How to get the best computer and software for your budget

Alan Stainer
Alan Stainer

The time comes in (almost) all our lives, when we need a new computer. The trouble is, they can be a bit expensive can’t they. I mean, you want to get something good, but you need to fork out loads on the hardware and then there is software to consider, plus it will be obsolete in a few years…

Stop right there! Go back and have a think. What is the most expensive part to buying a computer?

The hardware? Maybe. It depends on what you buy. The software? Possibly. It depends on what you use.

Okay, I think we need to look at some numbers before we can answer the question properly. So let’s start with the basics.

Windows costs money. Microsoft has Windows 8.1 listed on their website for £99.99 So just consider, if you buy a computer with Windows 8.1 preloaded on it for say, £299, that only leaves £200 left to pay for all of the hardware! Are you sure it is a good investment? What if you need Windows 8.1 Pro, which retails at £189.99? Things start looking worse don’t they.

Okay, the next bit of the software puzzle, productivity software. Everyone is familiar with Microsoft Office and it has dominated the market for years. Now, ignoring the yearly subscription for Office 365 for the moment, you can still buy Office 2013 licensed for one PC. That means it is yours for life, with no annual renewal costs. Office Home and Student 2013 includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote and retails for £109.99, but it doesn’t include Outlook. So let’s add that in too for another £109.99 By the way, buying it like that doesn’t license you to use it commercially. For that you will need to fork out a minimum of £219.99 for the Home and Business version. The good news is that it does come with Outlook.

Already the costs are adding up. So far for home use we are looking at £319.97, while for office use it rises to a whopping £409.98 For businesses the costs quickly spiral out of control when you start multiplying that by the number of employees that need to use a computer.

We haven’t even looked at photo editing software, or any of the other bits and bobs you may find a need for. Adobe Photoshop Elements will set you back £81.08 and if you need the professional Creative Cloud alternative, then you are entering the realms of monthly subscription fees which will cost you a lot more in the long run.

It sounds silly spending all of that money for software that is going to run on £200 worth of hardware. What if we could tip the ratio the other way?

We can! Open Source comes to the rescue, because it is free. Don’t fancy shelling out for the operating system? Buy a machine without Windows and go with Linux. Need an office suite of programs at no cost? There is LibreOffice if you want something installed locally, or you might try Google Docs, Sheets and Slides in the cloud. Photo editing? GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) does the trick. Vector graphics? How about Inkscape.

The list of free applications goes on and on. The great thing is, if you save money by using Open Source software, you can spend it on getting a much better computer. Something which will last you a lot longer too. So in answer to the question about which costs more, the hardware or the softer, the choice is yours to make. I know where I would rather put my money.

Alan Stainer