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Open Source alternatives to Adobe Creative Suite

With the take over of Macromedia by Adobe, they have increased their arsenal of design packages, as well as the price. No-one can do pretty much without the popular package of Photoshop for their images, and Dreamweaver for websites, especially aspiring design students who do not have much money.

Nevertheless, open source software has come to save the day. What is open source software? In a nutshell it is free software with its source-code freely available to those who would like to expand or improve on the software. To expand further, anyone who’s tinkered with the source code such as optimisation or additional functionality can resubmit it back to the holders and let others enjoy the fruits of your labour.

I have trawled through the World Wide Web to find out how everyone can benefit from Open Source to build up their own studio and compete against Adobe Creative Suite. All this for free, apart from the cost of the Internet. I am planning to have a facility where you can purchase the CD from here for the price of the CD and sending it, if you don’t have decent access to the Internet. There are some software that are not open source but are, nevertheless, free.

In the following, I look into the software available on the Microsoft Windows and Mac OS operating systems. While open source caters mostly for GNU/Linux and on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS users seam to have been left in the shade. I am going to turn that around and provide help to them as well, as I love the Mac.


Our favourite application, where you can perform a whole host of digital imager from the humble photo editing task right through to creating impressive designs. My favourite open source alternative is The GIMP, which is available on the Windows platform and the Apple Mac, and comes in different varieties namely GIMPShop which tries to mimic Photoshop’s interface.

The Mac, however, requires an X11 plugin which I for the life of me cannot get working. If you can get it working, nice one. Otherwise for those in the same boat as me an aspiring developer has created Seashore, which is based on The GIMP and does not require any additional plugins.

Another nifty alternative is Paint.NET for the Windows platform, which requires the .NET framework. This was created by two students for a university project and eventually got hired by Microsoft.


This is a vector based drawing application, which you can use for the print media such as business cards, leaflets and advertising. After much searching, I came across Inkscape, which is available for Windows and Mac OS. A handy functionality is that it has is the ability to export straight to a PDF. It can also be used to create pages for the web and be standards compliant (CSS, XML and SVG) at the same time.


A monolith application, which installs a print driver to convert pretty much anything to PDF, from Word documents to images. Additionally, it allows you to edit and view PDFs. A really fast loading PDF viewer is FoxIT PDF Reader, and combined with PDF Creator you’ve pretty much got the basis of PDF creation and viewing.

PDF Creator installs a print driver similar to Acrobat and is by far my favourite application, which is available on Windows and Mac OS. Another application is PrimoPDF, which is not open source but is just as good if not better than PDF Creator and allows you to merge PDF documents.

Sadly enough, these applications are not available on Mac OS. It is not easy to find a PDF converter/generator. However, the OS does have a built in viewer (Preview) which supports PDF viewing and there is a "Save as PDF" feature when printing from within your applications (more here). Also, I did find Free PDF Converter, but I haven’t tested it.

For the techy guru's you can still get hold of Ghostscript and an interface for it, which can convert postscript files to PDF.


I haven’t forgot this one. It seems that Acrobat has dropped GoLive in favour of Dreamweaver for the purpose of website maintenance and creation, and I don’t blame them. However, all is not lost. NVU is available which provides a WYSIWYG interface and highlighting for you HTML code, and is based on the Gecko engine which is powers Mozilla Firefox.

The interface is slightly different to Dreamweaver’s interface, but is still straightforward to use. Recently, a new application called KompoZer which is based on NVU was released and extends the feature set a bit more, but is considered as a bug release for NVU. So maybe it is...


Adobe’s flagship product is InDesign, which is creating waves in the Desktop Publishing (DTP) world. The open source alternative, Scribus, will not be able to match InDesign in terms of features and functionality, but it serves as an excellent introduction.

A handy feature to Scribus is the ability to work closely with The GIMP and It is nice to see that open source software is becoming more “open” in the field of design and interlinking with one another, thus strengthening the playing field for freeware software.

Lucky for you guys it is available on Windows and Mac OS.


This is, essentially, audio recording and editing software and the open source equivalent would be Audacity. Audacity has been around for a long time, and is available on Windows and Mac OS. It has a pretty tidy and uncluttered interface and is a powerful audio editor.


This is a beefy application, and the stand alone player has disappeared into browser only plugins. However there is an open source player called Gnash. As for the creation of Flash/SWF sites a great alternative is Synfig Studio, which has a crazy interface just like Flash. But don’t worry as there is a whole host of resources available on the Internet to get you going as well as being available for Windows and Mac OS.

