How to Find Open Source Software for Windows

Joel Lee 16-07-2015

Open source software What Is Open Source Software? [MakeUseOf Explains] "Open source" is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days. You may know that certain things are open source, like Linux and Android, but do you know what it entails? What is open... Read More is the name of the game these days, largely due to a surge in concerns over online privacy Online Privacy: Do You Share Too Much Information? Sharing has always been a prominent part of what the Internet is and how it functions. And with social networks exploding in popularity in the past several years, sharing is probably the one aspect we... Read More and awareness regarding data security Change Your Bad Habits & Your Data Will Be More Secure Read More . With proprietary software, you just never really know what the program is doing with your data.


The world is moving towards a greater acceptance of open source software, and in some circles, acceptance has turned into demands for viable open source alternatives 14 Free and Open Source Alternatives for Paid Software Don't waste money on software for personal use! Not only do free alternatives exist, they most likely offer all the features you need and may be easier and safer to use. Read More to popular programs like Word and Photoshop.

Should you care about any of this? Absolutely! Here’s why.

Open Source Is the Future

Near the end of 2014, Microsoft announced that they would be open sourcing their .NET Framework A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us Microsoft just released a significant part of its code under a permissive open source license. This move breaks with years of tradition. But why and what does it mean for you? Read More , a code platform and environment on which many modern Windows programs rely. More recently, they also decided to open source Windows Live Writer.

And then there’s Apple, who announced that they would soon open source their Swift programming language Apple's Swift Is Going Open Source: So What? Even if you aren't a programmer yourself, Apple's decision to open source Swift will impact you. Want to know why and how? Read More .

When two of the world’s largest software companies- each of which has built its success atop proprietary technologies–begin to adopt the open source philosophy in a largely public way, that’s when you know that open source software truly is the future.

But what does this mean for you?


First and foremost, open source software usually (but not always) implies free software Open Source Software Licenses: Which Should You Use? Did you know that not all open source licenses are the same? Read More . While Photoshop, Microsoft Word, and Maya can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, open alternatives like GIMP, Libre Writer, and Blender are all completely free to download and use. Who doesn’t love free?

That being said, it’s still possible to make money with open source Understanding How Open Source Software Developers Make Money The truth is: many OSS developers and projects do generate revenue. Read More so don’t feel too bad for the developers. If you want to show support, you can always give them a donation.

Secondly, developers are held more accountable for their code. In a truly open source program, anyone can browse through the program’s code whenever they want, which means the developer can’t hide malware within or do shady things with your data.

Thirdly, open source software tends to develop faster and live longer. When anyone can contribute to an open source project Why Do People Contribute to Open Source Projects? Open source development is the future of software. It's great for users because open source software is usually available gratis and often safer to use. But what compels developers to contribute code for free? Read More , the development team is theoretically as big as the community, and therefore bugs are regularly fixed and features are added more frequently.


Fourthly, open source software promotes competition, and competition promotes quality and innovation. Through a technique known as project forking Open Source Software and Forking: The Good, The Great and The Ugly Sometimes, the end-user benefits greatly from forks. Sometimes, the fork is done under a shroud of anger, hatred and animosity. Let's look at some examples. Read More , an open source product could be split into two competing products, forcing each to “out-do” the other.

The end result is that both products are always improving, and that’s nothing but good news for users like you and me. So, where can you find awesome open source programs that are compatible with Windows? Let’s find out.

Note: Avoid using SourceForge! Not long ago, it came to light that SourceForge has been hijacking abandoned projects and bundling their installer files with malware. To save yourself any headache, we recommend that you ignore SourceForge altogether.

Open Source Windows


Open Source Windows is a curated list of the best open source programs available to Windows users. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a great starting point that highlights several high-quality gems.

You’ve probably heard of most of the included programs (e.g. Thunderbird, VLC, and Audacity) but there are some lesser-known ones that might surprise you (e.g. Miro, PeaZip, and SkipScreen). It’s worth a look, and make sure to visit its sister site, Best Privacy Tools.

Open Source Software Directory


Like Open Source Windows, Open Source Software Directory is a light resource for finding non-proprietary programs. Its database has a little over 1,000 programs in it, so the selection isn’t trivial (but falls short of some other websites, which we mention below).

You can filter by platform, by category, and by audience, making it straightforward to use. The minimalistic design makes it easy to navigate as well.



AlternativeTo is my absolute favorite website when searching out new software to use. It’s community-driven and community-maintained, so as far as comprehensive software coverage is concerned, there’s no better site out there.

While it isn’t solely focused on open source, AlternativeTo allows you to filter by platform (e.g. Windows) and by license (e.g. open source), resulting in approximately 4,600 open source programs available for Windows. These are further divided into categories like Office, Games, Audio, Backup, etc.

But the best way to use this site is to search for a particular program, then use the filters to find alternatives to that program. One of the best websites on the Internet, without a doubt.


OSAlt is similar to AlternativeTo in that it’s a site for finding alternatives to popular software, but OSAlt strictly focuses on open source only.

You can also browse the software directory by categories like Business, Games, Multimedia, Security, etc. It’s not the most visually appealing website, but it gets the job done.


