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131. Free program alternatives

By Andrew D. Wright

Ever go to use a new version of some program and discovered that you don't like it and would prefer to use the old version? You're not alone.

Newer versions are given often unneeded interface revisions, unnecessary features are added, the program starts to bloat up and becomes slower and slower to load. The maker adds advertising to help pay the bills, and other software is bundled in with the program.

Installing the program becomes a minefield of checkboxes to navigate. Press the wrong one and you suddenly discover some new thing you hadn't wanted is now on your computer. What was once a sleek, fast and useful utility is now bloatware.

Fortunately there are often other program writers who jump in and write new versions of these programs: slim, fast-loading programs frequently with useful new features and simple user interfaces. Fewer bells and whistles maybe, maybe needing a little more setup, but better than what the originals have turned into.

Windows Media Player is a prime example of this trend. What was once a simple video player grew into a large purple monstrosity and with all the bloat, it still doesn't know how to find a missing DivX or Xvid codec after all these years.

Enter Media Player Classic Home Cinema, taking over from the Media Player Classic of a couple of years ago. With a simplified stripped-down interface reminiscent of the original simple Windows Media Player, Media Player Classic Home Cinema is a free download, no ads or adware, with a powerful array of features available from the menu bar. Add to it the free ffdshow codecs and you would be hard-pressed to find a video format it could not play.

Tired of trying to deal with all the adware and bundled software of Real Player but still want to watch Real-encoded video streams? Try the Real Alternative codec package. It integrates with Media Player Classic and allows you to view Real streaming video without all the unwanted extras of the original.

Need to see PDF files but you're tired of dealing with slow loading Adobe Reader software? Foxit Reader can read pretty much all the same PDF content, can be customized with free add-ons, and loads in a snap without wanting to be preloaded like Adobe Reader or displaying an annoying splash screen when all you want is to see the PDF. And it doesn't have to contact its home server all the time.

Want a lighter and more versatile office software package and don't want to spend money? is your answer. It opens all the popular Office formats and can do other useful things like saving to PDF files.

Finally, getting tired of never knowing for sure if your Windows computer is safe to send out credit card info or if there is some sneaky key-logging program catching all your keystrokes that somehow slipped past your guard? Getting tired of having to have constantly updating anti-virus and anti-spyware software?

Maybe you're ready for Ubuntu. With a spanking new version released in the last two weeks, Ubuntu is Linux designed for the home and small business user. With a familiar looking desktop, infinitely more security than Windows and no cost, Ubuntu is an operating system that many of you should take a good look at.

Download the CD image and use your favorite CD burning software to put it on a CD. You can try it out by just booting up your computer with the Ubuntu CD in it. Reboot with it out and you're back in Windows, with nothing changed. Or install it and use it on its own or as a dual-boot with Windows.


Media Player Classic Home Cinema (free):


ffdshow codecs package (free):


Real Alternative (free):


Foxit PDF Reader (free): (free):


Ubuntu Linux (free):


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Originally published 2 May 2008


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