There is another freeware application (for Windows users) called LiveSwift Lite if you're interested in alternatives.

After Effects

Oh yes. There’s even help for those who want to make funky effects on their home videos or want to make it in the broadcasting world. This comes in the form of Jashaka, which is available on Windows and Mac OS. Users of After Effects may eventually find they’re way around on the interface, since it has been modelled around Combustion.

While Jahshaka cannot is not fully there yet, it is the first application to be open source in this field. I am still impressed with what it can already do and there is a lot of functionality.

That’s a wrap

Well, that’s all folks. Casting an eye over the previous years freeware software has come a long way to perform wonders casting us away from the reliance on commercial software. I have already filled my Mac with a combination of freeware and open source software, which is used for my day to day work and definitely left my wallet alone.

Keep your eyes peeled for my next blog, which will cover getting free/open source software for daily usage at home and the office, and other festivities.


Unknown said…
Really appreciate your ahrd work in locating these open source alternatives to the pricey originals. I am sure that once I feel capable in the alternatives I'll probably end up using the originals in work. But for home use, these are great. Thanks again.
Spiral Wizard, Sacramento, CA
Anonymous said…
I wonder if there's an alternative to Flash Streaming Server... it should be simple to make, all it does is serve files based on rtsp protocol, right?
Shahid Ali Shah said…
Red5 is an Open Source Flash Server written in Java and is available from OS Flash
biscodo said…
Thanks for digging these up. I found your post while searching for page authoring tools for use by a non-profit organization that as yet has no money to spend - same situation as a struggling design student essentially. I had already known about GIMP and Inkscape, and was frankly, have been impressed as hell by the quality and functionality for a freeware/open source package. The list you have includes some good ones, so I'm looking forward to seeing what the others have to offer. Thanks again.
Anonymous said…
Your article was helpful, and your recommendations strong. So here is some code to clean up your blog, get rid of the blue bar at top, and keep the search. Insert the following into your head in your template.

#navbar-iframe {height:0px; visibility:hidden; display:none}

Then You can add a custom html/js widget to the side, title it search and add this code to keep your blog search, while getting rid of the ugly, blue blogger bar. Make sure you replace the ## with <>. Blogger will not allow code in comments.

#form id="searchthis" action="/search" style="display:inline;" method="get"#

#input id="b-query" tabindex="3" name="q" title="Search Blog" size="22" type="text"/#


#input id="b-searchbtn" tabindex="4" alt="Search Blog" value="Search" title="Search Blog" type="submit"/#


Also, because of their latest change (whacking off your JS code, and breaking them all) I have moved to Tumblr as my primary blog (and its easier to post too, much better. My Blogger blog is still up, it has a custom template, and can be found at, and my Tumblr blog is found at
Anonymous said…
SORRY, The link to my blogger blog is broken, please follow this link:
Shahid Ali Shah said…
Hey, shane. Thanks for your comments plus the tips, I will put them in at the first opportunity. My work place keeps sending all over the country.

Had a look at your blog, very nice indeed.
Shahid Ali Shah said…
Hello biscodo. I'm glad to have been helpful in your search.

If you are still looking around for more tools have a look at It is by far the largest host for open source projects.
Anonymous said…
Useful article thanks.

One minor comment which may help some readers. I used to use Dreamweaver but switched to Eclipse and haven't looked back since. Eclipse is not only free but a fully fledged Integrated Development Environment (IDE). I'm now doing work which simply wouldn't be possible with Dreamweaver.
Anonymous said…
Some of these programs and other great design/production programs can be installed at once using the "scl installer" (
Shahid Ali Shah said…
Eclipse is definitely a decent tool. It is such a huge IDE (Integrated Development Environment), which covers a broad spectrum of target environments and SDKs. However, it is not a visual tool like Dreamweaver (which overall is small compared to Eclipse).

This is mentioned in another blogpost
Unknown said…
This blog impressed me and over exceeded my expectations. You know how to involve a reader and increase his curiosity to read more. Many congratulations!
Robinson said…
This blog is given greatful information , and it is share good post.

Alternative to for Mac
Unknown said…
Paint.Net Mac : Paint.Net for Mac like MyBrushes, Pinta, and GIMP are some equivalents digital artists can choose to use Paint.Net Mac.

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