Like OSAlt, OStatic is a site that’s useful for finding open source alternatives to otherwise proprietary programs, but OStatic is more than that. It’s a community of folks who believe in the open source philosophy.

Yes, you can search through OStatic’s directory of nearly 120,000 open source programs that can be filtered by category (e.g. Entertainment), by audience (e.g. developers), or even by a specific license (e.g. BSD license), but the real benefit is that you aren’t alone here.

OStatic has an actively maintained blog where users can discuss developments in the open source world. In terms of that, I don’t know if there’s a more up-to-date resource than this.

Open Source Is Viable on Windows

For a while, the common belief was that open source software simply couldn’t match the quality and robustness of proprietary products — and for a while, that may have been true. But these days, it’s no more than a baseless myth.

Don’t be afraid or reluctant to use open source programs on Windows (as long as the programs themselves are worth using). If you need a starting point for quality programs, check out our Best Windows Software The Best PC Software for Your Windows Computer Want the best PC software for your Windows computer? Our massive list collects the best and safest programs for all needs. Read More list.

How do you feel about the interplay between open source and Windows? Where do you go to find new open source gems? Share your thoughts and tips with us in the comments!

Image CreditsOpen Source Word Cloud By Gilmanshin Via Shutterstock, Android Apps on Smartphone By Piotr Adamowicz Via Shutterstock

Explore more about: Open Source, Software Licenses.

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  1. Malcolm Duff
    October 29, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    I find it difficult to distinguish statements of fact from opinions or simply unintended falsehoods in your writing. For example;
    "GIMP, Libre Writer, and Blender are all completely free to download". No they are not. Absolutely false. Unless you can recommend a monetary, obligation and responsibility "free" ISP. Can you? No. Thought not. So we all pay - in one "coin" or another - for that "free" GIMP don't we? We pay the ISP - or some other person, company, organisation does pay the ISP. Not free. Sure, you meant something else, didn't you? Well, write what you mean, it makes things easier for the reader.
    We won't go into an ISP that allows complete "freedom" to download anything to wherever you are from anywhere. Not usually the ISP's fault, admittedly but another pointer to the pointlessness of the word "free" in the context of software.

    The word "free" is the bane of Open Source Software. It has widely different meanings to widely different people, cultures, countries, demographics etc. This means that it is understood very differently by different people. You should not be promoting these myths about open source software.

    I will skip over your "Secondly" and "Thirdly" paras because I have bigger fish to fry and this comment is already too long.

    "Fourthly, open source software promotes competition, and competition promotes quality and innovation."

    Are either of these statements useful? Remember, this article is pointing out the advantages of open source software over proprietary software and the differences between them.

    Taking the first statement, well, proprietary software also promotes competition. Have a look at the competition between Microsoft, Lotus, Borland et al, over spreadsheets and word processors for a simple example, or IBM, Microsoft, Apple etc, over Operating Systems. So nothing different there. No advantage there.

    The second statement is indefensible. Competition does not promote quality nor innovation - to the exclusion of promoting their opposites. You could make a very strong argument for the opposite cases. e.g. "Ship it now, before they do!" or "We need something like that, they're pushing it, why aren't we?". Same stuff happens in the proprietay world.

    Sure, quality and innovation can be used as measures of a Company and it's products within the software world but competition is not the driver of them. If it is then you have a poor Company.

    The drivers of quality and innovation are people. You and me. Others? Sure, but it starts with you and me.

    All that said, nice article!

  2. Anonymous
    July 20, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Alternativeto is my favorite. I have found so much great stuff on there and not just for my PC but for Android as well.

    • Joel Lee
      August 14, 2015 at 4:26 am

      I use it all the time. Definitely an excellent resource!

  3. Anonymous
    July 16, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Unlike Microsoft, Apple is not just a software company because they make their own devices, so they are a hardware company as well which makes them propriety and Apple locks their software down not letting OEMs make iOS & MacOS devices

    • Joel Lee
      August 14, 2015 at 4:25 am

      That's true, but I'm pleased that Apple is not completely against open source with their latest announcements regarding Swift and such. Maybe they'll open up some more in the future.

  4. Anonymous
    July 16, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    useful information !

  5. Anonymous
    July 16, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    To me, freeware and Open Source are the same, as they are both free, but I know they're different because the developers are different (a single group/person vs a community of developers).

    There a problem with developers surviving solely on donations, and that is when there isn't enough or there isn't any donations. One of my favorite open source programs I used to use was call Synergy. When i started using it, it had a number of bugs, almost causing me to stop using it, but there were workarounds and beta fixes. This was when the developers accepted donations and the program was free. Now, they're charging for it and I don't know if any of the bugs are fixed. This wasn't the reason for not using it anymore, as I had no use for it. I'll admit I never made any donations.

    • Joel Lee
      August 14, 2015 at 4:24 am

      That's a big problem with a lot of open source projects. Unless it's completely fueled by passion, the truth is that developers have to put food on the table, and that usually means giving up the open source project for something that does make money (or making the project itself paid). :(