I test a lot of software in the course of my work for clients as a freelance consultant. I work with several non-profits and small/medium sized businesses. Controlling costs is always a concern for small business and I always try to suggest free solutions whenever its appropriate. There are several very good open source and freeware Windows applications available now. If you end up using any of these free solutions with your clients, please suggest they donate to the developer. Supporting the tools you use will help them continue to grow and support your business in return. In this article I will suggest a few of the applications I use or suggest to customers on a regular basis. The software listed in this article is geared toward the "average office worker".
Firefox: First and foremost, you should be using Mozilla’s Firefox web browser. The Firefox web browser tends to be more secure, faster, and more stable than Internet Explorer. Using Firefox as your web browser may provide you some extra protection against Viruses and Trojans. There is really no excuse these days not to use Firefox for web browsing unless you MUST use IE for specific sites. (You can use an IE tab extension in Firfox, but thats a whole other story…) You can download Firefox for FREE with Google’s Tool pack from this website by clicking on the "Get Firefox" link on the left.
Thunderbird: This is Mozilla’s FREE Email program. Thunderbird is a terrific replacement for Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. Thunderbird is compatible with may office setups and should work for most of your clients. Please check out this guide for information on migrating your customers to Thunderbird: Howto: Thunderbird & MS Exchange Server
ClamWin: I used to suggest AVG Free Antivirus for some clients, and I still do sometimes. But ClamWin has gotten much better in the past few years. ClamWin is open source software. It’s light weight and will run on most average systems without as much slow-down as other anti-virus software. (On a side note, running Norton Anti Virus or something like that on a Windows XP computer w/ 512mb of RAM or less will seriously degrade the performance of your system. Disable real-time protection or use a "lighter" anti-virus solution) I also will suggest Trend Micro’s Housecall, a free web based anti-virus. Housecall works like a charm for your basic infections.
Spybot-S&D: This is the best anti-spyware scanners around. Spybot Search & Destroy will scan your system and remove any adware, spyware, malware, dialers, keyloggers, usage tracks, and trojans from your system. Spybot does a much better job than Norton and other related tools at removing all of the internet’s baddies.
OpenOffice: Face it, Microsoft Office is expensive. You can save a ton of money and headaches by installing OpenOffice. OpenOffice is a complete office suite including word processor (Word replacement), spreadsheets (Excel replacement), presentation software (PowerPoint replacement), database application (Access replacement), and more. OpenOffice also allows you to save your documents in Microsoft compatible formats, as well as open Microsoft Office documents.
Pidgin: Most offices don’t use Instant Messaging yet, some do. Pidgin is a multi-network Instant Messaging client that allows you to log into virtually all of your IM accounts at once. Pidgin has a simple user interface and is easy to learn. My main reason for introducing IM software to businesses is that it can save the employees a lot of time. Instead of getting up and walking halfway across the building to ask someone a question, or interrupt them with a phone call, you can shoot a quick Instant Message and get an answer to your query.
PDFCreator: Free tool that allows you to create PDF files from almost any Windows application. Features include: Create PDFs from any program with the ability to print, encrypt PDFs, convert PDFs to PNG/JPG/TIFF/BMP/etc…, merge multiple files into one PDF.
FreeMind: A free mind-mapping software used for note taking, project planning, building a knowledge base, and brainstorming. If you haven’t experienced mind-mapping for yourself I highly suggest giving it a spin. For your clients who could use a little more organization in their business, a mind map might be the solution they didn’t know they needed.
I think that about wraps up this installment. If you have any FREE software you would like to suggest for small businesses do us a favor and leave a comment with some links!