How to Be a Productive Cheapskate

When I finally splurged and bought a new MacBook last year, I was dismayed to find that none of my software was compatible. I became maniacal about avoiding having to buy new Microsoft Office, Adobe PhotoShop and Dreamweaver, the three software applications I use daily in my work. Then I bought a PC laptop. There was no way I was going to fork out big bucks for PC-compatible software. What was a cheapskate to do?

I put the word out on Twitter seeking solutions that wouldn’t break my bank but could give me the functionality of word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, photo editing and web site authoring. My Twitterpals came through with some pretty workable – and very affordable – solutions:

  1. NeoOffice & OpenOffice for office suite software
  2. GIMP for photo editing
  3. Coda for web site authoring and editing

Here’s how I’m doing so far…

NeoOffice (Mac)

Wow! A full-featured suite of office applications that works purely off donations. Gotta love free, open-source software. Not to be a complete and total cheapskate, I did make a donation for access to word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database program. I’ve been using the first three constantly and after a short transition period, got used to the slight changes in interface and placement of features in the drop down menus. I’ve had no trouble importing my old documents or saving documents in formats that anyone else can read. I love the Export to PDF feature – it has totally integrated creating PDFs into the system. Sweet!

The downsides: I haven’t figured out how to shut off their feature that automatically completes the spelling of a word. It tends to guess wrong and then I can’t move on to the next word without clicking around that page. Sometimes, I forget to save the document as a more universal format and send a .odt file, driving a few clients batty as they try unsuccessfully to open it. And I have to admit, the program crashes on my often, but luckily their file rescue feature works well. I’m sure there is a patch that will fix this, however, I’m one of those people who is totally adverse to upgrading so I suffer a little for it.
OpenOffice (PC)

When I had my shiny new PC, I was relieved to learn that NeoOffice also has a PC version. Okay, I admit the PC version came first, but regardless, I ended up with the same workable solution to avoiding the big name software packages that would have tore a hole in my wallet.

GIMP (Unix, Windows, Mac)

With my MacBook purchase, I gave in and drove through the snowy streets of Alaska to an actual computer store (gasp!) to buy an actual box of software – PhotoShop Elements. I saw that it was on sale in my (shock!) local newspaper. Now don’t go getting any ideas that I’m always this Luddite-ish. I just have my moments. With the PC, however, I was not about to go out and repeat this action. Thank goodness there is GIMP – The GNU Image Manipulation Program. Too bad I didn’t look into it earlier – could have saved $49. (Yeah, I know. Cheapskate).

I’ve done some basic photo manipulation so far and my limited use of the program is not for its lacking but because I’m still having a difficult time adjusting to Windows. Now before you start thinking I’m anti-PC, I’ll have you know I learned to use computers back in the dark ages – BW (Before Windows). A Wang, to be exact. My second computer was an Amstrad 1640 with dual floppies because back then, nobody thought computers actually needed hard drives so everything was done by inserting floppy disks (yes, they were floppy), back and forth, until a program loaded. Sigh…those were the days.

Despite limited use of GIMP to date, I am still grateful to have it.

Coda (Mac)

This is a new addition to my cheapskate suite of workable software solutions. I just needed something for quick and dirty web site editing. Being from the old school where hardcore editing straight in the HTML doesn’t scare me, I dove right in and started using this product to add a link on a page or remove an image. Piece of cake. I was able to get Coda working and linked up to a client’s FTP site in minutes, something that I’m still not managing with Dreamweaver which is on my old PowerBook G4.

I’m of the mind that if I have to read instructions, your software just isn’t intuitive enough. So far my Cheapskate Suite is passing my intuitiveness test. And I’m productive with money to spare. But please, don’t forget to donate to your favorite programmers so they can keep fighting the good fight.