Business software on a shoestring

As the price of running an SME soars, small business owners have to look for more ways to cut costs. Buying computer software can be expensive, so how can business managers cut their IT spend? Read on to find out...

As the price of running an SME soars, small business owners have to look for more ways to cut costs. Buying computer software, installing virus protection and purchasing the latest word processing package or accounting programme can be expensive. It’s fair to say that we are becoming increasingly dependent on computers for everyday business life. So how can business managers cut their IT spend?

The Open Source Initiative, founded in 1998, is a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing free software programmes for download and use. Open Source software is essentially software for which the license is freely distributed, allowing computer programmers to change the way it works, improve it, adapt it and fix bugs. It is then distributed for free and usually available to download.

Open source software provider The Mozilla Foundation, has now released a new version of its Firefox web browser – a free and downloadable alternative to such browsers as Internet Explorer.

The benefit of using Firefox over other browsers, says Mozilla, is increased security – not least because the majority of web users have Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, so hackers and ‘virus pirates’ are more likely to target it. The same may be true of Thunderbird, emailing software also from Mozilla which, like Outlook, allows users to download emails to their computer and to sort, compose and send them.

Other examples of Open Source software include Open Office, a free alternative to the commonly used word processing and spreadsheet and presentation programmes. According to the developers, it allows users to create documents that are compatible with Microsoft’s Excel, Word, and Powerpoint software, and again it’s free to download and use.

There is even free antivirus software in the shape of Clamwin, which business owners can also download and update with new virus definitions. This all sound too good to be true, so what’s the downside?

Debate still rages over potential of open-source distribution to take business away from the software industry and to hinder development and innovation. With such software as Gnucash offering free financial-accounting tools, developers argue that revenues are being diverted away from the industry.

For example, Firefox’s market share is steadily growing. According to information from NetApplications.com, in October 2004 Internet Explorer had 92 percent of the market. By September 2006, Internet Explorer’s market share had dropped to 82 percent, with Firefox’s rising to 12.5 percent. The debate continues and the wider issue of intellectual property protection against free sharing of information forms the backdrop to the furore. With Open Source developers showing no signs of slowing, the software industry may find itself having to face up to its reality.

There is also the issue of stability. When a new version of an Open Source programme is released, it is often in a Beta form – which could mean that not all of the bugs and glitches have been put right. It’s should be safer to download the latest stable release of such software to ensure that you are as protected from crashes as you can be. The programmes might not look as sleek as commercial products, but that’s because the developers often don’t have as big a budget as large software firms.

For more information on the Open Source Initiative, click here.

For the Open Office word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications, click here.

To download the ClamWin antivirus software for free, click here.

To download the Firefox and Thunderbird internet browser and email programme, click here.

For free accounting software like GNUcash click here, or here for TurboCash.

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