What proprietary tool do you wish had an open source alternative?

Most of us have at least one tool we want to ditch but just can't. What's yours?
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TeroVesalainen via Pixabay CC0

Whether it's that one program that's keeping you from making the switch over to using the Linux desktop, a phone app that keeps pestering you with needless notifications, a terrible web interface that looks like it came straight out of the 90s, or something else, there's probably some closed-source proprietary tool out that that you'd love to rid your life of.

The truth is, almost all of us have at least a small handful of proprietary tools hanging around that we'd love to ditch if only we could find a way to make that happen. Maybe the barrier is the lack of an open source alternative providing the same functionality. Maybe there's a good open source equivalent out there, but your school or workplace mandates the closed-source option instead. Or maybe you're stuck working with client files that are only available in a locked-up format.

Whatever the reason, we feel your pain, and we'd love to hear what irks you the most. What proprietary tool do you most want to rid your life of, but just haven't found the way to do so yet? And don't worry, there's hope. The open source community has built great alternatives to everything from AutoCAD to Minecraft, from Trello to Gmail, and from Slack to Acrobat.

Let us know in the comments below. And while we too are passionate about making the switch to open, do try to keep your comments civil!

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43 Comments

I'd like to have free and open source business process simulation program such as Bizagi Modeler (free as in beer, proprietary, Windows-only, does not work under Wine) or Visual Paradigm (proprietary, multi-platform).

Bonita BPM used to have business process simulation, but it was weak and ultimately dropped.

There are many FOSS tools for business process modeling, such as Activiti and its fork Camunda, but those tools do not support business process simulation.

Sirportly (customer support system). Most open source solutions seems like a downgrade, they look dated/lacks features/or their future depends on a single developer (way too risky), but I have bearly looked at Zammad and it might be a good OS solution. It would be nice if you gave it a thorough review (both the good and bad parts) as it would help in the decision making.

TomTom MyDrive Connect, to update my TomTom sat nav. It's the only Windows application I've not been able to find an alternative to. It's particularly infuriating given the TomTom device is running Linux!

Decent remote support software. TeamViewer and AnyDesk are proprietary, and VNC is absolutely terrible. X2Go is good, but it requires an open firewall port and credentials to the PC. :(

AutoCAD. Nothing open source that I've seen comes anywhere close for user ergonomics. Reverse engineering the full product is of course a big ask, but it would be a great day in the history of open source software if someone could graft onto one of the open source CADs the point selection features of AutoCAD, namely osnaps, relative coordinates, and especially the .x type point selection where you can combine (say) the x-coordinate of an osnap point with the y (and/or z) coordinate from a point input some other way (direct numeric entry, a different osnap point, etc.)

I've been using Linux for my desktop and day-to-day tasks since 1999. I lived with this fact and I didn't need any other piece of non OSS since I joined my current employer.

We use Microsoft Lync (Skype for Business) heavily, and it's the only reason I have a Windows VM on my laptop. And every time I have to go in a meeting I have to start the Windows machine fire up Lync (Skype for Business).

Device drivers: Especially for video cards and sound cards. The MAFIAA seems to have a lock on multimedia technologies in general, for the obvious-enough reasons.

Here's some irony for ya. SuperTuxKart, the motorsports-themed game, with a very FOSS-themed cast of characters, that is in most respects a loving celebration of all things open source, but on my GNU/Linux system all the reflective surfaces render as pixellated noise unless I switch from the open-source Nouveau driver to the proprietary driver from Nvidia.

In reply to by Lori

It would be great if I could have an open source tool where I can read and edit Filemaker Pro files.

Voice-to-text software like Dragon Naturally Speaking would be great. All the projects I've seen seem to be focused on the academic aspects of voice recognition or setting up an array of voice commands, but nothing user-friendly that would take actual dictation.

Microsoft Publisher. The few lay-out programs I've tried have been very poor in comparison, and that's impressive because Publisher is such a horrible bit of kit to begin with

Used M$haft Publisher decades ago. Did without it while rage-fussing with WordPerfect and successor M$haft Word versions. Have used Scribus since before the change of internal storage format. Scribus gives the same linked text-frame model that was the huge advantage of M$ Publisher, but with worlds more graphics capability. They've continued steady development and are so far advanced I can imagine no effective competitor, whether open source or proprietary. One lovely aspect is the big international collection of barcode formats. A self-publisher's dream.

A bug I ran into last year appears in PDF export, unresolved to my knowledge: PDFs I submitted with drawings failed the USPTO.gov automated patent application validator. These files render perfectly in open source PDF rendering engines. A workaround was to flatten the graphics page by page with gimp and re-import those files into Scibus graphics frames. --DZ

In reply to by Alex (not verified)

A really good competitor to MS Visio or Mac OmniGraffle. I have used Dia on Linux with reasonable success, but it really doesn't produce diagrams at the same level as the previously mentioned.

