Tech Talk #49 – April 15, 2017

A new computer comes with everything you need to do the basics, like checking your email, doing some web browsing, binge-watching something on Netflix, or enjoying a little shopping on Amazon.


But what if you need to write a letter, do some 3D animation, design a logo, record a multitrack tune, edit a video, or remove the tourists from your photo of the Eiffel tower?


To do any of those things, you need to buy specialized software, and most of it is pretty expensive. Try these free alternatives instead.


Libre Office instead of Microsoft Office
Libre Office has been offering an alternative to Microsoft Office for a long time. Libre reads and writes files made with Microsoft Office. Libre’s default settings can be changed to automatically use the Office formats so you can interchange documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with anyone. Libre also has a simpler interface than current versions of Microsoft Office. If you know your way around the Microsoft products, you won’t have any trouble using Libre Office.


Microsoft Office Professional subscriptions start at $70/year. A software subscription means you’re renting the software. Depending on the version you choose, purchasing Office costs from $150 to $400. Libre Office is free and works on Windows and macOS.



Inkscape instead of Adobe Illustrator
For working with vector graphics to create logos, digital art, or format documents for print, try Inkscape instead of Adobe Illustrator. Inkscape can do just about everything Illustrator can do, but without all the bells and whistles most people don’t use. Inkscape has a large user base and lots of tutorials, so you’ll be able to learn the program and get some work, or art, done.


Adobe Illustrator CC is available as a single-app Creative Cloud subscription (renting the software) for $20/month, or you might be able to find previous versions of Illustrator for purchase for anywhere from $300 to $800 depending on the version. Inkscape is free and works on Windows and macOS.



Blender instead of Autodesk Maya
For 3D modeling, game development, and animation, Maya is the software used by both studios and pros. Blender is a great choice for learning about 3D modeling and animation or if you want to get into 3D printing. There are lots of online guides and tutorials for getting started in 3D by using Blender.


The lowest level version of Maya is Maya LT and costs $240/year. Blender is free and runs on Windows and macOS.



DaVinci Resolve instead of Adobe Premiere
If you need a more professional video-editing tool than iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, try DaVinci Resolve instead of Adobe Premiere. Resolve is both good and free and makes a great step up from your computer’s built-in video editor.


Adobe Premiere Pro is available as a single-app Adobe Creative Cloud subscription (renting the software) for $20/month. There is also a lighter version, Adobe Premiere Elements you can purchase for $70. DaVinci Resolve is free (although there is a paid version) and runs on Windows and macOS.



LMMS instead of Avid Pro Tools
For multitrack recording and composing music, instead of using Avid’s Pro Tools consider LMMS instead. LMMS stands for Linux MultiMedia Studio. LMMS can handle sequencing, composing, mixing, editing and effects mixing. LMMS also has built-in instruments for effects, loops, and other sounds.


Avid Pro Tools is available on an annual plan for $100/year or as a purchase for $600. LMMS is free and runs on Windows and Linux.



Linux instead of Microsoft Windows
If you want to reuse an old computer and can’t find a copy of Windows to run on it, check out Linux instead. There are many distributions (or distros) of Linux available, but for the easiest transition from Windows take a look at ZorisOS. Zoris is a Linux distro that looks and acts a lot like Windows but isn’t.


Windows 10 Home is available to purchase for $95. Almost all versions of Linux are free and can run on either Apple or PC hardware.



GIMP instead of Adobe Photoshop
For photo retouching, image editing, or even creating new images from scratch, most people turn to Photoshop. GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, can replace all the functionality of Photoshop. Just like Photoshop, the GIMP interface can be a confusing place; thankfully there are plenty of YouTube videos and online tutorials to help you out.


Adobe Photoshop CC is available as a single-app Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, that’s renting software, for $20/month. The lighter Photoshop Elements version is available for $70. GIMP is free and runs on Windows and macOS.



Computer humor
Never let your computer know you’re in a hurry. Computers can smell fear and will slow down if they know you need something done quickly.

Do you have a computer or technology question? Greg Cunningham has been providing Tehachapi with on-site PC and network services since 2007. Email Greg at

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