Not everyone can afford the prices Microsoft and other companies charge for their software. Others are ideologically opposed to the the business and coding practices of this or that company (read: Microsoft).

There are alternatives, however.

Operating System
Ubuntu Screen Shot
Screen Shot of my Ubuntu Desktop from around 2011. I now use the XFCE windows manager instead of Gnome.

On none of my home computers do I use Microsoft’s Windows operating system. I prefer Linux, specifically Ubuntu, a development fork from the Debian Linux implementation. There are several reasons I prefer Ubuntu to Windows:

  • It’s faster.
  • It’s more stable. (Google runs all its servers on Linux, as do the vast majority of all web sites.)
  • There are no viruses!
  • It makes better use of system resources.
  • It’s more flexible.
  • It’s free.

That’s right: like all Open Source computer programs, Ubuntu is completely and totally free. Not only that, but it also makes old computers run like new. The minimum system requirements mean that it will run quite well on older computers with older processors (as slow as 300 MHz) on mother boards that have substantially less memory (128 MB) than new systems.

The bottom line is simple: Ubuntu resurrects old computers and turns newer computers into sleeker, faster, and safer machines than Windows can dream of doing.

(On a side note, Google uses Ubuntu for all their in-house computing, though, being Google, they’ve made their own version — ah, the joys of Open Source — called Goobuntu.)

Productivity Software

Don’t have a copy of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc) and don’t want to steal by using a pirated copy? Here are some alternatives, all of which are free.

  • LibreOffice (Site)
    This is my productivity software of choice. Absolutely free and very robust. (It is a fork of, which illustrates one of the advantages of Open Source software.)
  • Google Docs (Site)
    This is not nearly as robust as, but it gets the job done. There are plenty of templates available as well. The downsides:

    • You must be online to use it.
    • Many of the features are still relatively primitive.
    • You’re storing everything on the cloud. This has certain security concerns for many.
  • Zoho Writer (Site)
    Something like Google Docs, only closer in features to Word. The downside: slow load times. (And, of course, you have to be online, and it has the same potential security issues as Google Docs.)
  • AbiWord (Site)
    This is a fairly decent word processing program. If all you need to do is write a term paper (and you have limited disk space), this might be the way to go. The downside: no spreadsheet or presentation software.

Many don’t feel Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is the best browser out there. Experts in fact often warn of security vulnerabilities in the coding. There are plenty of alternatives.

  • Google Chrome (Site)
    This is one fast browser. It’s my browser of choice, and I only use others when I have to.
  • Firefox (Site)
    An excellent choice, and for many years, it was the browser I used.
  • Opera (Site)
    This has some nice features for developers, but then Google Chrome came and improved those features.
Educational Apps


I create a lot of screencasts for students.

  • I use it with my journalism students to show them how to use Audacity for their audio reportage projects.
  • I use it with my English students to annotate texts and explain how I’m using context clues as I’m doing it.

I create my screencasts with Screencastify, a free app you can install on Google Chrome. Once you have it configured, it automatically saves your screencasts to a folder in Google Drive. From there, you can provide students with a link, download it and store it somewhere else, or embed it in a Google Classroom assignment.

Audio Projects

Simple: Audacity. It’s tough to use at first, but it’s very flexible, and it has the added bonus of having a Linux version (see above).

Miscellaneous Programs


How did I ever live without Evernote? Because it has a desktop version that links to an app on my phone, I use it to

  • create checklists for students such as announcements I need to make in a class or roll for a field trip;
  • save web resources for later use (no more bookmarks for me!);
  • share information with students;
  • make shopping lists (including how I’m going to spend my state supply allowance);
  • keep track of personal writing projects; and
  • just about anything else you want to remember.

It’s a note-taking app on steroids. I couldn’t live without it.

Please let me know how I can help you.