As I run an IT consulting business - The Open Learning Centre - which specialises in open source software, you might expect my top five applications for business to be all techy server-side databases and the like. While these do generate revenue for my company, for me several of the most important applications are actually the kind of software an average business might have on its computers. For it is here where your choices of software can have a significant, positive effect on your company. You have probably heard of at least one of the pieces of software in this list. Without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top five pieces of free, open source software for business.
- OpenOffice.org. If you haven't come across this one before then give it a go now. Go on, let it download while you continue reading this. OpenOffice.org does pretty much the same things as other office software - word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and so on - but without a big price tag. Or, indeed, any price tag at all. It's been downloaded over 100 million times since May 2009.
- Firefox. This web browser allows you to view and use websites, just like any other web browser software. For many years it has provided a stable, secure and standards-compliant web browsing experience. It's also available for several different operating systems, including Windows, Mac and Linux. And it's free - so why wouldn't you give it a try?
- Thunderbird and Lightning. Thunderbird is email software for your computer. Lightning adds calendar functions to Thunderbird too. When you combine these two pieces of software with OpenOffice.org and Firefox, you've got a really strong core set of open source programs which should cover most typical business needs.
- Ubuntu. This is a free operating system. Essentially, it's an alternative to operating systems like Microsoft Windows. As with other other open source software listed here, you can download and install Ubuntu for free. Interestingly, Google now only offers its employees either a computer running Ubuntu, or an Apple Mac.
- vtiger CRM. Every business needs to attract customers, then build and maintain good relationships with them. Customer relationship management software like vtiger CRM can help you with this. It allows you to keep track of your customer details, log when you speak to them, split them into groups for targeted marketing and more.
Today open source software is more widely used than ever. It underpins the majority of websites on the internet, is used by many of the world's largest financial institutions and offers alternatives to almost any paid-for software available today. I hope at least some of these applications offer something new and interesting for your business. All are free to download, use and re-distribute.