We all know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But it is possible to get business apps, legally for no cost. This is due to lots of different applications that are available through the open source community and from large vendors that have released some applications at no cost.
However, it’s important to note that free software also, usually, means you don’t have access to the same level of support as commercial applications. However, that doesn’t mean you’re completely out on your own. Many open source applications have vibrant user communities that support each other.
If you’re looking at open source or free applications for your business, take some to:
- Evaluate a few alternatives for the type of application you want. For example, there are several free or low cost office suites. Try a couple and look at user forums to gauge whether there’s a supportive community that will help if you hit some difficulty.
- Make sure critical business documents open correctly. If you’ve been using a commercial application and are moving to an alternative, make sure they open correctly. Just because a file has the .docx extension doesn’t mean it will be 100 percent perfect when opened in a different application.
- Train your staff. While different applications might deliver the same functionality, they might do it in different ways. If your staff is accustomed to using Microsoft Word and you move to Open Office, it’s likely they’ll need some time to find where the commands they use are located in menus.
For the last 20 years or so, Microsoft Office has been the lingua franca for spreadsheets, documents and presentations. But they are not the only game in town.
A few years ago, the .docx, .xlsx and .pptx document formats became official ISO standards that can be used by any software developer. That meant creating documents could be opened regardless of who developed the applications. The reality is that the standard defined minimum requirements and developers could create their own extra features. For example, Microsoft allows Word documents to contain tables that are embedded in other tables. But other applications, that can open these documents, aren’t able to render the embedded tables correctly.
If you’re looking for an alternative to Microsoft Office then the main contenders are Open Office, Libre Office and Apple’s iWork.
iWork is free for anyone who bought a Mac or iOS device from September or October last year respectively. While iWork’s three applications – Pages, Numbers and Keynote – don’t boast feature lists as long as the other programs in this category. But they offer more than enough functionality for most users and are elegant and simple to use.
Open Office is probably the best know alternative to Microsoft Office. It’s widely used, regularly updated and has a vibrant user community for support and advice.
Another mature and well-supported alternative is Libre Office. Now in its twelfth year of development, Libre Office is used across the world.
One of the more expensive business apps that many companies spend money on is Adobe Photoshop. It is the de facto standard for image manipulation. The thing is – not everyone needs all of the features offered by Photoshop. For some users, a simpler version might suffice.
We’d suggest taking a look at GIMP – the GNU Image Manipulation Program. The interface looks a little dated but it can open Photoshop images and edit them with many of the same options and effects as Photoshop.
If a more modern interface is important for you, then Gimpshop is another alternative. Again, it offers the most used features in Photoshop.
Don’t forget the App Store
One of the handier features in Apple’s App Store for the Mac is the Top Free Apps list. However, you might have missed that if you open the Business category, you can get a top free apps list for that category.
That’s a great way of tracking down free apps and you get the added benefit that any updates will be delivered through the mechanisms built into your Mac by Apple.
A quick scan of the list today revealed apps for invoicing, making VPN connections, CRM and online faxing just to name a few.