, they're expensive and I'm a cheapskate.
I did, however, find four categories of software -- office apps, e-mail and personal information managers, Internet tools, and multimedia programs -- in which strong alternatives to Microsoft products exist. I'll discuss two or three of the most solid alternatives in each category and share a little of my experience kicking the Microsoft habit.
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