Best Free Software Programs
From Scott Steinberg, American Express Open Forum March 2010
As veteran business owners know, the larger your organization grows, the more software costs tend to skyrocket. Historically, this left professionals whose work demanded the use of commercial application suites with three solutions: scale revenues accordingly, find cheaper yet less full-featured alternatives, or dabble in the shady world of software piracy. But luckily for today’s enterprise, there’s a new option entirely–download a wealth of free software programs that offer just as much functionality as favorite high-end desktop packages at zero cost. Looking to login to a world of instant savings?
Trust us when we say that the following solutions, each readily retrievable right from your internet browser, quickly pay dividends:
Anti-Virus and Spyware
Viruses, Trojans and spyware can quickly bring your business to its knees. Thankfully, you needn’t take out a costly annual subscription with McAfee or Symantec to stop them cold. AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition provides a comfortable basic level of protection, complete with regular updates, that’s enough to keep your computer operating at peak performance. Avira AntiVir Personal also boasts reliable threat detection rates, while avast! Free Antivirus further operates in real time to prevent unauthorized attempts to modify your PC’s contents. None offer the level or sheer depth of bonus features found in premium solutions such as Kaspersky Anti-Virus or Norton Anti-Virus. But all deliver a degree of protection that’s perfectly suitable for everyday use.
Skype, which is now compatible with select smartphone systems and TVs in addition to desktop/laptop computers, allows you to make affordable international calls and videoconference free of charge. Used with complementary e-mail services like Gmail, Windows Live Mail and Yahoo Mail (many of which also offer calendar, photo and file sharing features), it’s easy to stay in touch with customers and partners. Mozilla’s Thunderbird e-mail client makes a great substitute for Microsoft Office as well, with its flexibility, speedy response times and intuitive setup.
Note that blogging services such as Blogger and WordPress further allow you to publish your own websites and magazines, building community all the while. Social networking and instant messaging fans can additionally look to a host of desktop and smartphone apps such as TweetDeck, Digsby and Seesmic for all their communications needs.
Pricey as Adobe’s industry-leading PhotoShop can be, any professional who needs the ability to edit, crop and touch up images to modern publishing standards will find graphic editing toolkit GIMP a worthy free alternative. IrfanView also lets you view graphics in virtually any format and makes it easy to adjust and convert images. For those looking to build podcasts, Audacity provides a great audio recording and editing solution with a powerful range of functions, though it can take time to master. Prefer working with video footage? A range of film editing packages such as iMovie for Macintosh computers, Windows Movie Maker and JumpCut make it easy to create video packages. Anyone needing to capture videos of their desktop for tutorial or training purposes should also look to TipCam for an all-purpose recording solution. Note: ImgBurn ranks among the best CD, DVD and Blu-ray burning applications for sharing your creations when done.
Currently in beta, Microsoft Office 2010’s suite of Office Web Apps offers some free options for sharing, retrieving and editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations anywhere. However, other cloud computing solutions such as Zoho and Google Docs prove just as worthy alternatives, and have been in widespread use for a longer period of time.
Still, by far the most popular solution for those seeking to work with common workplace file formats and types is OpenOffice. While you’ll sacrifice some features native to more robust (and expensive) commercial desktop packages such as in-depth formatting and style controls, don’t fret. For most tasks, these simple solutions will easily suffice, saving you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in software licensing fees. Also, be sure to check out Evernote, which lets you create and clip virtual notes, allowing you to easily assemble and browse a list of things to do, intriguing websites and items to purchase.
Dropbox remains our clear-cut favorite for storing, sharing and retrieving files among multiple users and PCs, allowing you to back up and access projects housed on a remote server on-demand. Up to 2GB of storage is offered with a free signup, and it’s a tremendously effective way for groups to synchronize data and then collaborate on and edit projects or monitor their ongoing progress.
Drop.io and Box.net also offer similar services, as does Windows Live SkyDrive, which provides users with a whopping 25GB of storage that can be password-protected for private access. Hate having e-mails bounce back because attachments are too large, but just need a quick, one-time solution? YouSendIt can help, letting you send a single file of up to 100MB in size as a simple webpage link.