Were you more of a freak or geek than a popular kid in high school? Are you always looking for a way to fight "the man"? Do you express your individuality with, say, safety-pin earrings? Maybe you're just a savvy shopper who doesn't believe all the hype you see in commercials. In any case, these alternatives may turn your head.
Whether you're looking for a better word processor, a new shopping method, an end to iTunes headaches, an iPad rival, or a way to escape your phone bill, you can find plenty of great services and tools besides the old standards.
Microsoft Office, for starters, has ample competition in the form of both desktop and online productivity suites. If you find Adobe's Acrobat PDF maker too clunky, check out other PDF tools. You can even try alternatives to alternative products, such as various Ubuntu Linux operating-system desktops. If you like to whistle while you work, you have ways to escape the ubiquitous Apple iTunes, as well as options aside from the newer Amazon Cloud Drive.
If you're running a business, consider alternatives to an old-school credit-card terminal; we looked at five ways to make mobile payments, including the intriguing Square Card Reader. And PayPal isn't the only way to make and receive online payments--we rounded up at least seven other options. Professionals who manage bookkeeping in-house may lean overwhelmingly on Intuit QuickBooks, but we examined five cloud-based services that you can access anywhere you have an Internet connection.
As for hardware, don't forget that the iPad 2 isn't the only tablet in town. If you lust after the MacBook Air but you want to "think different" from Apple, take a look at seven sleek, ultrathin Windows laptops. Dying to ditch your landline? VoIP apps aren't the only way.
For any consumer or small business, doing the research to select the best product from an array of software or hardware should pay off in the long run, especially if the most famous name doesn't necessarily fit your needs. Sure, some market leaders stand out because they offer a more well-rounded product for most users, but some are missing the features you need--or are just plain aggravating or costly to maintain.
As part of your research, take a look at this roundup of PCWorld's recent coverage of some of the finest alternatives to dominant tech products. The best part: Most of these options cost less than the market leaders in their respective categories, and some are even free.