Open Source Apps: Cheap Can Be Great!Posted on June 10, 2013 by
“Without a sense of teamwork I think it’s really hard to build a great business.” ~ Martha Stewart
Sticker shock. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling it these days. In the doctor’s office, at my kid’s college, and at the grocery store.
Business expenses are going up, too. Have you priced Microsoft Office Pro lately? Ouch! But it would be almost impossible to run a business these days without it. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to cough up the bucks to get it.
Or are you?
Maybe not, thanks to something called “open source.”
What the heck is open source? It’s software that’s created and improved by anyone who wants to pitch in, and it’s free for anyone who wants to use it. This is very different from the usual corporate model, where software is written in secret with lots of copyright lawyers hanging around the water cooler.
Open source is kind of a philosophy. The idea is that when you’ve got a talent pool made of the entire human race, instead of just a limited number of in-house professionals, innovations come more quickly, and bugs are eliminated faster. Everyone can contribute, and everyone can use it free, for any purpose.
Probably the best known open source project is Wikipedia. It’s a great place to look for general information about a topic, although it’s a good idea to verify Wikipedia information with another resource.
You might think that open source programs would be hopelessly rinky-dink, and stripped to the bone of any useful features. You get what you pay for, right? But these versions are surprisingly sophisticated and robust.
So how do you find open source programs? It’s easier than you might think. If there’s a software product that’s got you drooling, just Google it to find other alternatives. Here’s how: Type “open source” and the name of the program you want. For major software products, information about an open source alternative should pop right up.
For example, if you Google “Microsoft Office” and “open source,” you’ll find a PC World article that lists five decent free alternatives; the best known is probably Apache OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org). If you Google Photoshop, you’ll find GIMP (www.gimp.org). GIMP is free, too.
Some cautionary notes, though, before you toss your Microsoft Office back-up disk in the fireplace.
First, be sure you get the software from a source you trust such as www.cnet.com. And don’t venture into cyberspace without some good virus protection!
Second, make sure the program will save files in a format you can use. The good ones will, but it may not be the default. For example, OpenOffice can save your file as a Word document, but only if you tell it to. This is essential if you want to share your files with others.
Third, check the license agreement to be sure you’re using the software legally. Do this especially if you’re a computer expert and you want to change or add to the code.
Fourth, read some reviews. You’ll get invaluable information, and sometimes you’ll find out about a product that’s even better.
Finally, experiment before you limit yourself to any one program. Make sure you’ve got a good feel for how it works. For example, does your OpenOffice document format properly when you open it in Word? Is there useful help and support online? Is the open source product missing any important features?
Many people have found open source products they love so much they don’t need to purchase the name-brand at all. It’s worth checking out even if you still wind up getting the name-brand product. You never know when you’ll need a back-up.
And after all, some of the best things in life really are free.