This is the first post in a series dedicated to alternatives to overpriced software. Since I own my own DJ company, I need to do lots of things that bigger businesses pay other people to do. I design and mange my own web site, design my own printed marketing materials, do my own accounting and anything else it takes to run a small business. I love finding perfect software tools to get the job done, but I HATE the pricing scheme of many of the software producers. Their ridiculous pricing schemes tend to cause piracy. I'm not saying people have the right to steal what they can't afford, I'm just saying that when a popular piece of software, like Photoshop, costs as much as a week's pay for some people, you've got to expect more piracy, not less.
For example, Adobe's Photoshop sells for $625 to $700. Photoshop has been around since 1990, it is currently in it's 10th version and hasn't changed much since the 7th version. So why does Adobe charge so much for it? They say they need to charge so much to make up for piracy. So, is the price the chicken, or the egg? As iTunes has proven, if people are offered a reasonably priced alternative, they turn away from piracy. The competition to iTunes is FREE. Yet Apple's iTunes store still makes more money than you can even count because people are basically good and don't mind paying for stuff they want. They just want it at a fair price. Since I already mentioned Photoshop, I'll give you two free alternatives to Photoshop, as well as a cheaper path to owning a legitimate copy of the real Photoshop.
The first free alternative to Photoshop is The Gimp. I know, it's a funny name, but a serious competitor to Photoshop. The Gimp is absolutely free, and open source. Open source means the source code to The Gimp is public and therefore, it is safe to install on your computer. The first thing you will notice about The Gimp is that it looks just like Photoshop. There's practically no learning curve if you've used Photoshop. If you've already wrapped your mind around the concept of working with layers, then you should feel right at home. For Photoshop power users, you will notice some very advance features are missing. For example, Photoshop has a much more sophisticated way of handling perspective correction. But you can get similar results with the Gimp's perspective correction, which is basically doing a "tranform" on an object. The Gimp is also missing the vanishing point tool, but you'll see similar results by using the clone tool (called the clone stamp in Photoshop) The only major drawback of The Gimp is its inability to work with CMYK. In other words, if you are sending your work directly to professional printers, they will want a CMYK file in order for it to be considered "print ready." Sending an RGB file to a professional printer usually means the colors on the printed product will not look anything like what you designed.
My second free alternative to Photoshop is actually a web based solution called Pixlr. I guess the name is the result of letting the text messaging generation name a product, vowels optional. I discovered Pixlr while on vacation in Nevada. My wife needed a new web site ASAP, and I was stuck with a computer that didn't have any photo editing software installed. I was immediately struck by the fact that there's nothing to install to use Pixlr. All the work is done completely over the web. Even though I was using a fairly slow Internet connection (a tethered EVDO connection because I was in rural Nevada) I was able to use Pixlr to crop pictures, adjust brightness, round the edges, add a border, brush over a blemish, add text and many other tasks that I would normally use Photoshop for. It uses the same layering system as Photoshop and The Gimp, so again, no learning curve. It works perfectly for editing images for a web site, but unfortunately, it suffers from the same lack of CMYK capabilities and advanced features as The Gimp.
If neither of these free solutions to Photoshop work for you, there is a cheaper way to get a legal copy of Photoshop. This is exactly how I did it. I purchased a used, original disc of Photoshop version 7 for $60 from eBay. Then I purchased a CS2 (version 8) upgrade disc from Amazon for $135. So for $195, I got the same version that would have normally cost me $700. I'm still using CS2, but I do qualify for the upgrade to CS4 if I wanted to.
Both The Gimp and Pixlr have ways you can donate to the developers from their web sites. If you like the software, and use it, donate $5 like I did to keep them going. Support open source software and free alternatives. Hopefully, as these products get better with each new version, companies like Adobe will feel the pressure and come up with a realistic price for their products.
My next post on this topic will be alternatives to Microsoft Office. In a future post, I'll also tell you how to set up a computer as a software test platform. I install and uninstall so much software just to try it out, my computer was as slow as a turtle and infected with all kinds of diseases. I fixed that and I'll tell you how to do the same.