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
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? OpenOffice.org 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
Media Player Classic Home Cinema (free):
ffdshow codecs package (free):
Real Alternative (free):
Foxit PDF Reader (free):
Ubuntu Linux (free):
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Originally published 2 May 2008