Finding GNU/Linux replacements for Windows software

When discussing ways to switch to GNU/Linux, one of thebiggest difficulties I've found is finding answers to the question,"What can I replace this program with?" It's completelyunderstandable; people don't want to lose functionality. However, Googling for answers can easily lead to confusion andfrustration if you don't have the background or knowledge to be able todifferentiate between the wheat and the chaff. Is there a comprehensive resource for finding GNU/Linux replacements for Windows software?

Enter the LinuxEquivalent Project, a database of Windowssoftware and the GNU/Linux equivalents and alternatives. Currently, it's just a simple list with links to the homepages of eachsoftware package, but simplicity can be a blessing. The layout is easy to understand, all the important content is right on the first page. If youoverwhelm an interested person with information, relative or not,you'll probably lose their interest.

It's an excellent idea, but has opened the floodgates ofcriticism on other news and technology sites, stemming from a few keyareas. The first is that alternatives are not completelyequivalent. Fundamentally, they're not the same as theoriginal. Arguments can be made that the alternative is asgood, if not better, than what it's replacing, but one should not makethe mistake of saying that the alternative is an exact duplicate ofevery function unless it truly is. The author of the site hasaddressed this in his site blog, stating that "alternatives" or"replacements" would have been a better way of phrasing the site titleand purpose.

Another issue, related to the first, is that a number of thesuggestions don't hold up when compared to the original. Thisis tricky; subjective opinions of two similar, yet disparate productswill definitely clash. A common example of this is the GIMPversus Photoshop discussion. Some maintain that the GIMP issuperior, others say that Photoshop is the only tool to use, and othersjust cringe in the corner as the warring factions clash in a gloriouscacophony. Both Photoshop and the GIMP are mature products,yet each is fundamentally different than the other in manyways. There is some crossover functionality, but using one toreplace the other is in my mind the equivalent of using oranges insteadof apples in an apple pie. Just because they're both tasty,round fruit doesn't mean you can use them interchangeably.

One possible solution to this issue is to have a basic votingsystem where people can express how closely the products match, andanother where they can rate the product itself. On the otherhand, it complicates the site and will allow the possibility of publicabuse of the rating system. There is an elegance in itssimplicity, which should not be ignored.

A third issue is that the list isn't comprehensiveenough. It's a fine line; if you list every single piece ofalternative software, then the site will become bloated andunusable. On the other hand, if you're missing somethingimportant, then you'll lose the interest of the public. Todeal with this problem, the site author has published a submission formto collect suggestions from the public.

The Linux Equivalent Project is not the only site of its type;there are dozens of other sites. For example, hasa very long wiki topic, LinuxRSPoffers a larger, yet infrequently updated table with hundreds ofpackages, and offersa comprehensive list of descriptions of software in addition to justnaming them.

I'm glad to see a new information resource such as the LinuxEquivalent Project get public attention and continue to grow and evolvein the face of criticism. If anything, more eyes on theseproducts will lead to more adoption, criticisms and comments, whichshould lead to improvement and growth for all the projects involved.


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