What Windows Programs Can You Replace in Linux for Free?


     It comes to mind that, while I've promoted Linux as a replacement for windows for quite some time, I've never outlined what you can really do on Linux out of the box for free and replace your common Windows software with. As a science student who has used Linux exclusively for two years now, I've generated quite a long list. A list extensive enough to completely replace my Windows OS entirely, with the exception of most triple-A title games. That being said, lets jump into the most obvious - Office Suites.

Office Suites

     There are two main office suites you'll find on just about all Linux distributions. That is OpenOffice and LibreOffice (which is a 2010 fork of OpenOffice). Most mainstream Linux distributions come with LibreOffice, usually installed by default and its my personal choice. LibreOffice is a very powerful suite that is, unless your doing something extremely specific, a direct replacement for your basic Microsoft Office packages. Strictly speaking, we can replace everything in Microsoft Office including Skype and Teams for free but not in one default Office Suite Package. LibreOffice Suite comes with Writer, Calc, Impress and Draw. The first three are direct replacements for Word, Excel and Powerpoint. They all do a great job and I would have no need for Office if it weren't for certain conditions not related to LibreOffice. Writer in particular is a gigantic plus over word if you're writing a lot of technical documents that include equations. The math entry has the button interface just like Word however it also has another input pathway that far exceeds Word - basic LaTeX. If you've never used LaTeX nor have needed to write 15 or more equations into a document then this is arbitrary however I cannot stress enough how useful this feature is if you do. There are plugins that actually extend this to full-fledged LaTeX if you want.

LibreOffice - The Document Foundation

      LibreOffice Draw is a unique program with a Microsoft equivalent called Visio for a hefty price of $299.99 outright or $13.00 per month additionally to an Office365 plan for the standard edition (Pro is considerably more). Draw is a graphical document editor that allows one to create things like flow charts, mind maps, brochures and is even powerful enough for technical work like Blueprints and other technical documents. For anyone who has tried to find a flow chart/mind map program on Windows, its a real pain. Well, here it is. Unfortunately I cannot give you a direct comparison because I've never bought Visio.

Adobe Acrobat

     I'll be honest, this one is a mixed bag. First, let me make a distinction. I am talking about Adobe Acrobat, not Adobe Acrobat Reader, the full-fledged PDF editing software. There is no free Linux equivalent to Adobe Acrobat, there are equivalents, but commercially available (and not grossly expensive). So if you really have need of an Adobe Acrobat equivalent, you're out of luck GNU wise. However, most people, including myself, do not have any real need for it. Most distributions have, pre-installed, a document viewer equivalent to Adobe Acrobat Reader. As far as generating PDF files, most office suites and other programs certainly have that function and work quite well. If you have need of deleting or rearranging pages in a PDF file or merging and splitting PDF files, PDF-Shuffler can fill that role very well, I've personally used it.

     The last PDF related program I want to talk about is Okular. Okular is really a document viewer, but a high-functioning one with several features that are damn nice to have. Okular allows you to create bookmarks and has a full suite of review tools like popup notes, inking, highlighting and boxing. I use these routinely. Okular is KDE's default Document viewer but can easily be installed on a gnome-based, or any other desktop. I find it to be an essential tool.

Okular Review Tools Example
Okular Highlighter Example


     Gnu Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP for short. I'm no graphics artist or Photoshop expert, I admit that from the get-go but I use GIMP often. GIMP devs will tell you from the outset that they are actively working to not copy Photoshop's UI or workflow. Therefore, its like landing on an alien planet that you know you need to learn and survive in, but GIMP is powerful and can do a great deal of what Photoshop does. GIMP is create for image authoring, retouching, editing, and the like. It now supports 32-bit color channels as does Photoshop. Download UFRAW and you now have a free photo editor that can process RAW files from your DSLR. When it comes to Photo Editing like that, I fail to see how GIMP comes up short in a major area. What GIMP is not, however, is a graphics design tool, its not Illustrator or InDesign which integrates into Adobe's Creative Cloud workflow with Photoshop. That said, when it comes to photo editing, its a very decent photoshop replacement that even professionals can use (so I've read) but its not a tool for Graphic Designers, then again, neither is Photoshop but most people are hell-bent on making this distinction when talking about GIMP vs Photoshop so I felt it prudent to include it. (Also, that's why we have InkScape, a professional vector graphics editor)



