September 20, 2009

The top open-source apps for business

If you’re starting your business, your cash reserves are definitely going to be squeezed to the limit. Thats why its so important to make sure you are spending your business’s money in the most efficient way. One great way to minimize startup costs is to go open-source with all your software. This isn’t always possible, but you can definitely save thousands upon thousands of rand with your I.T. if you choose some free open-source applications. Here is my personal list of what I consider to be the most useful open-source apps for a small startup business:

  1. Operating System – Ubuntu

    Hands down the easiest and most flexible Linux distribution out there, this software comes with all the bells and whistles of an operating system like Windows, at virtually no cost. In fact, because of the value-added applications that Linux comes with, it will save you even more money for apps you would normally need to pay for seperately when using Windows.

    Ubuntu is not for everyone – there are cases when using Windows is unfortunately essential. This includes the use of legacy or other enterprise apps you use that are required to run under Windows, or some software that is simply unavailable on Linux. Although I’m a big fan of Ubuntu, there is nothing in Linux that compares with Adobe’s Photoshop or Microsoft’s Visual Studio, both of which will not run properly in Ubuntu.

  2. Office Suite – OpenOffice

    You can shell out a few thousand rand for corporate Microsoft Office licenses, or you can use that money to hire a secretary for a month (for example) and get the Office suite for free! OpenOffice has all of the major features MS Office has, but without the bulk. It has a simpler, more streamlined interface and is perfect for creating slideshows, documents, PDFs and spreadsheets.

  3. Project Management – DotProject or XPlanner

    I wanted to list both of them as they both deserve merit. They are excellent project management and planning applications, allowing businesses with well defined projects to easily set out stories and tasks and assign them to users. I have used XPlanner more frequently, but it is tailored towards Extreme Programming teams and developers, while DotProject is more generic and will fit non-programming teams too. I recommend trying at least one of them and analysing how best it will fit in with your business.

  4. E-mail and Task management – Zimbra

    An excellent solution for corporate collaboration and e-mail, it includes a corporate wide calender, full e-mail support and built-in Instant Messaging (I.M). This one is really a no-brainer, and packs many features that streamline e-mail and meeting management. Although the basic version is free and open-source, the enterprise version supports extended features such as syncing directly to your cellphone.

  5. Encryption – Truecrypt

    Truecrypt is an amazingly fast encryption application to help you encrypt sensitive personal and corporate data, such as payrolls and internal documents, and keep them free from prying eyes. It supports a wide range of encryption algorithms, including ones that not even the U.S. Government would be able to crack (at least not in the next 5 years). Once you specify the size of your encrypted drive and a password, you can move all of your data inside of the encrypted volume and it will be secured on-the-fly while you are working.

  6. Customer Relationship Management – Sugar

    I would have to say that Sugar CRM is the best open source customer relationship management platform out there. With tools for salesforce automation (leads, pipeline forecasting, and account management), e-marketing, and online lead capture, as well as customer support and automated service handling, Sugar has the most comprehensive feature set among open source competitors.  It is definitely worth a try and will not only minimize your costs, but also maximize and streamline your business processes.

  7. Telephony – Asterisk

    As a business starting up, you will need a fast and efficient PBX Telephony system.  Asterisk PBX is an open-source system that just works. It doesn’t get in your way, and its features conveniently slide into what a business needs from its telephony services when starting up.
    Its features are too big to squeeze in here, but it has full support for VOIP and all of the call features you typically expect from a telephony system -call forwarding, holding, conferencing and blocking. Heck, it even supports text to speech for dynamic messages!

  8. E-Commerce – Freeway

    If you are thinking of starting up an Internet business, and need an e-Commerce solution, Freeway is your software of choice. Freeway is by far the largest and most fully featured Open Source eCommerce platform. It doesn’t just sell products but extends to sell in some very fancy new ways and is very configurable.

    It allows you to create customer accounts,  manage all types of orders, supports many different payment gateways, allows you to put in marketing promotions and lets you build detailed reports about your customers and sales.

There were so many more apps that I wanted to add in here, but I didn’t want to make the post too bloated – these are the essentials that a business needs when starting up. If you think I missed an important app, let me know by posting below.

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