10 superb free tools for all of your basic business needs

If your small business has a comparably small software budget, these 10 free software tools can get your company up and running

Introducing new software into a typical small business environment can be costly, to say the least. Depending on the size of your business, buying multiple copies of a programor its licensescan quickly drive your balance sheet into the red.

The alternative isnt especially appealing, however. Sifting through the Web in the hopes of finding an effective no-cost software solution could wind up costing a small business just as much time, money, and manpower to use effectively as it would have cost to buy a fully functional app in the first place.

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Whats a business owner on a budget to do? Simple: Read this article.

Below, youll find 10 superb pieces of software that can increase productivity without decreasing your bank account. We included options for most major business functionsfrom productivity to human resource management to the operating system itselfin an effort to create a front-to-back resource for getting your business up and running for the low, low cost of nada.

A word of warning, however: Free software isnt always the deal it appears to be. While premium software typically comes with frequent updates and a helpful support staff thats just a phone call away, gratis software can be a bit more rough around the edgesespecially when it comes to documentation, ease-of-use, and nuanced feature support. That being said, the utilities outlined here are amongst the cream of the free software crop, so you shouldnt have to roll up your sleeves and dive into a technical support forum too often.

Operating system: Ubuntu Linux

The cost of Windows licenses adds up quickly, whereas open-source Linux costs nary a dime. Ubuntu is a pretty darn good operating system, too, provided your workforce doesnt mind abandoning the familiarity of the traditional Windows desktop for more uncharted waters. The Linux software selection is different than the Windows app lineup, but every piece of software mentioned in this articlewith the obvious exception of Microsofts security suiterun just fine on Ubuntu.

While its often joked that Linux is near-impossible to use, Canonical and a host of open-source enthusiasts have put a lot of work into making Ubuntu extremely user friendly. Wed also argue that its going to be equally frustrating to try and stuff Windows 8s modern UI into the business environment. And dont even get us started about how great it is to run Linux on low-powered systems that would wither and choke at the mere sight of Microsofts main OS. But if youre still not convinced&

Productivity suite: LibreOffice

Its fair to say that one of the biggest challenges businesses face in abandoning the tried-and-true-(and-pricy) Microsoft Office suite for a freeware office package like LibreOffice is compatibility. Specifically, the worries that newly created documents or spreadsheetswhose extensions end with the letter xwont work with LibreOffice and, even if they do, they wont quite look the same.

While its certainly true that there might be a couple of general differences when opening up a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet in its original app versus LibreOffices Calc, and that wed much rather use PowerPoint than LibreOffices more lackluster Impress (sorry!), the suites Writer app is downright excellent, especially for its price. And yes, LibreOffice Writer will open DOCX files, though you may run into some slight formatting issues in documents with major bells and whistles.

Our recommendation? If its not too much hassle, start saving your key Word documents in older file formats that LibreOffice will have less issues withlike Word 97-2003 documents, RTF or ODF (OpenDocument Format) filesfor fewer issues during your switch.

Security: Windows Defender / Microsoft Security Essentials

Two security apps at once? Not quite, though this'll require a quick explanation.

In all versions of Windows prior to Windows 8, Windows Defender is an anti-spyware app. Its good to have, but not as mission critical as a real-time virus scanner. Microsoft Security Essentials fills that role in Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7. For Windows 8, Microsoft merged AV and anti-spyware apps into a single, unified program calledyou guessed itWindows Defender. Got it?

While different kinds of businesses might need more robust security options than Microsofts free solutions provide, theres absolutely nothing wrong with keeping Microsofts highly functional (and highly free) antivirus app in your back pocket for any systems that need basic protection. Just don't expect the apps to do a great job of reporting to a centralized authority about viruses found or updates needed.

Another powerful app worth checking out is the free version of Comodo Internet Security. With it, you can get the best of the aforementioned Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials in a single app: Anti-spyware, firewall, and antivirus capabilities, automatic sandboxing for locking out unknown files before they can do damage, and a locking capability that keeps your critical Windows files from being affected by problematic apps. Comodo frequently asks users to make security decisions, however, whereas the Microsoft software works more behind the scenes.

Email: Zimbra Desktop

Since Mozillas Thunderbird is basically on life support at this point, the world of freeware alternatives to Microsoft Outlook has taken a hit. However, Zimbra Desktop offers a compelling suite of features as a desktop email clientespecially for employees tasked with monitoring your business's social channels.

Zimbra Desktop includes all of the staple elements of a desktop email client, such as a mail interface, a calendar, task lists, an offline mode, et cetera. The app also includes a section that allows users to keep tabs on social hotsposts like Twitter and Facebook; more business-friendly services like WebEx and LinkedIn; and general services like Yahoo Web Search and Local lookups.

Zimbra Desktop supports POP and IMAP email out of the box, along with Yahoo Mail, Gmail, AOL, Hotmail andof courseZimbra Collaboration Server accounts.

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