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9 pricey software products and their free (and legal) alternatives

When was the last time you dropped $200 on software? A clever geek might tell you “never.”


Getting free software doesn’t have to mean stealing. The past decade of open-source software culture, along with today’s app economy, has yielded a plethora of fantastic alternatives to traditionally expensive software solutions. Often, free software is every bit as good — or even better — than boxed products.

Here are 9 of the most popular paid software products, and how you can get free equivalents:

WORD PROCESSING — Microsoft Office: $149.99; OpenOffice: Free.

Microsoft Word has become a staple word-processing product both at home and at work. If you love the Microsoft Office suite but don’t mind a knock-off version, download OpenOffice. It comes with similar programs to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, all for free. It has nearly all the same functionality as Office, just a slightly different look. With it, you can open documents meant for Office products, as well as save documents so that they can be opened by those who did spend the cash on MS Office.

ANTIVIRUS — Norton 360: $47.99; Trend HouseCall Online: Free.

Viruses are no fun, biological or digital. Whereas $50 virus protection software may be pretty cheap compared to the cost of losing everything on your computer, you can scan your machine for viruses for free using Trend Micro HouseCall , online from any web browser. No download required. If downloaded anti-virus software is what you want (for some reason), several antivirus companies offer free trials, but you have to be careful where you download from. As ironic as it sounds, it’s easy to download a virus instead of the software.

WEBSITE BUILDER — Network Solutions: $27.18/month; Wix: Free.

For unlimited disk space, monthly data transfer, FTP and email accounts, the company Network Solutions supplies professional options for higher traffic sites. But if the word ‘code’ is synonymous with ‘hieroglyphics’ in your mind, Wix makes a good alternative. You don’t need to know anything about html, css, or javascript and can still create a professional website for free.

FTP — CuteFTP Lite: $24.99; Filezilla: Free.

Looking for a way to get your files up to your website server? CuteFTP is among the File Transfer industry’s lead software providers, but there are other popular providers that offer free alternatives with varying capabilities. FileZilla is free, open-source, cross-platform FTP, FTPS and SFTP software.

MUSIC EDITING — Pro Tools 9: $599.00; Audacity: Free.

Music editing experts know Avid’s Pro Tools software produces some of the most professional cuts… for $600. Audacity, on the other hand, offers core music editing features — albeit without frills and extras — for free. For $5 a month, you can do all your music editing online with Indaba. You can even collaborate with other artists and make music together in the cloud. If you’re a budding artist or audio engineer, use Audacity or Indaba to convert, record, splice, speed up, and cut away, and save a few hundred dollars!

VIDEO EDITING — Adobe’s Premier Elements: $99.95; Jaycut: Free.

Adobe’s Premier Elements is the #1 seller for movie making software compatible with Windows and Mac. But if you’re reading this article, chances are you have Internet access, which means you can cut and edit videos for free online with tools like Jaycut. Jaycut allows you to organize video clips, edit-in/out all the details you want and publish videos to show off your video-creating skills.

PHOTO EDITING — Adobe Photoshop 5: $699; Aviary: Free.

Photoshop is the industry standard for photography editing, and it’s become one of the main tools graphic designers use for illustration and web design. Its main barrier for many artists is price.
Fortunately for designers and photographers who are short on cash, Aviary.com offers free online tools for photo editing and vector editing (replacing the need for Adobe Illustrator). Aviary uses layers and many of the same editing tools you’ll find in Adobe programs.

CONTENT MANAGEMENT — Visual Studio: $11,899; WordPress: Free.

The cost of managing website content can get downright ridiculous. Free solutions may not work for enterprise businesses, but if you’re operating a blog or even a website with thousands of pages, try out a free CMS like WordPress before you drop ten grand on a big deployment. Patrick, a customer service representative for Microsoft Dynamics, describes their product, Microsoft Visual Studio 2010, which costs around $12,000, as “similar to WordPress.” But if you are looking for basic content management, why not use WordPress for free?

CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT — Highrise Plus: $49/month; Insightly: Free.

Running a business without proper CRM is risky, and there are several feasible options online to help, including Highrise, by 37Signals. Highrise is a great product, but if you’re on a budget, take a look at the free professional alternative: Insight.ly. Organize your contacts, integrate your email conversations and notes through Google Apps, and track your customers — it’s all free.

Where to find other freebies

When it comes to free, you don’t have anything to lose. Whatever the software you’re looking for, chances are a web 2.0 company has built a free (or cheap) online version of it. Google it, or check out tech sites like Mashable and TechCrunch. If you know of other good free alternative software, please share it with us below; we’d love to know!

Shane Snow is Editor-in-chief of Contently, which contributed this post exclusively for Mint.com.