Want Free Software? The Green Geek’s New List
There are thousands of free applications that can help your business run a little more smoothly. Some of excellent quality and really help our the small business person. Others… well… let’s just say they are buggy and clunky. Worse, some of these free applications are loaded up with all sorts of stuff you really, really do not want in your business, from rather tame ‘adware’ (software that splashes online advertisements all over your SCREEN) to malevolent spyware (software which will track your activities and even steal your personal details and passwords!) So knowing which software is safe and practical for your business is important.
Some clues when looking for free software to be aware of the special terms that are used to describe them:
· Freeware. This is software which is completely and utterly free. You can download it, install it and run it on all your computers.
· Open source. Open source is software that is not only offered for free, its source code (the raw programming language that is used to make the software) is available for free as well. This means programmers can add new features. In fact, most open source software is the result of dozens or even hundreds of programmers working together over a long period of time. It’s a perfect example of ‘many hands make light work… as a result, some open source software is very sophisticated indeed!
· Shareware. This is software that you can download and use freely, but it has some form of limitation – such as only running for 30 days or perhaps having a few advanced features disabled. Shareware is generally used to encourage people to upgrade to a full version of the product… it’s a way that developers can let you try out their software before you buy it. It’s a bit like test-driving a car.
· Adware. Adware is free software that, in addition to doing something useful for you, also displays ads, usually as a banner along the top or bottom of the application. Basically, the developers make their money by selling ad space right within their applications.
· Nagware. Some shareware or adware is also called nagware. This software is generally fully functional, but whenever it starts (or sometimes at random intervals) it pops up a window with a ‘nagging’ message, usually to encourage you to buy the full version of the software.
· Malware and Spyware. Some software that performs a nefarious act, often sending private information back to hackers. Some Malware even hijacks your computer, spreading viruses or Trojans. Yieks!
When considering any new software from the internet, do a Google search to see what people have said about it, checking to be sure other people have not described it as malware or spyware!
Because of the inherent danger of downloading and installing software from the Internet, it is essential that you ALWAYS run a virus scan on any software you obtain, even if other people or reviews tell you it is legitimate: it is not unknown for criminals to make software that looks almost identical to a popular freeware application, but is packed with all sorts of nasty stuff, and promote it online are the real thing! Scanning each and every download with an anti-malware tool is essential! Depending on your anti-malware software, this may be done automatically. Even so, I usually manually scan any files I download, just to the sure! It do this, I right click on the application I have downloaded and select ‘Scan File’ from the available options. Depending on which anti-malware package you use, the exact menu wording may be different, but it’s almost certainly there. If you don’t see that option, then perhaps you do not have anti-malware protection installed on your computer… WHY NOT?!
With that said, here are my favourite freeware applications for small business:
Best Free Word Processor, Spreadsheet & Database Suite
In the past, I would have touted Open Office as the best free personal productivity suite, featuring word processing, spread sheet, and presentation application. Open Office is totally free, and has a relatively high level of compatibility with Microsoft Office. The best place to download Open Office is from www.openoffice.org. However, these days I would actually recommend Google Apps, which is not exactly free (though it’s quite inexpensive) as it is a cloud-based service and offers fantastic collaboration and storage. However, if you absolutely need ‘offline’ editing of your documents and don’t want to pay Microsoft a small fortune, then Open Office is still worth considering.
Best Backup Application
Again, in the past I rated the shareware version of Titan as a great backup tool for small offices or personal use. These days I would recommend DropBox (www.dropbox.com) or CrashPlan (www.crashplan.com.au). Both are cloud-based storage solutions. DropBox offers 2GB of free storage which may be enough space to back up your essential working documents. CrashPlan offers unlimited cloud storage for a relatively small price, but it also allows you to use its software to backup any data between you and your friends’ computers for free. This means you can have a computer sitting at home (or somewhere else) and have the CrashPlan software automatically send each and every file on your work system to that remote computer. CrashPlan can also backup your computer to USB drive. If you have serious backup needs, I think CrashPlan takes the cake.
Best Anti-Malware Software
There are a number of good anti-malware software solutions to choose from, but each has advantages and disadvantages. I would recommend AVG as the best choice for most small businesses, because it is easy to install and use. It works quietly in the background, updating itself and alerting you to virus threats only when needed. You can get a copy from http://free.avg.com/download-avg-anti-virus-free-edition.
Best Photo Editor
My favourite freeware photo editor remains PhotoFiltre, which I have been using for too many years now. The makers released a new version just this year, and the product just keeps on getting a little bit better! It is small in size, quick and simple to use. You can get it from http://photofiltre.free.fr . It is terrific for resizing and cropping plant photos. It is also very good at enhancing the brightness and contrast of plant photos, which makes a big difference for presentation. If you want a more powerful photo and graphics editing tool that rivals photoshop, then take a look at GIMP (http://www.gimp.org/downloads/) .
Best Remote Access Tool
Have you even needed to get some work done over the weekend, but realised everything you needed was on the office computer? The you may wish to consider installing a ‘remote access’ tool that lets you connect to, and use your computer as if you were sitting at your desk! My favorite product for remote access by a long way is TeamViewer (www.teamviewer.com). It is super simple to use, secure, and allows you to set up unattended access to your computers.It is free for private use.
Of course, these are just a few of the common applications many small businesses need. No doubt, you will find yourself needing some unique or special application. Before rushing to purchase a commercial package, do a little searching on the internet to see if there are free products that can do the job just as well. However, also be super careful to check the pedigree of these free products, and make sure you scan them all!