When you're already spending several hundred dollars or more on a new computer, you don't want to be spending the same amount on software. Unfortunately, programs like Microsoft Office and Photoshop can be bank-account breakers.
Fortunately, open source software is here to save the day. This is software that often has the same features as commercial software, but it's free. I know, it sounds too good to be true, but it really exists and I use it a lot.
Microsoft Office has been the productivity workhorse for business, home and student users for more than 20 years. The more expensive versions include Outlook and Microsoft Publisher in addition to Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Instead of MS Office, try LibreOffice, which contains a word processor, spreadsheet program, presentation software and much more. It borrows its design heavily from older versions of Office so it should be familiar. Even better, it can open and save Microsoft Office documents, and with each release it gets faster and more Office compatible.
If you need a replacement for Microsoft Publisher or Adobe InDesign, look at Scribus. This free tool is great for creating brochures, magazines and newsletters.
Microsoft Outlook is a good desktop email program, but it's pricey. Instead you can use Mozilla's Thunderbird. This powerful, lightweight email program makes creating and organizing email a snap. Use the Lightning extension to add a powerful calendar feature.
If you have money to manage, Intuit's Quicken and QuickBooks Pro are the standard programs. However, there are two excellent free alternatives.
AceMoney Lite is geared toward personal finances. This helpful program also includes handy features like investment tracking and bill reminders.
GnuCash is great for home budgets, but can handle serious business bookkeeping, including invoicing, account receivable, payroll and shipping. The program can generate reports to help you track your revenue and also help you track your investments.
3. Photos and videos
When it comes to graphics editing, Adobe Photoshop is the best program around, and one of the most expensive. For most of us, however, GIMP does just as well.
It handles digital art, photo editing, website design and whatever else you need. While GIMP may not have some of Photoshop's most advanced features, it is free. Don't like GIMP or need something a bit less powerful and more user friendly? Check out these other amazing free photo editors.
Digital artists who love Photoshop's versatile brush system for digital painting can also give Artweaver or MyPaint a look. And vector artists who can't spring for Photoshop's sister, Adobe Illustrator, can grab Inkscape instead. Computer animators and modelers can save thousands over Maya and Lightwave with the excellent Blender.
Video editors aren't left out. Live Movie Maker isn't open source, but it is free and great for making basic home movies. If you really want to dive in, grab the professional-level Lightworks that's been used on major Hollywood films.
OK, the rest of these aren't really replacements for paid software, but they are excellent free programs you need to know about.
Trying to play a home or other movie on your computer, but Windows Media Player can't find the right codec? Fire up the video in VLC instead. This powerful media player handles any type of video or music file.
Is iTunes slowing down your system? Want to use your iTunes library with an Android gadget? Give DoubleTwist a try. This fast and powerful media player can load your iTunes library and works with gadgets that aren't from Apple.
On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website atKomando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 atNews.Komando.com.