Open source software is essentially free software developed by volunteers that can be used for most personal and business needs. Freeware is software made by corporations or individuals that is distributed for free and usually has limited features compared to the full featured premium versions. The majority of small businesses don’t have very complicated needs when it comes to software and just need applications for email, browsing the web, a productivity suite for creating documents, charts, presentations, and anti-virus/malware software. There are open source applications for all of these tasks. There are even open source operating systems as well which have become incredibly easy to use and maintain lately. Lets take a look at some of the open source and freeware options out there as there are an ever increasing amount of programs to choose from.
If I was starting a new small business I would use the free linux operating system, “Ubuntu“. Ubuntu is well known in the open source world, has a large following, a huge support community behind it, comes with a bunch of open source software already installed out of the box and will even start showing up in smart phones soon. Over the years Ubuntu and linux in general have really developed into feature rich alternatives to Windows and Macintosh. Gone are the days of linux being relegated to the uber nerds with their command line interface, now most flavors of linux come with at least a basic GUI (Graphical User Interface) based interface. Ubuntu is really easy to use, install and extremely customizable, I bet with the proper theme applied I could fool you into thinking you were sitting at a PC or a Mac. Furthermore, Ubuntu has a great community of extremely helpful members behind it and 9 out of 10 times you can most likely find a solution to any problems you encounter through the “Google it” algorithm as you would with a PC or a Mac.
There are a ridiculous plethora of open source email clients out there but I would recommend Thunderbird because it is a well supported open source project ran by the global non-profit, Mozilla, the same folks that made the Firefox browser. Thunderbird is really easy to use and setup. If you are familiar with Microsoft Outlook then you will be able to access your emails, address book and calendar in a similar manner.
My favorite browser is Google’s Chrome browser, its free, super slick, can be customized to your hearts content, has a bunch of applications that plug into it and even has its own task manager built in so you can put the smack down on out of control processes. If you have never used Chrome before, then give it a chance. If you use a bunch of legacy websites written specifically for old versions of Internet Explorer then Chrome might not cut it as Chrome can have compatibility issues with really old IE code. Lets face it, most of the web, at one point, was developed primarily for Internet Explorer which has its proprietary/interesting ways of rendering html and you may be forced to use IE but this is rare. Chrome is really a great browser, I can’t say that enough.
Their are alternatives to Microsoft Office for creating documents, charts, presentations, etc. OpenOffice is a great open source productivity suite that really gives MS Office a run for its money. OpenOffice is even bundled with the Ubuntu operating system and is available for Windows and Mac as well. OpenOffice is a suite of product offerings similar to MS Office and includes a word processor, a spreadsheet program, a presentation manager, and a drawing program. You can even open, edit and save MS Office documents with OpenOffice. There really is no need to shell out money for MS Office when there is a free alternative out there that is easy to use.
Anti-Virus & Malware:
AVG Free is one of the best anti-virus applications I have used. Its relatively lightweight compared to competitors, fast, easy to use, industry tested and integrates with email clients and browsers. I have been running AVG Free for over 5 years now and have not been knocked out by a virus yet, knock on wood.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is a great anti-malware application and is highly rated on tech websites as one of the best by both editors and users. Its easy to use, install, maintain and provides a great level of malware protection for the average user with little fuss.
MORE ADVANCED BUSINESS NEEDS
Audacity is great sound editor and have used it many times in the past for personal projects. If you have used other sound editing applications then you should feel at home with Audacity. Even if you are a sound editing newbie you should be able to learn this application fairly quickly.
Yes there is even open source image editing software out there that can hold its own against Photoshop allowing for layers, filters and effects. GIMP is an awesome free image editor that has a big learning curve, just as with Photoshop but if you are familiar with Photoshop then you should be able to figure GIMP out relatively quickly.
If you need to add some flare to your boring spreadsheet or want to move beyond the primitive pie chart then its time for you to check out Tableau Public. Tableau Public allows you to take a raw data set like a spreadsheet and turn it into a compelling visual. Tableau Public is really just great fun to use once you get the hang of it. If you are already familiar with the concepts of pivot tables and pivot charts then you will be creating wicked, awesome data visualizations that will knock the socks off of your clients, peers and management in no time.
There are literally thousands of other open source and freeware applications out there ranging from common place word processors to obscure network analyzers. Ubuntu is a great introduction to the world of open source because it comes pre-loaded with a ton of free software, has a familiar interface and is easy to use. Save yourself some money this year and try open source and freeware software in your business today.