      There are a plethora of e-mail clients available in the open-source community. Gnome's default is Evolution, KDE's is KMail and Mozzila's is Thunderbird, I've used them all. My top choice is probably Evolution, but Thunderbird is great as well. I've always found KMail to be a little wonky. In all honesty, they're all very capable and have the feature list you would expect out of a modern e-mail client. The two really to consider first I think should be Thunderbird or Evolution. Their features work better in enterprise environments where Exchange Servers must be interfaced with. Evolution was designed from the ground up to be an Enterprise E-Mail client. To that end, it supports GPG, RSS Reader, Integration with LIbreOffice, Personal Information Manager (PIM), sporting a calendar, task list, contact manager, spam filtering, and note taking. Its well-integrated with Gnome Desktop the same way Outlook (and by extension Office) is integrated with the Windows Desktop. Just about every major client supports web mail like G-Mail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.

Evolution Icon Thunderbird Icon

Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive

     This one is murky, and that's because for it to be truly free it would require you to setup your own ownCloud or NextCloud server on an unused PC, which isn't actually all that hard (well, specifically ownCloud). However most people won't be concerned with doing that. Another reason its murky is because Google Drive or MS OneDrive are free (15 GB and 5GB space respectively). Thing is, a service like that means your not in control of your data and if my exact ISP setup here didn't prevent me from hosting a server live to the internet I wouldn't pay 1and1 $5/mo for my ownCloud server, although it has the advantage of being off-site, in a data center with redundancies, but so does Drive and OneDrive. You can give Microsoft or Google $5 to $10 a month for a 1TB slot, which is huge I can't pay for the server hardware for that price and get that space, I'm limited to 30GB at the moment - - but I'm in control of my data, which is encrypted and nobody is snooping around my files using it for advertisement revenue, but that's just me.

     When Google Drive first launched, you retained the rights to anything you uploaded, but by agreeing to the terms of service for the service you gave Google "a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones." That's just about every right you could have given Google, If I ever came up with a great idea, i'd prefer Google or Microsoft not steal it by snooping my files. They all have language stating the service does NOT do that, nor would they steal ideas and so on, but who really knows but them. The basic point is that ownCloud or NextCloud can replace those two services, but if you knew that, you don't likely need my advice on this topic.

     Aside from the legal and philisophical stuff, OneDrive doesn't support interfacing with a Linux desktop directly like Windows, Google Drive and Dropbox do however (as far as I know without trying it). Its an issue to be aware of. In the end, I highly doubt a new Windows convert is going to concern themselves with this but its something to be aware of, that alternatives exist and are readily available.


Parting Comments

     Aside from replacing the fore-mentioned softwares, you do actually have access to a great deal more. The main benefit of an open-source environment is the ready access to everything from sound equalizers (a must have) to computer algebra software, IDEs, and so much more. Only a chemist would ever really need ChemDraw, but GChemPaint is a great open source replacement that is freely available. Octave directly competes with MATLAB in numerical computation but its free, Maxima can be used to solve that integral on your calculus homework, you just need to download it. Its impossible for me to outline the breadth of open source software one has access to when you get into this community, but I think its worth exploring for yourself - get out there and learn! Also, you don't actually need to run a Linux OS to try all of the software mentioned above, I believe every one of them work on Windows too, the catch is, you might miss out on another you find later that does not develop for Windows, like PulseAudio Equalizer, my favorite 15-band sound equalizer. You'f also miss out on security features you'd have to pay Microsoft to use. LUKS for example is the equivalent of BitLocker (not a free feature). You can find my article on my encryption basics at the following link. My Encryption Basics on Linux!

© 2016 Zachary G Wolfe -- Remember to turn your brain off for a reboot sometimes...