I have been using Adobe programs like Photoshop, Fireworks, Illustrator and InDesign for quite a long time. But I got more and more unsatisfied by time. Adobe is bloating their applications with functions that most of the users don't need.
If you take Photoshop for instance: it has become a monster. You can do video editing and 3D modelling in Photoshop in the recent versions of it, it's much more than an image editing program now. But seriously who wants to do video editing in Photoshop? Photoshop is extremely slow compared to programs like Affinity Photo, about which I will talk later, the initial loading takes forever and it's not very responsive.
I liked to work with Fireworks, even if it was always a bit buggy, in my opinion it was always the better choice for doing screen designs. You were able to use symbols, like in Freehand that saved a lot of time and you had the ability to build simple HTML click dummies. But unfortunately Adobe discontinued the development of Fireworks.
I never liked Illustrator in contrast and I was disappointed when Adobe decided to let Freehand die after they bought Macromedia. Freehand was a very nice, fast and handy vector graphics tool and it worked perfectly together with Flash. Illustrator always felt way more complicated and slower than Freehand.
But what finally made me want to switch to other applications was the fact that you have to rent the Adobe Suite now. You have to pay 59,45 € per month to be able to use all Adobe programs, or 23,79 € if you want to rent just one application. So that's 713,40 € per year for the whole Adobe Suite! Of course you always get the latest versions, but still, it's a lot of money. And I use AfterEffects, Premiere and the other applications that are included very rarely, but it's still cheaper to rent the whole collection than renting just the programs I need.
So I have been searching for alternatives for a while now and for a long time there haven't been any real alternatives. But then programs like Sketch, Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer and Hype were released and at this moment the only Adobe application that is still on my computer is an old version of InDesign, because there is no alternative to it (yet).
Adobe Photoshop Alternatives
The open source image editing application GIMP is often called an alternative to Photoshop , but it's not. It has never been one and it doesn't look like it will be one in the near future. And I am not even talking about the important functionalities that are still missing, or about the lack the of performance, I am talking about the user interface. It's ugly, it's complicated, it's just horrible. It doesn't refer to any interaction patterns you learned from other programs.
Most people don't know that a few of the very common daily image editing tasks can be done with the Preview application that is shipped with Mac OS X.
ImageMagick is a command line image editing tool. Wait a minute, a command line image editing tool?!? Does it make sense to retouch a portrait with a command line program? Of course it doesn't, but that's not what ImageMagick is made for. ImageMagick reveals it's whole power when it comes to batch processing. Let's say you have a folder of 100 TIFF images and you want to resize them and convert them to JPEG, ImageMagick can do that in the time it takes to open Photoshop.
ImageMagick can read and write files in over 200 formats, even very large files and it's very fast. It can do all basic image editing tasks like crop, resize, rotate, blur, sharpen, color adjustments, etc.
I bought Affinity Photo the first day it was released. This is truly the first Mac application that can really compete with Adobe Photoshop. It's powerful, it's super fast and it has a beautiful user interface. Common workflows are separated in "personas", these are workspaces with tools that you usually need for a specific task. There is the "Photo Persona", that's the standard workspace, a "Liquify Persona" for manipulating pixels on a mesh, a "Develop Persona" for RAW editing, and an "Export Persona" for slicing images, that can automatically export in 2x resolution for Retina displays.
Adobe Fireworks Alternatives
I think I don't have to say much about this brilliant software. It has become a sort of standard in interface design in a very short time. Sketch has a very intuitive user interface, all effects you need in your daily work, like drop shadows, inner shadows, background blur and multiple borders even with gradient fills are available. Style properties can be copied from one object to another, you can use symbols like in Flash and style definitions. The vector drawing capabilities are limited but you can easily import graphics from other programs. Last but not least the export and slicing features are outstanding.
Adobe Illustrator Alternatives
Affinity Designer feels like a vector graphics program in 2015 should feel like. It's extremely fast, it's powerful, it's beautiful, it has an infinite zoom, a very intuitive interface, PSD, PDF, SVG and EPS export options, pixel preview and built-in bitmap editing tools. Affinity Designer works perfectly together with Affinity Photo. Affinity Photo files can be opened and edited in Affinity Designer and vice versa. Have you ever struggled with Photoshops gradient tool? You will love how easy you can create gradients in Affinity Designer that just look the way you want them to. This program ist just fun to use.
Adobe Acrobat Alternatives
I have to mention Mac OSX's preview again here which has some basic PDF editing functionalities. You can highlight text, add annotations and basic shapes, rotate, flip, add or delete pages and export PDFs to JPEG, PNG and TIFF. Unfortunately it doesn't allow you to edit existing text.
PDFpen and PDFpen Pro
PDFpen offers all main features that Acrobat has. You can edit existing text, insert images, perform OCR on images, export to DOC, DOCX, RTF, TXT and TIFF, highlight text, draw shapes and add annotations. In addition to the standard version PDFpen Pro allows you to export to Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, to create and edit forms and tables of contents, to add end edit permissions and to create links from URLs.
Adobe Flash Alternatives
Hype and Hype Professional
Flash is dead. Yes it is, but it was always useful to build interactive and animated software prototypes. When it comes to interactive prototypes Axure RP has become the weapon of choice, but it is still very limited when it comes to animations. Hype is like Flash with pure HTML5 output. It features a very powerful keyframe-based animation system with different predefined easings, multiple timelines, scenes and basic interactions like jumping to a scene, starting or pausing a timeline or play a sound on mouse, key press or swipe events. Hype Professional has some extra features like custom easings, a physics-based animation engine, support for responsive layouts, symbols and template documents.
Adobe InDesign Alternatives
As I mentioned at the beginning, there is no real InDesign alternative so far. I tried out Swift Publisher and Scribus, but you can't really compare them to InDesign. Of course there is still QuarkXPress, but I haven't used it for a long time and can't say if it is still an alternative to InDesign, besides that QuarkXPress 2015 Europe Edition costs the ridiculous amount of 999,00 €.
Affinity has announced to release Affinity Publisher in 2016 though and if they keep on doing what they did with Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo, it will be an InDesign killer.