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Best free stuff, 2013 edition: The productive businessperson

Ian Paul, Jared Newman, Daniel Ionescu, Brad Chacos | May 28, 2013
Here are the 12 best free tools for the productive businessperson.

Speaking of collaboration, when you need to be in touch with your team in real time, turn to HipChat. It's a great tool that combines group chat and one-on-one instant messaging sessions, complete with the ability to share images, PDFs, Office docs, and other files for instant feedback. Team members can log in using mobile, desktop, or Web apps alike; and even better, it's free for teams of up to five people.

Cobook is a gorgeous iPhone app that keeps your personal, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter contacts organized in one place, creating unified contact details. Crucially, the app segregates a person's info by network; for example, Twitter updates won't flood your friend's main contact card--instead, you have to tap the Twitter icon on the contact card to view tweets. Co--Book also adds a new spin on groups by using tags to organize your contacts, and you can create multiple tags for a person.

Cardmunch is another great iOS app to add to your contact-management arsenal. The app lets you snap photos of business cards, and then seamlessly converts the information into a contact sheet that you can save to your phone, complete with info pulled from the person's LinkedIn account. It's highly accurate and extremely useful, and Cardmunch even offers to connect you with your contacts on LinkedIn.

Email remains the universal method for business communication, but keeping on top of your inbox isn't always an easy task. Mailbird is a new, free (for now) email client that sports a simple, intuitive interface designed to help you zip through your clogged inbox. Mailbird is in beta and currently supports only Gmail users on Windows PCs; but if that sounds like you, Mailbird offers a fast, no-frills email experience.

If that doesn't sound like you or if you're feeling adventurous, check out AOL's Alto Mail, which intelligently organizes your incoming mail into grouped "stacks," similar to actually sorting physical mail on a table. Alto Mail arranges the stacks according to customizable filter preferences. This striking-looking Web service works with AOL Mail, Gmail, iCloud, and Yahoo Mail. Unfortunately, while Alto is free, it's in invitation-only beta. But you can request an invitation from the Alto website.

PicMonkey and Pixlr are two free browser-based photo editors that let you make complex edits to your images. Pixlr is the more full-featured of the pair, while PicMonkey packs a more streamlined interface that's better suited for adding Instagram-like effects.

With Google axing Reader this summer, it's time to look at alternatives to re--place the legendary RSS service. The best of the bunch is Feedly, which can handily import your Reader feed and even goes a step beyond Reader thanks to its Facebook and Twitter integration. Feedly also boasts mobile apps for iOS and Android--and mobile is an area where Reader faltered. For your viewing pleasure, Feedly displays articles in either a traditional text interface or a magazine-style display chock-full of imagery.


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