Starting a business can be tough, as many of us know. Once you acquire your first office space and employees, unless your company is BYOD (bring-your-own-device), you will likely end up feeling pressured to shell out thousands on expensive software licenses. Little do many know, though, that there is a treasure trove of free software that is often as good as, if not better than, the paid alternative. Most of these are available on both Windows and most Linux/Unix distributions, many being ported to Apple's OSX as well.
Here are my freeware and open source picks:
Office Suite – Google Drive and OpenOffice
Google Drive is a web based alternative to the traditional office suite. It allows live, collaborative editing on documents, spreadsheets and presentations, a feature which is excellent for working on a single document or spreadsheet during a meeting with coworkers. Formatting leaves a lot to be desired, but the tool is versatile and second to none for cloud storage.
OpenOffice, however, is more of a full-service one stop shop application suite. It has replacements for not only the traditional "power 3" of the Microsoft Office suite, Word, Photoshop and Excel, but also includes solutions that match Access and other niche Office applications. It doesn't play well with Office in terms of importing content, but exports content in the very common .doc format flawlessly.
Web Browser – Mozilla Firefox
We've all probably used it at one point or another. Firefox is simply the most compatible and reliable browser one will find. The large number of add-ons makes it a powerful tool for a myriad of business applications and integrates extremely well with various software tools. The memory leak issues of old have been resolved, as well, meaning that Firefox is an excellent choice for systems with less computing power than average.
Image Editor - GIMP and Gimpshop, Paint.NET
We don't condone using the "Swedish discount", ever, especially when programs like GIMP and Gimpshop exist. GIMP is a free, open source application used for image editing and features almost every feature of Adobe's Photoshop Elements including many features of the full version of Photoshop, as well. The interface takes time to get used to, but luckily, Gimpshop exists. Gimpshop is essentially GIMP with a more familiar interface, centered around one window rather than three floating ones. Both are fully functional and incredibly intuitive.
Paint.NET is Photoshop meets MS Paint. Slightly less powerful but even more intuitive than GIMP, it's a great go-to for quick edits, cropping, resizing, and touch-ups.
Messaging Client – Pidgin
Some people still make heavy use of IM within business, especially Google Talk/GChat. Pidgin is an excellent desktop client on which you can communicate via your preferred instant messaging service. It's easy to use, intuitive, and takes up a nearly unnoticeable amount of system resources. It also allows you to use multiple IM services on one application!
E-Mail Client – Mozilla Thunderbird
Thunderbird is an incredibly intuitive and simple e-mail client. It offers most, if not all features of Microsoft's Outlook and combines an extremely easy to use RSS reader, to boot. It's a Mozilla product, so support is easy to get, as well.
Antivirus – Microsoft Security Essentials
If you have Linux or Unix on the standard desktop, you worry a lot less about security than those running Windows. With the majority of computers running Windows, though. a vast majority of viruses, malware, and other malicious codes are written for Windows. Microsoft has a free tool for all Windows users to install that scans the system much like an antivirus. It is accurate, with few false positives. It is also lightweight, using a little more than 10MB of RAM on a system scan.
PDF Utility – FoxIt Reader
All of the functionality of Adobe Reader, but faster. Enough said.
With plenty of awesome tools out there to save you money, why would you use anything else?