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
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    @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

If your question got closed because it was asking for an alternative, please don't give up, your question can probably be transformed into a great question and reopened. Here is a sure way to get your question reopened:

  1. Read Gilles' answer, several times, until you understand all of the points made.
  2. Remove the product's name from your question's body/title/tags.
  3. Instead, write the type of software, and description of all of the features you need. For instance, remove I want a GUI alternative to ImageMagick's Mogrify feature and write instead I want a GUI image processor that can resize a picture.
  4. Read the other rules at http://meta.softwarerecs.stackexchange.com/questions/336/what-is-required-for-a-question-to-contain-enough-information and apply them.

Here is why I want an alternative to ImageMagick's Mogrify feature is bad:

  • Among the people who know great software that would satisfy you, 90% of them do not know ImageMagick, so they have no idea what you are talking about and will not even open your question. You are drastically reducing your chances of getting a satisfying answer.
  • Among the people who use ImageMagick's Mogrify feature, 90% of them use it for colorization/clipping/composition and other things that are not what you want (resizing). That will make you unhappy with the answers, and waste the time of the answerers.

Note: Even if the body of your question is great, we WILL close your question if the title is not good. So please do not write titles such as Alternatives to ImageMagick, instead please write a title such as GUI image processor that can resize a picture. It is OK to write very long titles.


I think there are two types of OPs who are looking for alternatives:

  1. The architects
  2. The gardeners

The architects plan everything ahead, they have imagined everything about what sort of final product they want, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. So, their question is going to be specific because they know exactly what they want.

However, the gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fat seed or hybrid seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have, they find out as it grows. So their question is going to be broader or vague, whichever term you prefer.

AND All the high reputation contributors on this site seem to support the architect kinds only. And that is where I disagree with all of them.

The gardeners are also looking for an alternative recommendation, regardless of how broad or opinion based it is. And as the name of this website suggests, they have every right to do so. For such questions, Recommendations are also going to be much more opinion based and nothing is wrong with that. And once somebody posts an answer, the OP can start making conversation with him/her and hence the gardener will slowly be able to form a picture based upon that conversation.

In fact, I would argue that the gardeners should be more encouraged on this site than the architects. Because since the architects know exactly where they face problem, they can just post their questions on stack-overflow; they don't even need to look for software recommendation site. Its those gardeners who need more recommendations since all they have is a little bit of impression on what they want to do. And upon engaging with those with experiences on related fields they will be able to ask specific questions on stackoverflow.

So how should a gardener ask for alternative Y for X?
1. Post a scenario/link to where he got his impression of Y from.
2. Write a little bit about what part from above number 1 he expects Y software would do.
3. Write what he didn't like about X but not necessarily.

And THAT's IT.

The main motive of a gardener is to get to have conversation with somebody with experiences.

And if this website doesn't allow the gardeners, this website has no use at all because the architects are able to do ask specifically in stack-overflow itself. And the architects don't need to pose their question as a recommendation question, they can simply rephrase their question to a problem specific question. For example, if the architect doesn't know whether functionality f is available in software X or not, he can simply ask; how to do f in software X? or what is the best way to do f in X?

Its the gardeners that need this site more than architects.

And yes, the gardeners are looking for personal enlightenment, but that doesn't mean that it is going to be limited to themselves. There will probably be many other gardeners who have similar motivation.

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    Stack Overflow does not accept recommendation questions, even if they are super precise. Your gardener/architect comparison is interesting. Architects go to softwarerecs.stackexchange.com, and gardeners should go to more dicussion-oriented websites such as forums or chats, where other chatters can help them understand what they actually need. – Nicolas Raoul Apr 26 at 17:32
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    The question and answer format doesn't work for gardeners. The whole reason Q&A sites are useful is that a question is useful not only to the person who asked it, but also to many other people later. Architects seek repeatable solutions to repeatable problems. Gardeners seek personal enlightenment. Gardeners need a forum or a chatroom, where discussions happen and then are left off to die, not a question-and-answer site where answers are here to stay. – Gilles Apr 26 at 18:53
  • @Gilles , I am not in agreement with your argument, because many different gardeners are also going to be seeking for similar enlightenment. – Dimanjan Apr 27 at 4:36
  • @NicolasRaoul , If this site has irrefutable policy of allowing only the architects(which I don't think community sites are supposed to have), then I cannot say much. But then, the site would have to remove the word "recommendation", so that it doesn't become confusing for the gardeners. Because recommendation is meant more for gardeners. It becomes clear from the fact that many new comers ask such vague/broad questions. – Dimanjan Apr 27 at 4:41
  • @NicolasRaoul I heavily agree to what Dimanjan wrote. I wonder, why Softwarerecs can't be a place for both architects and gardeners. The question and answer format can in fact work really great for gardeners and for many other people later, especially other gardeners. If a gardener seek a solution to a problem, he might read through questions/answers of other gardeners, who ask similar questions. Then he gets some impressions out of these answers which might solve his problem, even if it is a whole other solution than for the OP. I feel like we miss a great opportunity that this point :/ – Micha Apr 27 at 11:07

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