The way to keep maintain your freedom of choice is to always explore alternatives before going with the most obvious products from Microsoft. Click the various Microsoft icons above (or the text links below) to see information about alternatives to each product. (If you don't speak Geek, click on the grey glossary links for a pop-up English translation and explanation.) Click on the icons for these alternatives to learn more about each of them. Unless people consider them , they'll disappear, and no action by the government will be able to recreate them.
You'll often find that you need several products to replace a single Microsoft product. This actually demonstrates a flaw in Microsoft's design strategy (though it serves them well): by bundling so many functions into a single package, it becomes more difficult to replace the mediocre components with better ones. Microsoft is trying to create a single monolithic all-MS system (I call it "Microsoft Internet Office Windows"; they're starting to call it ".NET") where everything works together... but not with anything else. You'd have to collect a couple dozen separate programs to replace it all... a little more hassle, but think of the freedom it gives you: pick out a stable operating system, a snazzy browser, a secure e-mail program, an easy-to-use word processor, etc. You get to decide where to go, not Microsoft.
These lists are not intended to include all of the alternatives; there's no way they could, because there are too many developers out there still struggling to provide them. Instead these lists focus on the best options in my opinion. I've flagged them with micro-icons to indicate why each was included:
Some of the alternatives can be direct replacements for Microsoft's products (which doesn't necessarily mean they're the best), with the same functions and features. These are convenient if you're just looking for another option that's similar.
Many of the alternatives are better, usually more stable, better-designed, or simply more powerful. They're sometimes a bit different from Microsoft's products, but that's usually a good thing; they're worth the learning curve.
The alternatives are often less expensive, or even free. But don't mistake this for "cheap". After all, the inflated prices of Microsoft's products doesn't mean they're better. Some of the world's best software has come from volunteer programmers motivated by the challenge of solving problems, for themselves and others.
And some of the alternatives actively challenge Microsoft's dominance of the software industry, either by providing software for non-Microsoft operating systems, by promoting the use of open standards which Microsoft doesn't control, or even just putting cash into companies that provide Microsoft with real competition.
The options I've chosen to use myself are marked with a .
(For the particularly curious, here's a machine-by-machine overview of the software I use.)
Please e-mail me with any corrections, suggested additions, etc.
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