Setting up a small business does have costs, but buying software does not have to be one of them With a little research it is possible to find open source and give-away software that is just as good and in some cases better than their paid equivalents. I have also included a few online alternatives to small business downloads and with the development of ‘cloud’ computing these will become more and more popular.
This article includes many free tools to meet the needs and increase the productivity of any small business with some more specifically targeted at online businesses.
When setting up my own small business I did a considerable amount of research into free software as I knew there were many free alternatives and basically I don’t like wasting money. I also had suggestions from other small business owners about other types of software I had not considered to boost productivity and provide solutions to several of the problems many online businesses face.
To be clear, all of the software I mention in this article is legal, in some cases it is provided free, then later users are encouraged to upgrade to a paid version, and in others there may be some advertising, but most of it is open source.
I have included the approximate cost of paid alternatives so you can get an idea of how much you can save. This article is also not a full technical comparison and much of the information about paid software is based on research rather than personal experience.
Although virtually all browsers are free I have found Mozilla Firefox to be the best, both because of ease of use and the huge number of add-ons, many of which perform the same job as software you would have to pay for. If you want more ‘Real Estate’ on your desktop however Google Chrome would be a better option.
My Choice: Mozilla Firefox
All computers come with some form of email program for free but these are usually inadequate for business use. The grand-daddy of all business email programs is Microsoft Outlook which costs around $100 with a license for 1 computer.
I use Mozilla Thunderbird as my email client as it does everything Outlook can do and handles IMAP better which is important as I use gmail.
Apart from having a more attractive interface Thunderbird with a Lightning add-on outperforms Outlook in many areas. For large business with a server however Outlook with MSExchange is a better option but it costs several thousand dollars.
My Choice: Mozilla Thunderbird
Microsoft Outlook comes with a built-in calendar however Thunderbird comes with a very good calendar add-on called Lightning. Both are good desktop calendars and can sync with Google Calendar. Google Calendar is a web-based calendar program that can be shared between multiple users and can be accessed from any computer with a browser and internet connection.
My Choice: Mozilla Thunderbird with Lightning add-on synchronized with Google Calendar
4) Office Productivity Suite- Word Processing, Spreadsheet, Presentation, and Database
Again Microsoft leads with most popular office productivity suite in the world, Microsoft Office. The price of MS Office range from around $50 for an older version without Outlook or Access (a database program), up to $500 for the latest version that also includes Publisher (software for desktop publishing).
The most popular free alternative is Open Office which is almost totally compatible with Microsoft Office, it can even be set to add MS office file extensions so you can seamlessly share documents. Open office includes a word-processing program (Writer), a spreadsheet program (Calc), a presentation program (Impress) a database program (Base) and a drawing program (Draw).
Open Office does not have the pretty ‘Ribbon’ interface of Office and lacks some of its whiz bang formatting features but it seems better at handling HTML and PDF documents. Sharing documents is also easier in MS Office but to truly share documents and collaborate with their editing I would choose the Google option.
Google Apps is a free suite of many different types of programs and tools but for this comparison I will just look at Docs which includes tools for word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation writing. Google Docs are fairly basic and do not have the power or options of the desktop based suites but being web-based it is far ahead of the others when it comes to collaborating on documents. Because your documents are stored on Google servers they can be accessed from anywhere and do not need to be backed up. Google Docs is a great option if you have several people collaborating on one document.
My Choice: Open Office
5) Computer Tune-up Tools
Tune-up utilities are needed to keep your computer running fast and error-free. There are a variety of tasks tune-up programs can do, such as hard disk cleaning or disk defragging, Registry cleaning, cleaning out junk files as well as adware and spyware removal. While there are programs that can take care of each of these problems individually I prefer to use a toolkit that does everything at once.
Norton Utilities is one such program but it does have a price tag of around $50. I use Advanced System Care Free which seems to keep my system chugging along nicely and I have never had any problems with it.
My Choice: Advanced System Care Free