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10 superb free tools for all of your basic business needs

David Murphy | Jan. 15, 2013
Introducing new software into a typical small business environment can be costly, to say the least. Depending on the size of your business, buying multiple copies of a program—or its licenses—can quickly drive your balance sheet into the red.

While its certainly true that there might be a couple of general differences when opening up a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet in its original app versus LibreOffices Calc, and that wed much rather use PowerPoint than LibreOffices more lackluster Impress (sorry!), the suites Writer app is downright excellent, especially for its price. And yes, LibreOffice Writer will open DOCX files, though you may run into some slight formatting issues in documents with major bells and whistles.

Our recommendation? If its not too much hassle, start saving your key Word documents in older file formats that LibreOffice will have less issues withlike Word 97-2003 documents, RTF or ODF (OpenDocument Format) files for fewer issues during your switch.

Security: Windows Defender / Microsoft Security Essentials

Two security apps at once? Not quite, though this'll require a quick explanation.

In all versions of Windows prior to Windows 8, Windows Defender is an anti-spyware app. Its good to have, but not as mission critical as a real-time virus scanner. Microsoft Security Essentials fills that role in Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7. For Windows 8, Microsoft merged AV and anti-spyware apps into a single, unified program called -- you guessed it -- Windows Defender. Got it?

While different kinds of businesses might need more robust security options than Microsofts free solutions provide, theres absolutely nothing wrong with keeping Microsofts highly functional (and highly free) antivirus app in your back pocket for any systems that need basic protection. Just don't expect the apps to do a great job of reporting to a centralized authority about viruses found or updates needed.

Another powerful app worth checking out is the free version of Comodo Internet Security. With it, you can get the best of the aforementioned Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials in a single app: Anti-spyware, firewall, and antivirus capabilities, automatic sandboxing for locking out unknown files before they can do damage, and a locking capability that keeps your critical Windows files from being affected by problematic apps. Comodo frequently asks users to make security decisions, however, whereas the Microsoft software works more behind the scenes.

Email: Zimbra Desktop

Since Mozillas Thunderbird is basically on life support at this point, the world of freeware alternatives to Microsoft Outlook has taken a hit. However, Zimbra Desktop offers a compelling suite of features as a desktop email client -- especially for employees tasked with monitoring your business's social channels.

Zimbra Desktop includes all of the staple elements of a desktop email client, such as a mail interface, a calendar, task lists, an offline mode, et cetera. The app also includes a section that allows users to keep tabs on social hotsposts like Twitter and Facebook; more business-friendly services like WebEx and LinkedIn; and general services like Yahoo Web Search and Local lookups.


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