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Open source software a solid alternative to costly brands


WANT to save money on software? While it's hard to beat premium industry products with all of their bells and whistles, many small firms could be using free (or almost-free) open source rivals that can do the job just as well for a fraction of the cost. Here's a look at popular alternatives to the best known premium design and editing tools: Photoshop and InDesign.

Cost: €256.56 (inc Vat) per year for individual subscription

* Pros: available for Mac & Windows; choice of pantone colours; extensive training options

* Cons: consumes a lot of memory; tied into subscription

* In summary: Photoshop is one of the most well-known and widely used pieces of graphics software around. It is also considered crucial by many professionals. Today, Photoshop is considered the most feature-rich application of its kind.

Alternative 1: GIMP Shop

* Pros: available on Windows, Mac, Linux and Unix; superb ease of use (especially for repeatable actions); simple interface

* Cons: lack of tutorials, limited number of features compared to Photoshop

* In summary: 'GNU Image Manipulation Program' (or Gimp) is an open source graphic application that was started in 1995 and has since grown to the status it has today. Gimp is a valid competitor to all of the commercial bitmap drawing programs on the market.

Among its features are powerful painting tools, layers, channels support, multiple undo/redo and editable text layers. As a plug-in architecture and a scripting engine, Gimp allows easy extension of its functionality. Over 100 plug-ins and scripts are already available.

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Also, Gimp imports files from Photoshop and can also read scalable vector graphics files. Gimp Shop is a version which is (more or less) the same in look and feel as Photoshop. So for those who would like to move from Photoshop to Gimp, it's an easy migration option.

Alternative 2: Pixlr

* Pros: easy to use; can be accessed from any computer; on all platforms

* Cons: requires an internet connection, can't edit RAW or TIFF files, image resizing tools are sometimes inaccurate. Less suitable for heavyweight editing than GIMP or Photoshop.

* In summary: Pixlr is a web-based application that offers a good collection of simple and advanced tools. It has a high quality editor that allows you to quickly create digital collages or drawings. A wide range of filters are available and, in a few steps, a pretty background can be created. Because the image processing runs completely through your browser, there is no need for installation and it works on all platforms. There are three versions, ranging from basic to advanced.

Cost: €256.56 (inc Vat) per year for individual subscription

* Pros: highly intuitive; user friendly; available on Windows and Mac

* Cons: high-cost subscription model keeps you tied in; reliance on other Adobe products

* In summary: Considered the market leader in desktop publishing, the latest version of InDesign provides an array of new features including retina display support, a larger library of fonts and QR Code creation. There are few graphic designers that have not heard of InDesign, which is testimony to its success. Over the past year Adobe has shifted to a subscription-based model. Now if you want access to products like InDesign and Photoshop you will need to subscribe.

Alternative 1: Scribus

* Pros: comprehensive text and shaping palettes; excellent preference customisation; compatibility with other open source software such as Gimp; available on Windows, Mac and Linux.

* Cons: lack of text and image manipulation shortcuts; not as precise as commercial options

* In summary: Scribus is a free and open source software system that has almost everything you can find in commercial software. The range of page layouts it offers is comparable to those of Adobe InDesign, but unlike InDesign it's absolutely free. Besides layout, Scribus is made for typesetting and preparing files for professional-grade image-setting appliances. One of its main strengths is making PDF files with animation and interactive presentations. The user can also employ Scribus to design small books, brochures, newsletters, etc.

While it may not be as crisp as InDesign it confidently fulfils the requirements of all but the most advanced graphic designers. It's a perfect solution for those developing brochures, business cards, e-books and other things for those concerned about budgets.

Alternative 2: Serif Page Plus
Cost: free for starter version; €77 for Serif PagePlus X7

* Pros: simple, straightforward interface; chart generator is second to none; low cost.

* Cons: no Mac version; struggles to gain popularity among professionals

* In summary: Serif PagePlus has been hailed as an entry-level desktop publishing application that the beginner would appreciate because of its ease of use. It does, however, have many of the same functions as high end desktop publishers like QuarkXPress and InDesign. E-books can be created in the .epub and mobi formats and PDF files can be created, edited, viewed and published.

Rohit Thakral is a DIT graduate and chief executive of Dublin-based Target Integration, an open source software company that specialises in providing CRM and ERP software

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