Free Business Software

Over the last few years the enormous growth in Open Source software has brought a lot of high-quality applications with everyone’s favourite price tag: free.

There was a time when “free software” was the last thing smart executives wanted their companies using.  If it was free, could it be good?  What about support?  Would you be left with a lot of documents in an outdated format that is no longer supported?  Now with so many Fortune-500 companies betting the business on Linux and other free software, those questions are quaint relics of pre-Internet days.  Nowadays the question should be this: what free software can benefit my business?

The first waves of Open Source software were dominated by developer-oriented programs, but now there is a lot of mature business software available.  In many cases the free programs are most beneficial to the small-to-medium businesses who have a greater need to cut costs, and less expenses in re-training and re-organizing.  Still, many large businesses have embraced free software and found that the latest offerings not only compare to the expensive alternatives, but tend to have very similar interfaces that require very little re-training for users.

So What’s the  Good Stuff?

Here’s a list of some of the applications I’ve found to be of high quality, easy to use, and useful for business.  All of them are available for Windows as well as other operating systems.

  •  OpenOffice ( Download OpenOffice here) – Like MS Office, it’s a suite of various business applications, including word processing, spreadsheets, a database, a design program, and presentation software.  OpenOffice is also the basis of an ISO standard for business documents, which helps ensure that documents can be shared.
    • OpenOffice Write – A very solid word processor offering the functionality of major word processors such as MS Word, but with the free price tag.  This is one of the most solid business applications out there.  One caveat: although OpenOffice Write can both read and save Word .doc files, there may be small discrepancies in the look.  If you’re sending documents to clients, the best option in any case is the PDF export function, which works beautifully.
    • OpenOffice Calc – Easily as good as Excel for spreadsheets, and for some tasks I prefer how OO Calc works.
  • Gnumeric (download) – Another very powerful spreadsheet application, Gnumeric has a strange name but has been shown to be more accurate than Excel, with almost identical functionality.
  • GIMP (download) – Yet another strange name for a very powerful program.  The GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a mature graphics program competitive with PhotoShop and specializing in web graphics.
  • Inkscape (download) – Not as powerful as Illustrator but still a great design tool for small businesses.
  • Scribus (download) – A very advanced page layout application along the lines of PageMaker; very useful for the marketing and design purposes of a small business.

Using these free programs could save a business from $100 to $1500 per user.  For small businesses, it just makes sense.