The Three Best Open Source Small Business Software Applications

If I had to pick three open source small business software applications that every small business owner ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE, these would be them.


August 2, 2012

OpenOffice

Commonly called OOo (short for OpenOffice.org), it's a full replacement for Microsoft Office.  A word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation app are important to most any small business, and OOo has all three.  There's also a database app that can use either its own database backend or talk with other database servers like MySQL, PostgreSQL, and a few others. 

What matters for a small business though is that this app will open up most Microsoft Office files without any trouble.  Doc and docx files?  Yes.  xls?  Yes.  xls with macros?  Well, not so much.  I wonder though, when there are spreadsheets with macros in them, if maybe the spreadsheet isn't the best tool for the job.  That's another post for another day, but I've seen xls files with enough macros to make your head spin, and it's all stuff that could have been done with a bit of PHP querying MySQL.  Access?  Probably not those either; again though, there might be a better way to begin with than using MS Office.

One of the best features of OOo is the PDF button. With just one click you get to save a pdf version of whatever it is your making.  Speaking of pdf…

 

Sumatra PDF

For those of you sick of the bloat that is Adobe Acrobat Reader, enjoy a trimmed down and fast pdf reader named Sumatra.  This app is small to begin with and doesn't use much in the way of system resources once it's up and running.  You can grab it on the Sumatra PDF download page.

This reader has worked well on every pdf I threw at it, with a couple of exceptions.  There's a vendor where I work that somehow manages to cook up bad pdf files on a regular basis.  I've yet to track down how they're doing it (but I'm guessing it involves some whacked out proprietary ERP), and EVINCE has worked in those cases anyhow.

 

Firefox

Firefox is a great browser.  Adjusting privacy settings is pretty easy, there are plenty of plugins for Firefox, and it's a cross platform browser.  This means that you can get comfortable using it in Windows, and then transition easily to using it on something else like Mac or Linux.

It's a free download on Mozilla.org’s Firefox page.  I suggest to new folks that they use the Cookie Whitelist plugin at least with Firefox.  It takes a whitelist approach to allowing cookies.  If you don't specifically say "Yes, this site can set a cookie in my browser profile," then it ain't happening.  Echofon is another Firefox plugin that I recommend to people who use Twitter.

Once you switch, you might run into some trouble with your vendors.  Some of their websites and online tools have been designed to only work in IE.  I'm of the opinion that if a vendor wants to keep someone's business, they'd best get with the program and make their site or web app cross platform compatible.  Notice I said cross platform; if something only works in Firefox on Windows, but not Firefox on an Android phone, it's still not much better than useless.  Vendors who refuse to change are not paying attention to a sizable chunk of their customer base (like any folks would like to browse the vendor's site with phones or tablets) and that makes me wonder what ELSE they're not paying attention to.

One other thing that's nice about Firefox is the ability to move a profile.  If your computer is screwed up, you can't boot to Windows, etc, then it's trivial to grab the Firefox user profile somehow and back it up.  Different versions of Windows stick it in different places, but it's there for the grabbing.

 

If all you did was switch from your three proprietary apps (IE, MS Office, and Adobe Acrobat) to these, you'd be going a long way toward saving yourself headaches in the long run.

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