Top Ten Open Source (Free) Software to Save Your Business Money

David Galica - CEO/Innovator
Open-source is defined as software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed or modified. Generally, open-source software comes with an application that is ready to go out of the box. This software is usually free—minus the time it takes to actually learn how the software works. This is the software we use in our business and on our client’s systems. These are general software applications that make any computer a functional media and data entry workstation, suitable for any business. The list is as follows:

VLC

This is a great cross-platform free media player. It plays everything including DVDs, CDs, Blu-ray, mp3s, mp4s, and any other form of audio or video. We love it so much that we install it on all of the systems we repair. It has all the codecs (software that interfaces with the file to interpret its structure, decode it, and play it) that you need to play any file—from Apple products, Quick Time Movies, Windows Media Player files, etc.—and will install on any operating system. One of my favorite uses for it is to convert media files from one type to another. VLC does it all when it comes to putting on a multimedia-based show.

Notepad++

Here is an application that not only opens text files, but it also opens code and color-codes it for you to work with. This notepad will highlight syntax, and it also has a tab system so you can open multiple files and easily switch between them. It is great to use as a general notetaker or to code up some website work. Notepad++ ships with support for over 70 different languages and has a fully-featured autocompletion tool—making it useful for just about anyone. It also supports macro recording, so you can save common keystrokes in order to increase productivity and reduce typing the same thing over and over. Notepad++ is our go-to tool when it comes to code editing, and it provides many of the tools that any fully-featured premium software ships with.

Greenshot

Here is a great underdog program that has come a long way. Greenshot is a valuable tool to take screenshots, edit them, and insert them into any text editor, like Microsoft Office or Libre Office. It creates screenshots by allowing you to select the area of the screen you would like to capture. Also, Greenshot can be configured to link directly to your social media, so your quality screenshots can be delivered instantly to your followers on the internet. You can send it to your Flickr account or have it save in your DropBox account—so you never lose your data. With its editing features, it allows you to prep your image for whatever your purpose may be, whether it’s social media or an eBay auction. This is definitely one we recommend to everyone. If you try it, let us know what you think!

Thunderbird

Are you tired of paying for email applications like Microsoft Outlook? Every few years releasing a new version, requiring a new subscription fee, relearning the software (because Microsoft is known to hide features with new updates), and generally causing a headache? If the answer is YES, then Thunderbird is the right email client for you and what we recommend. This is a product from the same people that brought you the Mozilla FireFox web browser. Mozilla Thunderbird handles POP3 and IMAP email connections, hosts your address book so you never lose a client's information, and now has a calendar plugin for scheduling, if you need it. Thunderbird is also connected to the FireFox Marketplace, where hundreds of plugins and additional features are available (many at no additional cost). We use Thunderbird to sync our email across our computers, so no matter where we’re working, we have direct access to our email at all times. It will install on any version of Windows and Mac, making it easy to integrate across all of your devices. It also implements all of the current security and privacy features and is continually being updated, so you can always expect the best experience.

PDF Creator

So, you come across a situation where you need to send a pdf version of your document out and do not have any Adobe products: what do you do? PDF Creator is an application that will act as a virtual printer that "prints" your document to a pdf file. Just select “print” on your document, choose “PDF Creator,” and a new window will appear, allowing you to save your print job as a pdf on your computer. It also has the capability to edit the metadata of the document, and add some security, if you need to lock the data so it isn’t altered or copied.

GIMP

Don’t have Adobe Photoshop to edit that layered file? Need to create something visually appealing and all you have at your disposal is MS Paint? Download GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program): this is Linux's answer to Adobe Photoshop. It can edit any image file type, and it contains a variety of tools for color manipulation, cropping, cutting, and image editing. However, its user interface is a little hard to work with at first, which seems to be the biggest complaint about the software. If you are looking to modify a picture of a family member by taking their head and placing it onto the body of a farm animal, this is the application to get that done.

7 Zip

Compressed files are prevalent across the internet, from things like game installs and large repositories of files, to a new Photoshop brush, or a compressed executable. Everyone, at some point, has had to get that odd compressed file open with something. 7-Zip is our solution, as it will open everything from zip, rar, or tar files, to compressed .exe files. It is a great tool to zip your files, for size compression and added security, as you can add a password to them. If you need to transfer groups of files, the best way is to convert them to one zip file, as it saves on time and processing power. You will find most driver downloads, the link to get a free font, or some picture files, are in a compressed file to download. 7-Zip opens that for you seamlessly, allowing you to access your files quickly and without hassle.

TightVNC

We’ve all run into a similar problem: someone else needs help operating something on their computer, and you have no simple way to show them what needs to be done. You try to explain it over the phone, but you feel like you’re talking in circles and not getting the point across to the end-user. TightVNC is your open-source solution to this, allowing you to remotely connect to a host computer and control it with your mouse and keyboard. TightVNC is free for personal and commercial use, and it is cross-platform available for Windows and Linux, so no matter who you might need to connect to, this application has you covered. This can give you the option to help your family with some remote support, or to go to work virtually if you’re stranded at home. Save some travel time and just remote your PCs with TightVNC.

Audacity

Every audiophile has used Audacity for some quick sound mastering. It has a simple user interface for people to make the sound bite they want—from a jingle for your phone to play, to editing podcast recordings, or even just mashing several sound bites into one crazy piece. It gives people a way to playback a MIDI, check the Spectrogram, and mix their tracks—providing a level of control similar to many high-end audio-editing software. Audacity is the way to keep your tracks on track.

LibreOffice

Last, but not least, is the crown jewel of open-source projects, which everyone can benefit from, globally. LibreOffice is the answer to finally canceling your subscription to Microsoft's Office Suite. Libre can open most Excel, Word, and PowerPoint documents, to edit and save. So if you need to write a letter, create a mailer, capture data with a spreadsheet, or make a slide-show to show off your quarterly report—this application takes care of it all. We use it to write up our documents and create spreadsheets that import into other database applications. As a matter of fact, this post was written and spell-checked in LibreOffice Writer, the “Microsoft Word” equivalent. The user interface for Libre takes a few moments to get used to, when compared to using Word, but since the icons for word processing are relatively standard, with just a brief look, you will recognize many of the tools built into the suite that allows for almost the exact same editing capabilities as Microsoft Office.

Open-source software helps run a number of businesses and are easily adaptable for startup businesses. While they are free to use, they do have a few drawbacks of some functions missing that you may need, and you may not be familiar with the user interface. However, the best thing is the Community Support Groups that surround these programs, making up for some of the drawbacks. There is a training video online for everything in these software apps. Also, there are plugins built to get whatever function you may need. So if you are looking to keep moving forward but need to save a little money or don’t know what you even need, start with these software programs and learn how to build through community support.