Here are some of the wonderful free tools that are available to support your home office or small office. So, if you need to watch the pennies (let’s face it who doesn’t?) what better subject to blog about than this in the current economic climate?
The tools are frequently referred to as freeware, shareware or open source. I’ve been using many of these problem free. Some give you limited use of the full (paid for) versions and encourage you to upgrade to a paid-for service, but I managed to cope quite well without having to do this when I first set up my home office (well, mostly…)
I’ve avoided long, boring reviews and stated the basics of what each can do. I’ll leave it up to you to delve deeper and check out reviews/forum comments to see if it suits you or not. Also, I’m not a techie. I don’t know whether you’re a Mac or PC user, whether you’re using XP or Vista or based in the UK or not, but check out the system requirements before going ahead. Watch out too because some are only for personal, non-commercial use. Use your noggin – these worked for me and I hope they will for you 🙂
Problem: Creating PDF documents WITHOUT ads
Solution: Rather than paying £100s for Adobe Acrobat I use www.CutePDF.com The reason we like this one is because it doesn’t leave irritating advertising blurb on each page as is common with other free to use PDF writers. It’s a simple clean copy. Be sure to download the two programmes. We’ve been using it for a couple of years now.
Create professional quality PDF files from almost any printable document. FREE for personal, commercial, gov or edu use! No watermarks! No popup Web ads! Now supports 64-bit Windows http://www.CutePDF.com
Problem: Trying to get large email attachments past some companies’ max file size firewalls
Solution: Send unlimited 2GB files and folders. Basically, you upload your attachments to this site and the recipient gets an email with a unique link that’s only valid for 7 days or 100 downloads. We came across this when we were trying to send a +10mb file to a large London accounting firm when their limit was 5MB! They recommended we sent it via www.yousendit.com.
Problem: Condensing/compressing/making files smaller or commonly referred to as ‘Zipping’ files
Solution: An alternative to Winzip which at the time of writing costs $29.99. www.zipitfree.com 100% Fully Functional. ZipItFree supports over 15 compression formats, Including (ACE, ARC, BH, BZip, CAB, GZIP, JAR, LHA, RAR, TAR, UUE, XXE, ZIP,Zoo, And Archive Stream). With ZipItFree easy to use modern interface it makes working with archives easy. The ZipItFree windows integration gives you One Click capability for most of compression functions like Extract Here, Zip & Email. The only problem I’ve found is that it’s so uber advanced that anyone not using the latest version of Winzip (the paid for version) will have to upgrade their software or sign up to ZipItFree to view(unzip) the file format that it uses. Admittedly this is a bit of faffing about but worth it.
Problem: Web conferencing without the cost
Solution: www.dimdim.com – my latest find! Works just as well as Webex and GoToMeeting and yet it’s free for up to 20 particpants. Dimdim is a very simple to use browser-based web conferencing service. You can show presentations, collaborate via whiteboards, chat, talk and broadcast via webcam with absolutely no download required to host, attend or even record meetings. It’s green too – reducing travel to meetings!
Problem: Remote collaboration – again, without the cost
Solution: www.huddle.net Huddle is a network of Online workspaces that brings project management software, online collaboration and document sharing together. Huddle gives you simple, secure online workspaces containing powerful project and collaboration tools. Huddle is hosted, there’s no software to download and it’s free to get started.
With Huddle you can:
• Manage Projects
• Share and Store Files Online
• Create and Edit Documents Online
• Have Group Discussions
Problem: Receiving Faxes without a fax machine
Solution: www.faxtastic.co.uk Turn your computer into a fax machine. They provide you with a unique fax number that takes any received fax and converts it into an email attachment. No additional software required. You can choose from a FREE 0871 number or 0844 and they’ve now introduced a range of UK geographic numbers. Need to send? No problem. All you need is an email account and you can send to any fax machine in the world (there is a cost involved for this facility). However, it’s not free for the person sending the fax. Typically it costs 10p per minute and if you’re sending faxes to consumers from 1st Aug 09 you’ll have to quote the following statement every time you quote the fax number in emails, stationery, websites, etc., (although it doesn’t apply to Business to Business)
“calls cost [cost]per minute to this number”
Problem: Costly phone bills
Solution: www.skype.com Now I can’t imagine there’s anyone out there who isn’t aware of this, but list it (just in case).
Free calls, free video calls and free instant messaging over the internet via your computer. This assumes you have speakers and a microphone on your computer though…
Problem: Word-processing, spreadsheets, presentations without shelling out for Microsoft Office
Solution: www.openoffice.org OpenOffice.org 3 is 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. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose. We’ve bitten the bullet and bought Microsoft Office 2007 but I loaded it onto my Husbands laptop at home recently and it’s a good alternative. However, if you’re used to MS Office it does get some getting used to, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to acclimatise to it.
Problem: Sharing Desktops over the internet / remote PC assistance
Solution: www.teamviewer.com TeamViewer – the All-In-One Solution for Remote Access and Support over the Internet
TeamViewer establishes connections to any PC or server all around the world within just a few seconds. You can remote control your partner’s PC as if you were sitting right in front of it. Find out why more than 15.000.000 users trust TeamViewer! Fast – simple – safe. Really handy when trying to show someone how to do something on a computer and you can switch sides so that you can see their desktop too.
Problem: Website, shared workspaces & email hosting at zero cost
Solution: Microsoft offer a free service called Microsoft Office Live Small Business. We trialled it when it first came out in the test (Beta) phase a while back. They are quite cunning and get you hooked using the service but you soon eat up the minimum storage levels and have to pay for additional storage. This was when we decided to install our own server and we stopped using it. But it’s fine if you’re just starting out and it recently won a Webware 100 award for 2009. The web design is based on templates and you don’t need to be especially techsavvy to set them up.
Here’s some official blurb: Microsoft Office Live Small Business is Microsoft’s business-in-a-box service. It’s designed to get a small business on the Web–both publicly, with a Web site, and privately, for collaboration and back-office work. Businesses get their own domain, e-mail, shared workspaces, Web site, and a contact manager tool.
Microsoft Office Live Small Business service is free, but users can tack on more services for additional monthly, and yearly fees. These include more storage, more users, premium ad-free e-mail, and domain name registration
Problem: Office Furniture, Equipment & stationery
Join your local group and post a wanted ad. This is a free organisation that work within the Yahoo Groups medium. Their aim is simple – trying to keep stuff that is too good to throw away out of landfil. Alternatively, sign up to the daily (not recommended) or weekly (recommended) updates and you’ll get a list of all the wanted and offered posts for your region. I’ve sourced desks, office chairs, filing cabinets, printers and stationery. Met some really nice people too – they were only too willing to help our fledgling business.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve not received any payments or inducements to feature any of the tools above (although if they’re reading this I have a few favourite charities that would benefit from contributions in my name…)
Hope this helps and feel free to let me know of other low cost/no cost solutions you’ve come across and I’ll update this post.
Good luck setting up your office in the meantime.