Especially with the economy down in the dumps, there's never been a better time for businesses to look for free applications and services. And the fact that they're free may overshadow the fact that some are just darn good.
Times are tough, but you can save your company some cash by taking advantage of many free applications and services to help you remain lean and competitive.
This includes many downloadable programs for your BlackBerry, iPhone, or Android smartphone as well as tools for PC productivity, such as online back-up options, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) software, and no-cost office suites.
Free apps are sought-after downloads today in business. It's not just because it makes sense to those watching their bottom line, but the apps are getting a lot more robust instead of simply covering the basics, says Scott Steinberg, publisher of Digital Trends. "You'd be surprise what you can find today when it comes to free applications -- and there's plenty of free apps to choose from for your smartphone, PC, or a cloud-computing solution that bridges the two," adds Steinberg.
Steinberg says he's most excited about the explosion in downloadable apps for smartphones. "The apps transform phones into notebook replacements, audio recorders, GPS navigation devices, note-taking devices, and even gaming getaways for those in need of an entertainment fix while traveling for business."
Speaking of travel, Chris Silva, an analyst at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester, the technology research company, says many of these free productivity tools have an inherent benefit compared to traditional desktop software: "On-the-go businesspersons want to be able to access their content wherever and whenever, and on any device -- and while Microsoft recently unveiled a 'cloud' component to [Microsoft] Office, we're finding people are turning to Google's established and free Gmail for e-mail, file storage, document sharing, and so on."
There's little dispute that cost-cutting measures are critical -- especially given the current state of the economy -- but there are a few things about free software that businesses should be aware of.
Silva reminds businesses that these free apps are still not as full-featured as paid versions. "Productivity suites might not have the 500-plus menus and tools built into Microsoft Office, for example, but most people don't venture outside of 'create, format, print and share' anyway," he says. "Many companies, especially small to mid-sized businesses, are finding these free alternatives to be good enough for their needs."
Silva also warns of two other possible downsides to free apps. "It's no secret there are occasional Gmail outages, which means you can't access your e-mail, or Skype congestion that can affect call quality, along with other issues associated with Internet-based solutions," he says. "Plus, there are always increased security risks in allowing your employees to use any kind of software they want. You'll need to take steps to educate employees about risks, about some company information that shouldn't be shared with Gmail or IM, and mitigate these with policies."
Best bets for free apps
If you're looking for completely free apps for your smartphone or PC, consider the following recommendations: