The best FOSS alternatives to ‘the best’ proprietary programs

by Cover Tower - Updated October 10, 2021


A ‘contradiction in terms’ is a phrase or expression that contains words that contradict one another. You cannot say, for example, ‘nice hell’. It’s a contradiction in terms, because the hell is a place of horror and it can never be nice. Similarly, the expression ‘a good proprietary program’ is a contradiction in terms. A proprietary program can never be good because it deprives its users of the 4 basic freedoms that all programs should offer: the freedom to use the program as they wish, the freedom to modify the program, the freedom to give to others copies of the unmodified program and the freedom to give to others copies of the modified program.

By using the expression “‘the best’ proprietary programs” in the title of this article, we meant that among all the proprietary programs, some have more features than others, are easier to use, etc., so, they are considered in general better than other proprietary programs and even the best in their category. However, this doesn’t mean that they are acceptable. They remain bad and unacceptable because they take away the 4 basic freedoms mentioned above. Therefore, even if they had the highest technical quality in the world, these programs would still remain unacceptable. By listing the proprietary programs that are considered ‘the best’ in their computing field, we don’t intend to endorse or recommend their use. On the contrary: we want to convey the message that even the proprietary programs that are considered the ‘standard’ in different domains, can be replaced with excellent free and open source programs that respect their users’ freedom.

The reality, confirmed by thousands of users, is that for all the program categories listed below, there is an excellent FOSS alternative to ‘the best’ proprietary program, even if there may be some rarely used features that the FOSS programs don’t offer. In general, the use of those features can be circumvented.

To decide which free and open source program is the best in a computing field, we took into account the following factors:

  1. respect for user freedom
  2. performance
  3. security
  4. functional features
  5. hardware resource usage
  6. ease of use
  7. large developer community and large user community (this determines the availability of companies or independant developers that can be hired to develop custom features, plugins, etc. and the availability of ‘community support’ on forums, mailing lists, etc.)
  8. large number of plugins/modules/apps (such as WordPress plugins, Nextcloud apps, etc.)
  9. robust, efficient, time-tested, easy to use and popular programming language
  10. clear and complete documentation

Here is the list with the best free and open source alternatives to ‘the best’ proprietary programs, for each commonly used program category. (When we mention a service, such as the ’email service’, we refer to the programs used to offer that service. Most of the programs listed below (like the browser, the media player, etc.) are standalone programs that have to be installed on a laptop/desktop, but there are also programs (like the ERP & CRM application, the web traffic monitoring application, etc.), that have to be installed on a server.)


Program category‘Best’ proprietary programBest FOSS program
Desktop operating systemWindowsLinux Debian
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation instructions
Download
BrowserChromeFirefox
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Download
Quick start video tutorial
Email clientMicrosoft OutlookThunderbird
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Quick start video tutorial
Office suiteMicrosoft OfficeLibreOffice
Official website
Wikipedia page
• It is preinstalled in Debian
Quick start video tutorial
Raster graphics editorAdobe PhotoshopGIMP
Official website
Wikipedia page
• It is preinstalled in Debian
Quick start video tutorial
Vector graphics editorAdobe IllustratorInkscape
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Quick start video tutorial
Desktop publishingAdobe InDesignScribus
Official website
Wikipedia page
• Install on Debian by running:
‘apt-get install scribus’
Video editingAdobe Premiere ProShotcut
Official website
Wikipedia page
Use the portable version on Debian (no need to install)
Download
Quick start video tutorial
Audio editingAdobe AuditionAudacity
Official website
Wikipedia page
• Install on Debian by running:
‘apt-get install audacity’
Quick start video tutorial
Video live streaming and recordingWirecastOBS Studio
Official website
Wikipedia page
• Install on Debian by running:
‘apt-get install ffmpeg obs-studio’
Quick start video tutorial
Media playerGOM PlayerVLC media player
Official website
Wikipedia page
• Install on Debian by running:
‘apt-get install vlc’
3D computer graphicsAutodesk 3ds MaxBlender
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Download
Quick start video tutorial
Computer-aided designAutoCADFreeCAD
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Quick start video tutorial
Email serviceGmailRoundcube (+ LEMP stack + Postfix + Dovecot + SpamAssassin + ClamAV + Postfix Admin)
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
File hosting & file synchronizationDropboxNextcloud
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Download
Web-based collaborative document editingGoogle Docs EditorsLibreOffice Online
Official website
Wikipedia page section
Installation on Debian
PDF editingAdobe Acrobat Pro DCLibreOffice Draw
Official web page
Wikipedia page
• It is preinstalled in Debian
Quick start video tutorial
Document preparation (math equations, etc.)Arbortext Advanced Print PublisherLaTeX
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
ERP & CRMMicrosoft Dynamics 365Dolibarr
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Download
Quick start video tutorial
Mass email sendingMailchimpphpList
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Download
Quick start video tutorial
Web traffic monitoringGoogle AnalyticsMatomo
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Download
Quick start video tutorial
Hosted hypervisorVMware Workstation ProOracle VM VirtualBox
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Optical disc burningNero Burning ROMBrasero
Official web page
Wikipedia page
• Install on Debian by running:
‘apt-get install brasero’
Social media platformFacebookFriendica
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Quick start video tutorial
Software development and version control platformGitHub (yes, the software used to run github.com is proprietary, with the exception of a few components)GitList
Official website
Installation on Debian
Web video/audio/text communication, including video conferencesZoomRoundpin
Official website
Installation on Debian
Content management system (CMS)SitefinityWordPress
Official website
Wikipedia page
Installation on Debian
Quick start video tutorial


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