By Alyssa Gregory

Saving Money with Open-Source and Other Free Software

By Alyssa Gregory

Yesterday, I shared a list of ways you can cut back on your business expenses. One item that made my list was using open-source software instead of mainstream commercial applications in the day-to-day management of your business.

Here are some popular open-source and other free applications you may want to consider using in your business.

Accounting Software

Instead of Quickbooks, try:

GnuCash: A personal and small-business finance manager with a checkbook-like register to enter and track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses. GnuCash is designed to be simple and easy to use but still based on formal accounting principles.

TurboCASH Accounting: An open source accounting package that is one of the world’s first fully-featured open source accounts packages for small business, with over 80,000 users.

Image Editing Applications

Instead of Photoshop and Illustrator, try:

GIMP: GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages.

Inkscape: A multi-platform open source vector graphic application for creating and editing SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) files.

Paint.NET: A free image and photo editing software for Windows. It features an intuitive and innovative user interface with support for layers, unlimited undo, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools.

Office Productivity Suites

Instead of Microsoft Office, try:

Google Docs: A free, Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and form application offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users.

KOffice: KOffice is a cross-platform office suite built on the KDE platform. All of its components are released under free software/open source licenses.

OpenOffice.org: The leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers.

PDF Creation Tools

Instead of Adobe Acrobat, try:

PDFCreator: A free tool to create PDF files from nearly any Windows application.

PrimoPDF: A free, high-quality PDF creation utility that enables printing to PDF from virtually any Windows application.

Is free or open source right for you?

Keep in mind that free isn’t always better. In some cases, you may choose a paid application over a free or open-source tool for a number of reasons, including:

  • Paid software may be more reliable than open source.
  • Open-source applications are more likely to cease development without advanced notice, leaving you in a lurch.
  • Paid tools typically have some level of customer support available. Open source support, if it exists, is generally managed through an online community or wiki, so it can be more difficult to get quick and correct answers.
  • Open-source applications may not provide any type of product documentation or training.

The most important step is researching the open-source alternative and making sure it will effectively meet your needs without causing any unnecessary challenges in your business.

Do you use open source? What mainstream applications have you replaced with free alternatives?

  • Christian

    You should really add Zoho, and more specifically Zoho Business, to your Office Suite list.

    Has documents (word), spreadsheets (excel), presentation (powerpoint), free email hosting, tasks, notebook, document sharing, etc.

    Best of all, it’s free. They have additional applications to add to your account for a small free, including projects, crm and staffing.

    I’m using Zoho Business almost exclusively. It’s not perfect and needs better integration between apps, but being free and web-based, I don’t need to carry a laptop between home, work and other locations. I usually just bring my USB thumb drive.

  • Ben

    Audacity is a free open-source sound editor. Great tool for podcasters or light audio manipulation, sound effects, etc. Not quite as full-featured as a studio suite, of course, but it’s surprisingly easy to use and you can’t beat the price.


  • Kio

    Lotus Symphony is also free and very very powerful

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for bringing this up!
    Your conclusion about support on open source is very arguable and the article is not a good browsing of open source availability.
    The first way to save money with open source start at the OS level, replacing MS Windows desktop and Servers with GNU alternative can save a ton of money especially with startups or freelancers. Then the choice in unlimited. Keep in mind that most if not all of the serious open source source software have a commercial option for a fraction of fee compared to their alternative on Windows platform.
    Let’s see: Ubuntu excellent on desktops and servers is free but also have paid support. Need collaboration suite (email, calendar, presence, etc): Zimbra will compete with ms exchange, it’s free and there is a commercial support if you like to pay. Other open source collaboration like Open-Xchange are also available. Need enterprise class client relation management application: sugarcrm is free and also has a supported commercial version. You need document management app: Alfresco is there for free and also commercially supported, it will replace SharePoint. Do you need a flash server? Red5 is an excellent alternative to Adobe Flash Server etc…
    How about remote meeting and document sharing? dimdim will replace webex with all feature, it’s free for up to 20 users, it’s supported as well.
    In fact my startup company runs 100% open source.
    The list can go on and on…
    Just my 2 cent$

  • gaurav_ch

    Aptana Studio for web development, iphone development and adobe air development. Its free and very robust, comparable to zend studio.

  • Arvind

    Alyssa: Nice list that can save some good money for businesses!

    Christian: Thanks for using Zoho and recommending us :) We hear you and in fact working on better integration between the various Zoho apps.

  • basia

    It is not so sure, not free (in any meaning) software may have better and longer lasting support.
    If we think about commercial software, we think about Adobe or Microsoft, which does not seem to go bancrupt or taken over by competition in foreseable future.
    However, if you buy any PerFecT SoftWarE 1.01 from any UnderBush Co.Ltd.Pty, it is not so sure, what would happen next year. The same question refers to training and support.
    OK, I am on Linux at work and at home. I do not say, it is easier.
    I do not say, it is cheaper, if I value my time.
    It is just different set of problems and issues.

  • Jason

    You should also try SSuite Office for a free office suite. They have a whole range of office suites that are free for download.

    Their software also don’t need to run on Java or .NET, like so many open source office suites, so it makes their software very small and efficient.

    You may try these links:


  • Paul

    I’m disagree with you, almost every open source software include the user manual or have a great manual on line, even better, has a comunity to help you while the paid software only has a few persons to help you.

    On the other hand, some times the paid software is better than the opensource software, but we can live only with opensource whitout pay nothing.

  • I’ve goine even further with Open Source. I use Ubuntu Linux and all the open source great apps that I need. Until now, since two years ago, I have not needed windows expect to test websites in different browsers and mostly the ugly IE6. Open Source really works.

  • Stevie D

    It would be worth adding OpenOffice.org under “PDF creators” as well, as it can natively produce PDF files from any OpenOffice or compatible file without needing any external plug-ins or drivers.

  • Elodie

    Speaking about Open Source solutions and free tools, I’d like to introduce TioLive.
    This software, available online in SaaS mode, is a platform entirely based on Open Source technologies delivering ERP5 instances able to run entirely a business.
    It provides a consistent range of business applications including an ERP, a CRM, a DMS, business email, Voice over IP (VOIP) telephony and business chat.
    TioLive is free of charge for any number of users. TioLive comes with no advertising and no time restrictions.
    To know more about it : http://www.tiolive.com

  • Kevin Collins

    We use events.org for free online registration and free online donation management software. We run all types of events and it has really helped us save money. It is easy to use and very helpful.



  • Kevin Collins

    We use events.org for free online registration and free online donation setup and management software. We run all types of events and it saves us a lot of money. I find it easy to use and so do my customers. Here are the links:


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