Free is a lovely word; unfortunately, it's often followed by a disappointing product. We have found 10 great free apps that will help you run your business. Some are so good, you might even be willing to (shudder) spend money on them. -- Mark Spoonauer
CrossLoop is an easy-to-use desktop sharing tool that allows your company's IT experts to diagnose and fix computer problems even if they are thousands of miles away. Don't have an IT department? Use CrossLoop's marketplace to find prescreened, independent IT professionals who set their own fees and are rated by other people who have hired them.
The latest version of Skype offers much better audio quality while using 50 percent less bandwidth. The improved video calls are now easier to start and can fill up your whole screen at a smooth 30 frames per second. A new screen-sharing feature allows you to share a document, presentation, or website with another Skype user. Skype charges for some features, but calls to other Skype users are always free.
The free version of QuickBooks lets you create invoices, print checks, handle payroll, and manage up to 20 customer accounts. There are plenty of free bookkeeping tools on the market, but QuickBooks is the best option for growing companies, because it's easy to step up to the paid version ($99.95), which lets users track more than 10,000 customers.
Many businesses are switching to Google Apps because it's cheaper than Microsoft Exchange. But not everyone wants to abandon the familiar look and feel of Outlook. Use this tool to sync from Google Calendar to Outlook or vice versa. Or perform a two-way sync based on a schedule you set. Unfortunately, some of Google's features -- like e-mail reminders -- won't work in Outlook.
Think of Xobni (pronounced ZOB-nee) as a supercharged search engine for Outlook. Search for a name in the Xobni sidebar, and it will find the person's contact information, previous e-mails, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, Hoover's data, and recent attachments. You can search for keywords as well and even place Skype calls without leaving Outlook.
DimDim allows you to host an unlimited number of Web conferences with up to 20 guests for free. Meeting hosts can show PowerPoint presentations or share documents. Plus, you can allow attendees to view your desktop, which is great for software demos. The whiteboard feature allows hosts and attendees to brainstorm together. Step up to the paid version for larger conferences.
Simple but elegant, Doomi allows you to create a to-do list and check off tasks when you are done. To keep yourself on schedule, you can customize a completion time for each task. Finished tasks are stored in a separate list until you clear them -- great for viewing the day's accomplishments. We just wish Doomi synced with Outlook.
An excellent alternative to Microsoft Word or Google Docs, Zoho Writer lets users collaborate on a document online, in real time. It also has an offline mode, so you can work on documents even without Internet access. Zoho Writer can also be used to post directly to a blog. Zoho's 18 other free apps include a customer relationship management tool, database software, and an applicant tracking program.
Foxit is one of the best programs for viewing and modifying PDFs. It uses less memory than Acrobat Reader, launches almost instantly, and allows you to convert PDFs into simple text files. Plus, unlike Acrobat, it lets users annotate documents (draw graphics, highlight text) without paying extra. Now, if only Foxit's PDF Creator and PDF Editor programs were free, too.
Mozy will store 2GB of data online for free; just choose what you want to save, and Mozy automatically backs up the files whenever changes are made. It's a great way to protect your most sensitive information in case of an emergency. Plus, you can access your documents from anywhere. If you want to store more, upgrading to an unlimited account costs $4.95 per month.
For even more free software tools, view our slide show at www.inc.com/keyword/sep09. And check out our Goods blog, Quick Hits, at www.inc.com/quick-hits, where we frequently feature deals and discounts aimed at business owners.