I’m cheap. I bought a new laptop for business, but I balk at paying $400 or more extra for software, for a laptop that cost $700. What should I download to install on my new small business laptop? Here are my top picks for no cost programs that are actually useful for the majority of small biz people.
Recognizing that many small towns or rural areas have dial-up internet service only or have unreliable connections, we’ll start with software you can install on your computer and use without an internet connection.
First download: Firefox browser.
For most people, Internet Explorer is the only browser they know. But it is vulnerable to all sorts of security issues, and is not easily customizable. I recommend Firefox. It’s free. You can add on tools like Ad Block Plus (and never look at those annoying flashing ad banners again).It also makes it super easy to subscribe to story feeds from your favorite sites.
Second download: OpenOffice.
You’ll need basic word processing and spreadsheet programs and the ability to open and save files from others. OpenOffice gives you that at no cost. It opens and saves files in Microsoft Office compatible formats. It also exports in PDF.
Third download: FoxIt PDF Reader.
Adobe makes a free PDF reader, Acrobat. But it seems to take forever to load. I like the FoxIt PDF reader, because it is small and quick.
Fourth download: Comodo Anti-virus and Firewall
Don’t overlook security. Comodo makes a decent no-cost firewall and anti-virus package.
Have a great internet connection? Take advantage of it to use online tools.
First signup: Gmail.
Hands down the best online email application is Gmail. Big storage, good spam filtering, and
the ability to use your current email addresses. You can find instructions at Gmail to use your existing address.
Second: Google Docs and Google Calendar.
These came free with your Gmail account. With Google Docs you can do basic word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. The bonus is you can access them from anywhere, share with clients and publish them publicly. The Google Calendar is easy and functional, and it also makes sharing easy.
Third: Google Gears.
Gears means you can use your Google Docs even when you can’t connect to the internet.And more websites are adopting this same technology to let you use websites offline. That’s a major benefit if you have unreliable internet.
Once you try Skype to make phone calls for free, you’ll be asking everyone, “what’s your Skype name?” rather than “what’s your phone number?”
I know you tech-savvy blog readers have some must-have items of your own. But I have a special challenge to you: Think about the perspective of the average small business person who isn’t geeky. What software and services will they find useful day to day? Those are the ones I’m looking for, and I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.