Technology is supposed to make life easier—but sometimes it seems like all the bells and whistles are just making us shell out more money each month.
Take software, for example. Unless your company is willing to sponsor a subscription or you somehow figure out how to write them off as a business expense, the costs of high-end software programs and apps can quickly add up and, in many cases, be prohibitively expensive.
Most of us just don’t have the extra cash lying around to drop a few hundred dollars on a whole suite of software, no matter how helpful they would be to us.
Luckily, there’s another way. There are plenty of free (or cheap), totally legal programs that can sub in for expensive brand-name ones. Almost all of these are free for Windows, MacOS and Linux operating systems.
Photoshop may be one of the most popular programs out there, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Fortunately, there are tons of other apps that can do many of the same things for a fraction of the cost.
Lifehacker recommends the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP for short), which can do just about everything you’d need Photoshop to do for you. The interface is a bit intimidating and can take some getting used to, though the program’s many fans think it’s worth it. If you’re looking for something less labor-intensive, check out PicMonkey or Canva. Both offer easy, user-friendly photo editing that should be more than enough for most amateur shutterbugs.
2. Vector-Based Art: Inkscape
Inkscape covers all the essential tasks that Adobe Illustrator does—working with vector graphics, building logos, creating icons, formatting basic documents for publication—without any of the extra features you don’t even use anyway.
3. 3D Modeling, Printing And Animation: Blender
Blender is a great introductory tool for anyone starting out in 3D animation and modeling. It’s not as versatile as programs used in professional studios, but it’s enough for your essential needs. Blender also does a decent impression of After Effects, if you just need to add basic special effects or do some post-production editing.
4. PDF Editing And Annotation: PDF-XChange Editor (Windows), Preview (Mac)
Mac owners are in luck here—Preview’s built-in functions cover most of the basics for editing and creating PDFs. Preview isn’t as comprehensive as Acrobat, but it can handle highlighting, annotation, editing and signatures, which is probably the majority of what you need to do.
Windows users should check out PDF-XChange Editor—either the free or paid version. The free tool is pretty minimalist, but it can at least handle reading, annotation and signatures. If you want to upgrade, the $40 Pro version is basically Acrobat, with a much cheaper price tag.
5. Anti-virus And Anti-malware: Avira (Windows), Sophos (Mac), MalwareBytes
The internet can be a risky place for security, and you need a smart program to keep your devices healthy. Fortunately, there are plenty of quality, free anti-virus apps out there, so there’s no reason to shell out any cash. These efficient tools will protect your information without taking up tons of space or crashing every 10 minutes.
6. Video Editing: DaVinci Resolve
Video editing is one of those areas where cutting corners is often painfully obvious. Most free software just can’t compete with programs like Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro, and it shows in the final product.
Luckily, your buddy DaVinci is here to take care of that problem. The program, which started out as an expensive color-grading tool, added video editing capacity a few years back. The learning curve is a bit steep, but once you figure it out, you’ll have a video editing tool that’s almost as good as the fancy ones, without any of the debt.
7. Audio Editing: LMMS
If you’ve been using Garageband or Audacity for your audio recording and editing needs, it’s time to branch out. LMMS isn’t quite up to the same industry standards as Pro Tools, but if you’re not doing professional audio work, it should be more than sufficient.
Its music sequencing and multi-track editing capacities are beyond just about any other free tool out there. LMMS has you covered for composing, mixing, instrument effects, loops and pretty much anything else you could need.
8. Office Suite: Libre Office
It’s just about impossible to do anything in a professional capacity without Microsoft Office. Even if you didn’t manage to “borrow” a copy from work or school at some point, though, you don’t need to pay for the whole suite. Libre Office, the best free, non-web-based alternative office suite, has improved dramatically since the bare-bones first version was released. The redesigned Libre Office can open, edit and save Microsoft Office documents, and even looks good while doing it.
Note: Google Drive‘s Docs, Sheets and Slides provide a fantastic alternative to Office Suite products as well. Not only are they completely free, but they’re hosted online, which makes sharing and accessing easier than ever.
9. Operating System: Linux
Linux has always been a faithful go-to for techie types who don’t want to be beholden to the Microsoft or Apple monopolies for an operating system. Whether you’re switching your OS to make life easier, to avoid paying for other licenses or to revive an old device, there are plenty of different distribution options to choose from. Lifehacker recommends Ubuntu or Linux Mint for beginners, while more experienced types can jump straight to Arch Linux.