Go Ahead and Take It
Technology often comes with a hefty price tag, but there are many programs and services your office can use gratis. A few of these services are supported by advertising, some are open source, and others are giveaways offered by companies that charge for more robust, premium versions of the same products. Just beware that free sometimes has a price: Installing and using some of the open-source programs requires the services of a skilled IT staff.
For single projects, there are free versions of a number of online collaboration tools -- such as Basecamp, Huddle, Wrike, Yugma, and GanntProject, which offer to-do lists and file sharing. For full-scale project management, consider Open Workbench, an open-source tool.
Documents and spreadsheets
ThinkFree, Google Docs, and Zoho are all free Web-based programs that work pretty much like Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Word, Excel, and PowerPoint applications. If you want Office-like performance on your desktop, try Open Office, a free open-source suite.
GnuCash is free open-source accounting software that uses double-entry accounting. Intuit's (NASDAQ:INTU) QuickBooks Simple Start package offers free basic accounting software, which handles payables and receivables and helps you prepare tax documents.
Filter spam, maintain a firewall, and otherwise secure your data with Untangle, an open-source product. It offers 13 types of security tools that automatically update. And it doesn't take a computer geek to run.
FreeConferenceCall.com lets you set up a phone conference with up to 96 people. It even records the conversation for later playback. The phone numbers aren't toll free, however, so you pay regular long-distance charges. DimDim is a free Web conference service you access through your browser.
Zen Cart and OSCommerce are open-source programs for creating a store on your website. The software helps you post product thumbnails, tally purchases, and take customers' billing and shipping information.
There are tons of free Web-based e-mail services, many of which are splattered with advertisements. Some, such as Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Gmail, can be configured for use with your company's domain name. BlueTie offers free e-mail for companies with 20 or fewer users. Or try Zimbra's open-source edition, a powerful corporate e-mail server and client system you can use for free.
Calls made from your computer with Skype to anyone else on the service are free. You can also use Skype to place calls to any telephone in the U.S. for 2 cents a minute. You'll need to buy a headset, though.
SugarCRM is a robust open-source rival to Siebel and Salesforce.com. It helps you track your sales efforts and manage your customer information. It costs nothing but the staff to run it for you. Companies that have no more than three users can opt for Zoho CRM, a free Web-based service.
Correction: The original version of this story, which appeared in the May 2008 issue, incorrectly stated that Untangle was free only for 10 or fewer users.