Best Free and Open Source Alternatives to Microsoft

Best Free and Open Source Alternatives to Microsoft Narrator

Microsoft’s stance for decades was that community creation and sharing of communal code (later to be known as free and open source software) represented a direct attack on their business. Their battle with Linux stretches back many years. Back in 2001, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously tarnished Linux “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches”. Microsoft also initiated its “Get the Facts” marketing campaign from mid-2003, which specifically criticized Linux server usage, total cost of ownership, security, indemnification and reliability. The campaign was widely criticized for spreading misinformation.

However, in recent years, there has been a partial shift by Microsoft to embrace the open source software paradigm. For example, some of their code is open sourced. Examples include Visual Studio Code, .NET Framework, the now-abandoned Atom, and PowerShell. They have also made investments in Linux development, server technology and organizations including the Linux Foundation and Open Source Initiative. They have made acquisitions such as Xamarin to help mobile app development, and GitHub a hugely popular code repository for open source developers. And they have partnered with Canonical, the developers of the popular Ubuntu distro. But many developers remain hugely sceptical about Microsoft and their apparent shift to embrace open source.

Narrator is a screen reader that’s included with every copy of Microsoft Windows. It’s proprietary software and not available for Linux.

We recommend the best free and open source alternatives.


1. Orca Screen Reader

Orca Screen Reader (Orca) is a free, open source scriptable screen reader which provides access to applications and toolkits. It provides alternative access to the desktop by using speech synthesis, braille, and magnification.

Orca also provides a flexible, extensible, and powerful assistive technology that provides end-user access to applications and toolkits that support the AT-SPI (e.g. the GNOME desktop).

Orca
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2. Speakup

Speakup is a kernel-based speech synthesizer driver suite for Linux. It drives various USB-based, serial-based and ISA-based synthesizer hardware, as well as providing an interface for driving software-based synthesizers in userspace.

Speakup is part of the Linux kernel itself with the Speakup modules present in the Linux kernel for many years. It’s a speech synthesizer that interfaces with numerous synthesizer hardware and from user-space software can interface with /dev/synth for submitting data to the synthesizer.


3. Emacspeak

Emacspeak is a speech interface that allows visually impaired users to interact independently and efficiently with the computer.

Emacspeak speech-enables local and remote information via a consistent and well-integrated user interface. The software is not technically a screen reader. A traditional screen reader speaks the content of the screen, leaving it to the user to interpret the visual layout. Emacspeak, on the other hand, treats speech as a first-class output modality; it speaks the information in a manner that is easy to comprehend when listening.


For more free and open source screen readers, check out our roundup.


All articles in this series:

Alternatives to Microsoft's Products and Services
Microsoft BingBing offers search services, including web, video, image and map search products. It's developed using ASP.NET.
Microsoft CalculatorCalculator is a simple yet powerful calculator that includes standard, scientific, programmer, and graphing calculator functionality, as well as a set of converters between various units of measurement and currencies.
Character Map is used to view the characters in any installed font, to check what keyboard input is used to enter those characters, and to copy characters to the clipboard in lieu of typing them.
Microsoft DynamicsDynamics 365 is a product line of enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management intelligent business applications.
Microsoft EdgeEdge is a cross-platform web browser. It is a Chromium-based browser with Blink and V8 engines.
Microsoft Exchange ServerExchange Server is a mail server and calendaring server. Exchange uses a single building block architecture.
Microsoft GitHubGitHub is a distributed version control and source code management functionality service. It includes non-Git elements.
Hyper-V is a Type 1 hypervisor; it can create virtual machines on x86-64 systems running Windows.
Narrator is a screen reader that’s included with every copy of Microsoft Windows.
Microsoft OfficeOffice is a family of client software, server software, and services. Microsoft has promoted Office 365 as the primary means of obtaining Office.
Microsoft OneDriveOneDrive is a file hosting service and synchronization service. Users can upload Microsoft Office documents to OneDrive.
Microsoft OneNoteOneNote is a note-taking program for free-form information gathering and collaboration. It gathers users’ notes, drawings, screen clippings, and audio commentaries.
Microsoft OutlookOutlook is a personal information manager that's primarily an email client. It includes calendaring, task managing, contact managing, note-taking, journal logging, and web browsing.
Paint is a simple raster graphics editor that has been included with all versions of Microsoft Windows.
Microsoft PlannerPlanner lets users create Kanban boards using content-rich tasks with features including files, checklists, and labels.
Microsoft ProjectProject lets you develop schedules, assign resources, track progress, manage budget, and more. It's part of the Microsoft Office enterprise project management product.
Microsoft PublisherPublisher is a desktop publishing application with focus on page layout and design. Use text, photos and links to make professional publications personal.
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Microsoft SkypeSkype is software for VoIP-based videotelephony, videoconferencing and voice calls. The software also provides instant messaging, file transfer, debit-based calls to landline and mobile telephones (over traditional telephone networks), and more.
Microsoft Snipping ToolSnipping Tool is a screenshot utility. It can take still screenshots of an open window, rectangular areas, a free-form area, or the entire screen.
Microsoft SwiftKeySwiftKey is a virtual keyboard app for Android. SwiftKey learns from previous typed text and outputs predictions based on currently inputted text and what it has learned.
Microsoft TeamsTeams is a business communication platform. The service integrates with the company’s Office 365 subscription office productivity suite.
Windows TerminalTerminal is billed as “a modern, fast, efficient, powerful, and productive terminal application for users of command-line tools and shells like Command Prompt, PowerShell, and WSL”. It offers multiple tabs, panes, Unicode and UTF-8 character support, a GPU accelerated text rendering engine, and custom themes, styles, and configurations.
Microsoft To DoTo Do is a cloud-based task management application. It allows users to manage their tasks from a smartphone, tablet and computer.
Microsoft VisioVisio is a diagramming and vector graphics application. Database modeling in Visio revolves around a Database Model Diagram (DMD).
Visual StudioVisual Studio is an integrated development environment. It is used to develop computer programs, as well as websites, web apps, web services and mobile apps.
Microsoft WhiteboardWhiteboard provides a freeform, intelligent canvas where you and your team can create, and collaborate visually via the cloud. Designed for touch, type, and pen, it lets you write or draw as smoothly as you would with ink.
Microsoft YammerYammer is a social-networking platform for organizations. It’s a closed platform sometimes described as Facebook for businesses.
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