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Its easy to point out what's wrong with Microsoft (really, really easy). But its kind of pointless if there are no worthwhile alternatives. So I have listed some of the ones that, in my opinion, are worthy of mentioning.

  1. Windows 95/NT

    The obvious choices of Linux (with KDE!), FreeBSD, and QNX come to mind. Taken on their own merits, each is as good if not better than Windows in one way or another. Unfortunately, QNX is very expensive (update: I take that back,its actually *free*), the UNIXes have skill level entry barriers, and OS/2 simple has too small of a software base. Its clear that this is where Microsoft is the most deeply entrenched and that the OS vendors have a lot of work ahead of them if they have any hope of taking a fair share of the market.

    For a view of more experimental, leading edge operating systems be sure to check out my OS Alternatives page.

  2. Microsoft Office

    Sun's Star Office, Corel's Word Perfect Office, Lotus' SmartSuite and Software 602. All of these run on Windows, and Smart Suite will run on OS/2. This is where Microsoft makes all its money, by the way. This is a good place to try and hit Microsoft in the pocket book, but they are almost as well entrenched here as they are in the OS market. BTW, the SCO Unix version of Word Perfect can run on FreeBSD with some assistance.

    For people considering a commitment to Linux, StarOffice, KOffice or Applixware will be the way to go.

    I am currently evaluating StarOffice. Its pretty competent. I don't see any reason to use Office.

  3. Internet Explorer

    Netscape of course, and Opera, look like the most serious alternatives. Each has features that put IE to shame. Netscape runs on a variety of operating systems. Opera currently runs only under Windows however it appears as though it will be ported to the MacOS (not a serious consideration) OS/2 (ho hum) as well Linux (cheer!) and possibly the Amiga (ok, that's pushing it I think.)

    Of course, as is well known, Microsoft has made the status of IE as an application or integrated feature of Windows a subject of some debate (mostly them claiming its integrated, while everyone else knows its not.) If you want to use Netscape, be sure to follow their instructions on how to disable Internet Explorer. If you want to use Opera (my recommendation) be sure to heed their warning (reproduced here):

    WEB SURGEON'S WARNING: continuous use of bloatware browsers can result in >excessive hard disk wastage, prolonged document loading time, severe user frustration, and decreased Web satisfaction.
    THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNET HEALTH SUGGESTS: Practice safe browsing! Always load Opera! Support Project Magic!

    I use Opera. Version 3.60 absolutely kicks some major ass. Its stable (like version 2.11), its fast (like nothing I have seen from the competition), and it supports SUN's Java VM plug in (which is not nearly as slow as I was originally lead to believe.)

  4. Microsoft Exchange, Outlook

    Eudora, and Pegasus. These are excellent packages that already have well deserved success in the market place. While I am here I just want to go on record as saying that "OutLook" and "OutLook Express" are far and away the worst software packages of all time. They are exceedingly slow, totally unituitive, lack functionality, a disk hog, and very non-standard. I mean they are is far worse than a typical Microsoft 1.0 application -- the incredible uselessness of Microsoft's OutLook is incredibly dramatic when you compare it to Pegasus (which is superfast, simple, and very easy to understand.)

    I have been put in the very unfortunate position of having to use this at work, since its one of the those Microsoft standards that doesn't work with anything else (I don't have enough pull at the company to convince our IS department to  switch). Its a daily reminder of just how crappy Microsoft software really is.

    I use Pegasus. Its stable, super fast, and has programmable filtering. Pegasus is exactly what I want in a mail program.

  5. Microsoft Network

    Anything is better than Microsoft Network. Even a shell account on a UNIX system that is down for half the day is better than Microsoft Network. There's no point in listing the millions of alternatives.

    When I was on dial-up I used to use mindspring, which is a very competent, reasonable cost service provider. With high speed broadband, this doesn't seem to be an issue. Lets hope Microsoft never wises up enough to realize that they should be acquiring broadband providers.

  6. Microsoft Visual C/C++

    Code Warrior, LCC, Mingw32, and DJGPPcome to mind as being good alternatives to the Microsoft offering.

    I am well known for my support of WATCOM C/C++ but they are now defunct.

  7. Direct X/Active X

    Java, OpenGL etc. Basically, the Microsoft native API technologies are platform specific and can be very hard to use (not so much in terms of difficulty as that they require expensive compilers, documentation and usually a subscription to the very expensive Microsoft Developer Network). The more open standards that are emerging are, in general, based on sounder more accepted technology.

    This is one of those things that is impossible for an end user to make a choice about. However, I do not visit web sites that require ActiveX if I can help it, I use Sun's Java, and I play Quake II (which uses OpenGL)

  8. Visual Source Safe

    CVS, or PerForce come to mind (from opposite ends of the price spectrum.) Both are excellent for what they are designed to do. CVS does not have the scope of PerForce but is a hell of a lot better than a product that lets "Users lock files when they wish to work on them." with the lame reasoning that "This version control method insures that Visual SourceSafe users will not accidentally overwrite another users changes."

    Anyone who has tried it both ways knows that locking other users out is NOTthe way to do version control.

    Here are some quotes from the Perforce versus VSS competitive analysis page:

    • Sourcesafe has earned its nickname of Source-Unsafe. Corrupt databases are not unusual. These quotes are from Perforce prospects:
      • "We're really anxious to drop SourceSafe, since corrupted databases aren't anyone's idea of a useful development tool."
      • "Database became corrupted several times and sometimes the 'Analyze' utility didn't show any problems"
      • "File locks were frequently left behind and had to be manually removed."
      • "Large binary files OFTEN had to have their version history cleared with 3.1"

    I use CVS just for my little personal projects. It is straight forward to use and is very much in line with my preference for exposed data types (the repository data is clear text) and command line control. For more serious work I've heard nothing but praise for PerForce.

Other notable non-Microsoft technologies and Technology companies:

  • Real Player- Internet based streaming audio and video available for a variety of platforms. (actually 10% owned by Microsoft; very unfortunate -- update Microsoft has decided to sell its 10% stake in Real Networks since they have ended up as competitors)
  • SciTech- Makers of graphics interface libraries and drivers for the PC.
  • Light Wave - High end graphics rendering package. (TV and movie production quality)
  • Renderman - Even higher end graphics rendering package. (Movie production quality.)
  • Logitech - Makers of mice, game controllers, and scanners.
  • Intuit- Makers of Quicken and TurboTax.
  • LiteStep- An alternative desktop interface for Windows users.

(Please note that I have removed Symantec's products, since they are confirmed spammers.)

But, you ask, by listing so many Microsoft alternatives, am I not just validating Bill Gates' claim that the software market is already free and very competitive? No. Bill Gates wants to kill or consume every one of the companies listed above in order of market share, and spends every waking moment on trying to do just that.

The companies I list above are nothing more than a cross section of companies willing to build products based on technology who are alive now only because Microsoft has not yet gotten to them. In a few years time, I'm sure the list will shrink considerably, due directly to lost market share to Microsoft's monopolistic practices, not fair competition.

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MS alternatives by Todd Verbeek
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