Computers and software to run on them are something very few businesses can avoid in this century. For some companies the hardware and software purchase decisions are driven by the need for specific software tools. For most companies, the options are broader and the choices confusing.
This article is aimed at new businesses looking to keep their technology costs as small as possible. Not every suggestion here will work for every small business, but almost every business can find some cost savings here.
Low- or no-cost software can save a start-up business a lot of money. Here are a some of the leading products:
- LibreOffice is a multiplatform and multilingual office suite and an open-source project. Compatible with all other major office suites (it will import and export files in their formats), the product is free to download, use, and distribute. The suite includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics, and database modules. Time-to-learn is not long, because users of the most popular office suites will find over 90 percent of the menu items are familiar. An added benefit is that you can export documents and spreadsheets as PDF files directly from this software. When commercial office suites have become “subscription” products (you pay for each new, significant upgrade), a robust and free office suite is a great alternative for business.
- Google Docs and Spreadsheets is an alternative way to create and work with word processing and spreadsheet files. The software also allows you to create “groups” of individuals who can then either edit or view your documents or spreadsheets. Software that large corporations use for this kind of collaborative sharing costs a great deal of money. Google Docs and Spreadsheets is free and is an interesting option for small companies that employ staff who telecommute.
- Google Apps provides more collaboration tools including shared calendars, private chat tools, and free telephone calling.
- The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is often used as a free software replacement for Adobe Photoshop. It is powerful software which does require some learning, but the pay-back is the ability to produce commercial quality graphics using software that is free.
- 7-zip is a free alternative to commercial file compression software. It will open and save/create .zip files.
- Thunderbird is a powerful, desktop email application available for free. Created by the same people who made FireFox a wildly successful web browser, Thunderbird is robust and capable.
For many years the desktop computer business has driven sales to consumers and businesses through a marketing approach which has forced fairly regular upgrades. Microsoft and Intel have been masters of this approach. Advances in hardware have been accompanied by new iterations of the operating system that require you to have the new hardware. So, every two to three years, your desktop became semi-obsolete.
This is changing. Unless you use your computer for high-end graphics processing, engineering calculations, or similar data-intensive applications, there is little reason these days to need the latest, most powerful desktop computers in your office.
Most office computers are used for word processing, spreadsheets, email, and web browsing. Some are also used for customer or inventory databases. If graphics applications are used, they tend to be for preparing presentations or simple sales materials. None of these uses require more than a middle-of-the road computer with a reasonable-size LCD monitor (don’t buy older CRT/glass monitors, they consume a lot more power than LCDs).
Older computers which may have difficulty running current versions of Windows can will usually run a Linux operating system without a problem. Ubuntu is a free, community developed, linux-based operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers. It contains all the applications you need — a web browser, presentation, document and spreadsheet software, instant messaging and much more.
Ubuntu and other Linux variations are no longer the complicated, “geek-only” operating systems of the 1990s. They now sport familiar graphical desktops, point-and-click application launching, and offer a selection of free applications that mirror the ones commonly found on Windows systems. Companies such as Dell and Hewlett Packard offer inexpensive office computers with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed.
The cost of acquiring a Linux-based computer installed with typical office productivity software is significantly less than the same computer installed with name-brand software, and the open source Linux applications are free to upgrade as new versions are released, meaning your ongoing costs of ownership are near zero.
If you move from, say, Windows XP to Windows 7, you will need to learn how to use the new operating system, because there are many changes in menus and in how things work. If you move from Windows to Linux, your “learning cost” will be similar; your savings in software costs considerable.