Turbo Tax

I would like Quicken (DOS version 8), Wordperfect (DOS ver 6.3), PC-File (DOS ver 7.0) and an address book that is compatible with Thunderbird (that can dial a phone). I can live with the Linux spreadsheet.

I'd like to see CUPS drivers for my Brother MFC-J425W All-In-One printer so I could install Xubuntu Linux on my mom's computer and dump Windows and its related heartaches.

LabVIEW, there seems to be no alternative other than other Windows alternative.

I strongly think that if the Open Source community built an alternative, this would open the programming world to others that find coding with text instead of pictures not intuitive.

How about a driver for interactive whiteboards?

Visio, definitely. All of the opensource 'alternatives' lack basic functionality or import capability.

Microsoft Internet Explorer. It seems strange but some bank sites only works in this program. Of course, it depends on a company that many times does not want to open their sources programs.

A very timely and informative post.
There's no doubt that Linux, Windows and Mac have very good well-known graphics apps.

But I'll tell ya one thing, IrfanView written by the brilliant Irfan Skiljan and released to the world in 1996 on Windows (free for non-commercial use) is perhaps one of the best light-weight graphics apps I've ever seen that packs a ton of easy-to-use features (view or play anything, batch renaming/resizing, create panoramas with ease, easily touch up photos like a PhotoShop light edition without the bloat, builtin TWAIN support, & waaay more other graphics goodies) - right at your fingertips.

Heck, it only uses around 3 to 10MB RAM when you're viewing pics or doing routine stuff. And there is a free plugin bundle that adds more capabilities for manipulating other file formats or doing more advanced stuff - if you need it.

In fact, every time I do a Windows install for friends or clients, IrfanView is right there to make their digital lives much much easier. I have yet to find any app that allows me to EASILY resize AND rename pics in batch mode.
I kid you not, IrfanView is like the MX Linux (or Point Linux or CrunchBang) of graphic viewers - STABLE, ridiculously efficient, fast, intuitive. Thankfully, it runs in Wine without a hitch - always!

I liked this app so much that I even sent Irfan an email a looong time ago to say hello. I think I even sent him a scenic postcard when I was traveling through East Africa. I've never ever done sh!t like that - for any app developer. But Irfan? No problem, because IrfanView makes me feel like a graphics pro - even though I suck at graphics.

Wanna see how much users love & appreciate Irfan for creating IrfanView?
"In the years since IrfanView hit the Net I've received more than 65,000 e-mail messages thanking me, congratulating me, and wishing me well...I've tried to answer all the messages with at least a Thank You.
I very much appreciate all the messages I receive."

Remember, IrfanView has over 85 million downloads on CNet, and was a pioneer in certain features in a graphics viewer 'back then'. He truly is a legend. And best of all, IrfanView has not seen one bit of bloat compared to its competition. Nada!

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IrfanView

OneNote desktop version. Fortunately, the older versions run under WINE and have all the features I want.

A fast tool for creating presentations with good graphical quality, such as Microsoft PowerPoint and 100% compatible tools with Microsoft Word/Excel. The only reason I use Mac OS X on a workstation is Microsoft Office. Working with OpenOffice or LibreOffice is difficult. The more complex the presentation is, the more slowly these products works, even after various tunings. You can not practically work with them - I already had one approach to transition to LibreOffice and OpenOffice. We do not need "something" that replaces "something", we need something that works just as well and efficiently. So the good office tool is what I miss to work totally on the Linux system.

An OCR program with the features of the Abby Finereader. While we have OCR technology there is nothing of that quality.

Much as I hate working in VBA, the Sun-Moon-Star flavour in LO makes LibreOffice a much poorer cousin to Microsoft Office. Too much office automation code has been written in VBA to simply ignore the elephant in the room.

I'd even - very willingly - convert all my VB code to Python, if the PowerThatBe decided to extend LO with Python.

Intuit products - Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax. I've tried all of the personal finance tools available on Linux, but they simply can't compete with Quicken - and I greatly dislike Quicken to begin with. I've found no equitable business finance or tax tools to even try them.

I'd like an alternative for Android which respects privacy. I know it's not quite what you asked, but it's a specific case for the more general problem I see, which is that these days, I don't have to use much proprietary software: there are so many alternatives, but increasingly there are platforms which have become so powerful through network effects that refusal to use them confers a significant disadvantage.

About Android: I had great hopes for FirefoxOS but sadly that was discontinued. Android's privacy is really appalling. With apps you can only take it or leave it, whereas I'd like to selectively grant/revoke permissions and know what features will be affected by it. Then, of course, there's the whole thing about Google gathering location data even when people have it disabled. Smartphones are everywhere, and I don't trust mine at all.

Stable up-to-date linux builds of Unreal Engine and Unity

CCS Candy Construction Estimating software
I am forced to use this software for organisation reasons.
Used excel/ other spread sheets for construction estimating and planning
Fails in two ways - 1 Every time is make a new estimate have to copy everything to new workbook (else links become a problem) 2 cannot do a schedule with critical path visible

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