What is Free/Open Source Software - And Why Should I Care?
Open source software is all the rage lately, with terms like “Bitcoin”, “Android”, and “Linux”, being thrown around among business owners and tech geeks alike. However, it can be difficult to understand exactly what it is, and how you can use it in your business. In addition to understanding open source software, it is important to know what free alternatives are available, and how your business can benefit from them.
What is open source software?
Open source software is defined by opensource.com as “software that by which the source code or the base code is usually available for modification or enhancement by anyone for reusability and accessibility.” This is important because it allows programmers to edit codes to fit their standards.
How can you leverage free/open source software in your company?
You may be thinking, “Well, I’m not a programmer. Why do I care if I can edit the code?” You should care about open source software because it allows much more freedom and flexibility at little to no cost. Most open source software is created by people who care about providing great content for free. Programs like LibreOffice and ownCloud are common open source platforms with similar functionality to Microsoft Office that you can use for free.
You can leverage this open source software to complete many of the basic tasks in your business at a fraction of the cost of traditional, licensed software. Rather than paying for a Microsoft Office to create an Excel spreadsheet, you might find that the functionality of LibreOffice’s spreadsheet tool is just right for your business. Knowing what alternatives are out there and taking advantage of free software at your disposal is one of the smartest things you can do as a business owner.
Our favorite free software tools
Economical and effective software isn’t limited to open source software. There are an abundance of free tools that, while proprietary, are very useful in running your business. Many of them offer basic versions for free and then provide more fully-featured versions for a monthly subscription fee.
Here are the current favorites around our office:
Trello – Project Management Online Software
Trello is a collaboration tool that assists with project management, organization, and task management. In their words, “Imagine a white board, filled with lists of sticky notes, with each note as a task for you and your team. Now imagine that each of those sticky notes has photos, attachments from other data sources like BitBucket or Salesforce, documents, and a place to comment and collaborate with your teammates. Now imagine that you can take that whiteboard anywhere you go on your smartphone, and can access it from any computer through the web. That's Trello!”
We use Trello to organize tasks and projects – big to small – across different teams that are communicating across state lines, inside and outside of business hours, from in and out of the office. It has had a tremendous impact on team communication, overall organization within the company, and has even reduced company-wide stress levels a couple notches.
Trello has three pricing options, but we’ve found the free version is more than effective for a small-medium size business.
Canva – Graphic Design Online Software
Canva is a graphic design tool for beginners. It helps users create banners, logos, and presentations that are custom to their business and look like they were carefully crafted by an experienced designer. Even if you have absolutely no experience in graphic design, Canva is easy to use and provides many free templates for virtually any design. Their free version allows you to use stock photos and other images, add filters, and use hundreds of icons and shapes. (As an example, the below banner was created using Canva in less than 15 minutes.)
Canva has more fully-featured subscriptions, but the free version is extremely effective for the average business user.
TimeCamp – Time Tracking Online Software
TimeCamp is a tool used for tracking work time to projects and tasks. If your company does not track time, start! According to financesonline.com, time tracking has been proven to ease payroll management, increase focus and productivity in employees, and give an owner a clear picture of the business. TimeCamp is an easy way to capture all the benefits of tracking your time without having to invest in expensive software or creating your own system.
TimeCamp’s free version allows you to have one user tracking their time. While that’s a great start, to track time as a team, to view department reporting, and invoicing features you’ll need to upgrade to one of their paid subscriptions.
Are you using any free/open source software that has transformed your business? We’d love to hear about it (email us at firstname.lastname@example.org)! We’re always looking for ways to improve how we work, and we love when we can use free tools to do so.
So, the next time you run into a business problem you can’t seem to solve, see if you can find some free or open source software to be the solution. In this innovative and connected world we live in, you’re probably not the first person who has faced it, and you might get lucky to find that someone before you has 1) already solved the problem and 2) is willing to share their solution with you.