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10 open-source alternatives for small business software

Tony Bradley | Aug. 27, 2013
Forget costly software suites. Take advantage of these free applications to cut your costs and funnel more money into building your business.

small business

You can't run a business—even a small one—without technology. You need computers, smartphones, file storage, a website, and a whole host of other tech assets. So how do you afford it all with a budget that's tighter than a hipster's jeans?

Sure, some costs simply can't be avoided, but you can get the tools you need without maxing your credit line. One of the easiest ways is to swap out expensive commercial software for open-source alternatives. The open-source community offers an array of programs that deliver professional-grade features without the big-business price tag.

To point you in the right direction, we rounded up free alternatives for the most common software used by small and medium businesses. If you replace your current commercial software products with these open-source equivalents, you can save nearly $2,000 per user. We can hear you breathing easier already.

Office suite: LibreOffice
With its word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software, Microsoft Office is the heart and soul of productivity for most businesses. But Office Home & Business 2013 will set you back $220 per user, and an Office 365 subscription runs $150 per user per year.

LibreOffice offers the same general functionality in a free package. It works with the standard Microsoft Office file formats, so you'll still be able to open and view Office files from others, or share your LibreOffice documents with partners or customers who use the Microsoft suite. It also integrates with Content Management Systems and online document storage for easy collaboration.

Email: Thunderbird
Email is the primary method of communication for most businesses. There are a number of paid and free email clients available, but Microsoft Outlook is one of the most widely used. Outlook is part of the Microsoft Office Home & Business package, as well as the more expensive Microsoft Office Professional suite, or it can be purchased separately for $95.

You can save that $95 per user, though, by switching to Thunderbird for your email. Developed by Mozilla—the makers of the Firefox Web browser—Thunderbird provides comprehensive features including tabbed email, integrated chat, smart folders, and phishing protection. And, like Firefox, it's customizable via add-ons.

Calendar: Lightning
Another function that most businesses rely on Microsoft Outlook for is the calendar. With all your appointments, conference calls, sales meetings, and deadlines, you need a robust calendar tool to manage your days.

Mozilla also has a free tool to fit this need. Lightning integrates with Thunderbird to manage your scheduling, send and receive meeting invitations, and manage events and tasks. You can expand its capabilities with add-ons.

Accounting: TurboCASH
It's no surprise many businesses rely on Quickbooks to keep their books. The Intuit software helps manage quotes and proposals, invoicing, accounts payable, accounts receivable and more, all from an intuitive interface. But Quickbooks options start around $150.


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