Open source software is typically free. You can download it, install it, and use it without ever opening your wallet. But there’s a better reason to use it: It can be a valuable tool in your business.
Here are four open source applications you can use in your business today.
The foundation of business software is a solid office suite that provides at a minimum word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation. In that role, Microsoft Office is so widely used that many people don’t even know there are alternatives. But there are, and one of the best is LibreOffice.
Like MS Office, LibreOffice gives you tools for word processing (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), presentation (Impress), vector graphics (Draw), and database (Base). This article originally appeared on businesstechnotes.com. If you’re reading it anywhere else, it’s stolen. Please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
With Writer you can produce comprehensive documents including automated tables, lists, columns, forms, and embedded graphics. You can link your documents to spreadsheets or databases to perform massive mail merges and export your documents as PDF, HTML, or ePub files.
Impress allows you to create engaging presentations that include animated text, objects, and slide transitions; with embedded audio and video.
LibreOffice includes the ability to save documents to cloud storage, document signing and encryption, and version control. Since much of the rest of the world is still using Microsoft’s closed formats, LibreOffice allows you to open Microsoft documents and save documents by default in Microsoft formats.
Microsoft Office includes the Outlook email client; LibreOffice has no equivalent. But that’s OK because Thunderbird is an excellent alternative to Outlook.
Thunderbird is a full-featured email client and calendar application. It supports multiple IMAP accounts (and POP if you’re still using that), allowing you to access your email from your own domain as well as your GMail, Yahoo, and Outlook accounts. Multiple viewing modes makes it easy to see and organize your mail in a way that suits how you work.
Integrated OpenPGP encryption allows you to sign and encrypt your messages (including the subject lines for added security). And full key management lets you generate your public and private keys and manage your keyring from within the application. You can also import keys from other systems like GnuPG.
Phishing Protection alerts you to various types of scam email and warns you when you click on a link that will take you to a different address than that shown in the message. The integrated calendar supports local and shared calendars, invitations, reminders, and task lists. Thunderbird also functions as a capable RSS news feed reader, as well as an IRC and XMPP chat client.
Hundreds of available add-ons provide additional functionality, while themes let you change the look of the application to suit your liking. Thunderbird is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, giving you a familiar way of managing your email whatever system you’re on.
To “Photoshop” an image has become synonymous with editing that image. But you don’t have to use Photoshop. Gimp provides a robust toolbox for image editing including brushes, pencils, an airbrush, cloning, smudging, and blending.
With Gimp you can edit photos and create logos. But you can also draw and paint fine art pieces. The program comes with dozens of effects filters and supports third-party plugins to extend its functionality further.
In Gimp you can work with images on multiple layers, channels, masks, and paths. Rotate, scale, flip, and change the perspective of images or portions of images as you wish. Alpha channels support image transparency. Add and edit text, and then manipulate it directly or with effects filters.
Gimp’s memory management allows it to open huge images, limited only by available disk space. The same is true of undo and redo operations.
Gimp supports a wide range of file formats for both importing and exporting including GIF, JPEG, PNG, XPM, TIFF, TGA, MPEG, PS, PDF, PCX, BMP and many others, and can import raw files through the open source utility RawTherapee.
While Gimp is excellent at editing photographs and creating bitmap graphics, it doesn’t handle vector graphics as well. For that, consider using Inkscape, a capable alternative to tools like Adobe Illustrator.
With Inkscape you can create objects using pencils, pens, shapes (like ellipses, circles, and polygons), and text. You can import bitmap images such as drawings and photographs, and then convert them into vector objects. Through additional open source tools like Ghostscript, ImageMagick, or Scribus, you can save files in the CMYK color space, allowing for the production of professional-level graphics.
Inkscape saves its documents as open standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) files, compatible with a wide array of applications, browsers, and operating systems. These SVG images can be resized to any extent without losing detail. Inkscape also opens or imports PDF, EPS, CDR (CorelDraw), VSD (Visio), and AI (Adobe Illustrator) formats. You can also export images with alpha transparency as PNG files.
Take the Open Source Leap
Perhaps one of the biggest impediments to switching to open source applications is the perceived learning curve. But if you already know how to use Microsoft Office, switching to LibreOffice will be easy. The same is true in switching from Outlook to Thunderbird, Photoshop to Gimp, or Illustrator to Inkscape. Yes, a few functions may take some digging to find, but all of these applications are so well designed that the learning curves tend to be short and shallow. And if you need help, there are thousands of free support forums and video tutorials online to guide you along the way.
What matters when evaluating an open source application is not comparing it feature-for-feature to its commercial counterpart. You’ll almost certainly find that the commercial application has some features the open source app does not. But if you don’t need those features … so what? Instead, simply determine if the application does what you need it to do. Often, you’ll find that open source is all you need.