The Best Freeware for Small Businesses
Payware: Adobe Dreamweaver
I'm not picking on Adobe; I could easily substitute Microsoft’s Expression Web 4 for Adobe’s Dreamweaver. It’s just that Dreamweaver tends to be the first application that pops into developers’ minds when you mention the phrase “WYSIWYG editor.”
Dreamweaver, to its credit, does a fine job of enabling professional developers to jump into raw code while showing them a good representation of what a Web page will eventually look like. Amateur developers, meanwhile, can take full advantage of the program’s “help me lay my page out graphically” capabilities if their coding skills aren’t up to snuff.
The freeware alternative, KompoZer, focuses more on emulating Dreamweaver’s WYSIWYG element, and much less on that program’s extensive site-management features. KompoZer's built-in FTP manager helps you send files back and forth to your website host’s servers, and its validator tool ensures that the code you’ve constructed meets the standards for whatever markup language you’re using for your pages.
Of course, you don’t have to use a desktop HTML editor to build a website. Power your site with a free content management system such as WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla, and, depending on your skill level, the Web app can take care of all the messy design work via prefab themes. You can also use these themes as a jumping-off point for a custom look.
KompoZer and the text-only Notepad++ (for true experts) don’t come with tech support or training. WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla don't either, but it isn’t hard to find consultants who have mastered these three apps. If you’re building a simple website and you don’t need much in the way of customization, none of these content management systems is difficult to learn. If you need customer logins, passwords, security, and e-commerce elements, on the other hand, you should probably hire an expert.
Cost: Basecamp ranges from $20 per month for ten projects (including 3GB of storage in the cloud) to $150 per month for unlimited projects (and 100GB of cloud storage). Microsoft Project Professional costs $996 per PC.
Basecamp is an exceptionally good project-management tool, and Microsoft Project is best suited to exceedingly complex projects. I’ve included both tools here because they’re the de facto standards.
Freedcamp offers more than just a play on Basecamp’s name. This Web app closely replicates Basecamp’s most important features, sans cost: You can create projects from scratch or from predesigned templates, you can use milestones and to-do lists to keep groups of users organized within projects, you can share files (free accounts are limited to 20MB of storage), and you can track the time each participant dedicates to the project.
Freedcamp’s interface isn’t as streamlined as Basecamp’s, although you can import projects directly from Basecamp into Freedcamp--a useful feature for anyone looking to make the switch. Doing things en masse within Freedcamp can be difficult, though, as you’ll be adding to-dos and milestones one at a time versus using a batch process to add many items at once.
Freedcamp doesn’t come with tech support or training resources, but you shouldn’t need any. If you want other options for group collaboration, consider ProjectPier or TeamLab.
Cost: $40 and up
You can find many types of software tools to help manage your business’s PCs. Rather than discuss just one category of retail software and one freeware alternative, I’ll cover several here.
When you need to install a variety of programs and utilities onto several computers, look to the Web utility Ninite, which can install ten apps at once--including the Google Chrome Web browser, Dropbox, Evernote, TrueCrypt, and many more--with little more than a mouse click. This service will save you or your IT support person a tremendous amount of time when you have to deploy new desktop or laptop PCs.
You should, of course, have a backup plan for every computer you deploy, but you don’t necessarily have to pay for an application or a third-party service to get the job done. Windows 7 Professional can back up a computer's hard drive to a network resource such as a NAS box or server (Windows 7 Home Premium limits backups to local storage), or you can use the free utility SyncBack to copy selected folders to a local drive or network storage device automatically, according to a schedule.
If your business has ten or fewer PCs, the free Microsoft Security Essentials will keep them free of viruses. To prevent spyware from taking up residence on these machines, install the free version of Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware, but be aware that this version doesn’t provide real-time protection; you’ll need to schedule regular scans for complete protection.
Do you have any favorite freeware applications that I didn't cover here? Talk about them in the comments section.
PCWorld Contributing Editor David Murphy has written about the wide world of freeware for years. He does hate paying for things.