The (Unnecessary) Cost of Doing Business: What line of your budget can you really cut to $0?

For small business, non-profits and start-ups where cash-flow is tight and every dollar impacts the bottom line, cutting one line of basic overhead can create a much-needed boost for other areas. The cost of basic software purchases and upgrades has become one of those line items that doesn’t budge from year to year. However, few business owners realize that an open mind, and a few minutes can eliminate these costs for good.

For everyday business functions – word processing, email, spreadsheets, photo editing, document layout, financial management, multi-line phone systems, etc – there are Open Source alternatives that are just as powerful and useful, with the added benefit of being created for the love of the work more so than profit.

The open source movement has a long history of encouraging designers to openly share the source code for their projects. Under this philosophy of community-based development, open source software is published under a public license where the source code is made available for anyone to copy, modify and redistribute, and use for any purpose without paying royalties or fees. By eliminating the typical proprietary licensing of commercial software, open source projects are continually updated and improved based on direct input from the people who use it, and like the initial installation, those updates are available to everyone at no cost.

Everyday business depends on some basic software packages, no matter what the industry or service. Large, commercial providers like Adobe and Microsoft would like us to believe that keeping up with the latest release is simply the cost of doing business. Instead of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to keep up this year, migrate to open source alternatives for free, and put your money back in to your business.

For more than five years, first for free-lance projects and now full-time, I’ve used open source software exclusively to replace my Windows operating system and applications, and have not missed the cost, head-aches, or vendor lock-in of commercial packages. Most non-technical types are leery of switching software, and I had some of the same concerns. The files won’t work on other people’s computers….I’ve used XYZ for so long I couldn’t learn a new program….It won’t work as well as the commercial version. All of these are simply myths. These programs work, they are easy to use and in some ways more powerful than their counterparts.

Below is a comparison of just a few commercial software packages with their open source counterparts. These are packages I use routinely, and rely on to service my clients. Each of these are available for free and can be downloaded and installed on your Windows or Linux PC. Not sure if you’re ready? Install one along side your existing software and compare for yourself!

  • Microsoft Office ($150 – $250/workstation) vs. Open Office ($0)
    The MS Office Suite of programs are some of the business staples – Word, PowerPoint, Excel. OpenOffice counters with Writer, Impress and Calc which have the same look and feel of MS Office. Menu options are nearly identical, and all the basic keyboard short-cuts are the same. If you work in MS Office everyday, you’ll be using OpenOffice like a pro in short order. OpenOffice lets you work with any MS Office file format, and has the added bonus of a built-in PDF creator.
    Lean More & Try it: OpenOffice.org
  • Adobe PhotoShop ($700 – $950/workstation) vs. The GIMP ($0)
    Editing and manipulating images is not just for graphic designers and photographers anymore. PhotoShop is a powerful, but expensive tool for cleaning up your photos, creating and editing graphics. The GIMP offers all of the same functions and benefits, with a very familiar, and even expanded toolbox. Many of the same filters and plug-ins are available, and the on-line community is very active with support, tips and techniques for free. New and experienced PhotoShop users will adjust very quickly to the GIMP.
    Lean More & Try it: Gimp.org
  • Adobe Illustrator ($500 – $700/workstation) vs. Inkscape ($0)
    For more advanced graphics projects, particularly work with vector graphics, Adobe Illustrator is the commercial standard. The open source alternative, Inkscape offers the same functionality and a workspace that is very familiar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X users.
    Lean More & Try it: Inkscape.org
  • CuteFTP ($45 – $60/workstation) vs. Filezilla ($0)
    CuteFTP and similar programs help manage large file transfers with a simple drag and drop. Filezilla is no different, and like CuteFTP it saves frequently used addresses and passwords for quick access and displays the download/upload status in detail. No learning curve required.
    Lean More & Try it: Filezilla-project.org

These are just a few examples. Even with OpenOffice and the GIMP alone you stand to gain up to $1,300 per workstation by switching. Open source alternatives are available for a number of common business programs, including MS Project, MS Outlook, and more. Spend a little time thinking about your needs, and your budget and see if reducing your software costs will be good for your business.