I have software X and I like it. However, I want an extra feature that X doesn't provide. Or I want to run X on a different platform. How can I ask for an alternative to X?


A good recommendation question has precise requirements and a goal.

“Alternative to X” is not a precise requirement. You need to say which features of X matter. Otherwise the question is not clear enough, and you may get answers which propose an alternative that does not have the features you rely on most.

Furthermore, as usual on Stack Exchange, questions work because they define a problem to be solved, a hurdle to jump over. On this site, the problem to solve is a task to accomplish or a purpose to which to put some software. When the question is an alternative, the hurdle is generally that you know some software that meets most, but not all of your requirements. That is, if you're asking about “alternatives to X”, X should not be a valid answer, or at least not a good answer (“X works, but not very well, because…”). If you're looking for alternatives in an open-ended way, questions and answers aren't the right format — look for a comparison matrix instead.

Do note that people may know about the alternative you're after but not about what you're using now. For example, if you're looking for a Linux alternative to your favorite Windows software, the people who could answer you might not have heard of that Windows software.

So a good alternatives question goes:

I am looking for software to achieve this goal, with the following features:

  • can do this
  • can do that

I like X, but it fails in a critical way because …. What alternatives are there?

Do not use the tag. It's meaningless — a meta tag at its worst. Every software is an alternative to some other software.

Don't use X as a tag, either. Your question is not about X. It's about software in the same broad category as X, but your question doesn't call for X, in fact it excludes X.

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    Agreed except for the last part. Including X as tag could be helpful finding alternatives to X. – juergen d Feb 5 '14 at 0:57
  • @juergend that does raise an interesting point, I didn't think much about taxonomy pre-launch. I'm going to make sure Robert weighs in on that, as it could be a little different than what we're used to, since we never really dealt with these types of questions other than closing them. – Tim Post Feb 5 '14 at 7:58
  • @TimPost Unix & Linux does have questions of this type, often “alternative to Windows software X”. There of course “we don't know what X is” is a pretty common problem — often we require clarification not just to focus the question but to make it comprehensible. X isn't useful as a tag: the experts in X don't need to look for an alternative, they're happy with X. The right tag is the domain of X, e.g. word-processor if you're looking for an alternative to Word. – Gilles Feb 5 '14 at 10:02
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    This is pretty good advice but I think it fails in not addressing the (normative) case for this sort of question where the list of desired features/criteria just happens to be basically the exact set of features that the original software is known for. This is a very common case and I have argued under another meta question that these are better served by a cross referenced alternative database. In the (less common) event that the list of features that matter to you is a small subset of the original or unusual, then this advice applies. – Caleb Feb 18 '14 at 22:30
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    @Caleb I've edited my answer. You make a good point: I hadn't considered open-ended alternatives requests, which I agree do not fit in the Q&A format. – Gilles Feb 18 '14 at 22:42

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