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How to Find Bargain Basement Software & Communication Solutions
High Tech Solutions that Wonít Sink Your Budget: Overview of business software and communication solutions that can improve your business.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 6/1/2008
†† Good software solutions donít have to cost a lot of money. And that is good news with the industry facing a number of financial pressures. If you know where to look, you can find basic technology and software solutions that give you big benefits without breaking your budget. In many instances these products provide help with networking, office computing and Internet functions at little or no cost.
Basic Office Computing
†† Are you tired of paying lots of money to Microsoft to put necessary office software on your computer? Then you might want to give OpenOffice a try. It is a completely free, open-source version of basic office functions similar to what you would expect to find in Microsoft Office or Corel WordPerfect Suite. It resides on the individual client machine and can be used by as many computers as you want with no cost. OpenOffice has programs for word processing, spreadsheets, multimedia presentations, basic databases, and graphical charts.
†† Open-source means that there is no fee to license, use the product or develop integrations for it. Also, there is a group of volunteers that have helped work on the project and are generally willing to provide help to those who need it.
†† OpenOffice is fairly intuitive and has a familiar look and feel to similar products. It reads all major competitorsí files, which makes switching a pretty easy task for existing files. IBM Lotus Symphony is an updated version of the basic OpenOffice product with an enhanced user interface.
†† Another major option is free Web-based programs that can only be accessed if you have a live connection to the Internet. These programs allow you to access your information from any computer and improve the ability to collaborate with other users in remote locations. Probably the best product in that field is ThinkFree, which offers an online word processor, spreadsheet and presentation creator. A downloadable version of ThinkFree can be purchased for $50 to place on individual client machines. Other similar products include Google Docs and Zoho Office. Google Docs is the most limited of the three. Zoho tends to be slowest while offering a wider variety of functions with fewer features than ThinkFree.
†† Web-based programs can be much slower than software that sits on the individual machine depending on the speed of the Internet connection.
†† Computer users donít even have to pay for operating systems any more. You can download various free version of Linux that resemble the functionality and ease of use of Windows. One of the most well-known is Ubuntu (http://www.ubuntu.com).†
†† Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps you keep track of your clients and their contact information. Highrise is a very simple Web-based program that allows users to enter customer data, create tasks and notes and set deadlines for projects. The software sends a daily reminder e-mail of what you need to accomplish each day.† The free plan is limited to two users and 250 contacts. A greater number of users and contacts is available with paid plans ranging from $12-100 per month.
†† A more advanced CRM system is FreeCRM.com, it allows easier tracking of potential sales and comparison with forecasts. It also offers extensive customization. Although FreeCRM.com has no limit on the number of users, the advertising-supported free version is capped at 10 MB of data storage. A paid Professional version of the service removes the 10 MB limit and makes it simpler to synchronize data with offline devices, such as a handheld device or computer.
†† Do you want to create a basic Web site without having to hire a Webmaster? Microsoft Office Live Small Business allows a company to establish an online presence by providing a free Web site, hosting and up to 100 email accounts. It uses templates to help a user design a Web site with no knowledge of Web coding. One big drawback óif you already have a Web site you canít upload it to this free service.†
†† Computers and the Internet have created a whole new world of communication options. You can access networks and individual client stations from remote locations. You can collaborate with a wide variety of participants in multiple locations in real time. These services may include audio, video and Web capabilities. Some are free others can cost big bucks.
†† Letís start with remote desktop technology that allows a user in one place to take control over a remote machine or share a desktop across the Web. Built into Windows XP is remote assistance capabilities that work well for trouble shooting a machine or handling basic one-on-one discussions. Combine with a phone call and you have everything you need for a connected conversation. If you want true remote access to your PC from anywhere, consider Log Me in Free (www.logmeinfree.com), which is completely free. A more robust and widely recognized option is GoToMyPC (www.GotoMyPC), which is free to try or costs $179.40 per machine per year.†††
†† One of the coolest collaboration/Web conferencing tools that I have used is Yugma (www.yugma.com). The session host can make any participant the active presenter at any time, which allows for organic meetings with multiple parties. It can integrate with Skype or other VoIP service providers to provide free teleconferencing. Yugmaís service is easy to access and free of any additional charges (you only pay your standard long distance rates). Yugma also offers a whiteboard with brainstorming tools to help facilitate instant collaboration.
†† †If you want to manage a complete project online from start to finish and to allow collaborators to check in at any time to monitor progress, then Basecamp (www.basecamp.com) is a great tool to use. Participants can keep track of the project by RSS feed, logging in to the site or e-mail updates. Users can post messages in a project forum and collaborate on documents in progress using the write board. You can also set up project milestones and to-do lists to help stay focused on the task at hand. Basecampís free service is limited although more robust options are available for a nominal fee.
†† Messenger services such as, Google Talk, Skype, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger are also easy ways to instant message and/or make voice calls over the Internet.
†† If you prefer voice conversations using the phone, there are a number of free or low cost conferencing solutions that are ideal for small business. Freeaudioconferencing.com allows free unlimited use up to 100 participants. For a nominal fee, you can hold conferences with more than 100 participants and record and download your calls. Freeconferencecall.com offers a similar free service that allows storing of your most recent conversation for up to 120 days. If you would like to playback or archive your recording, it is available as a WAV file, an RSS feed, and in podcast formats.
†† Consider trying out some of the technologies listed in this article. You might save some money, while discovering a whole new way to open up your business. These tools can improve communications with remote offices and customers at the same time.