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Free Productivity Software That Works
w.02.2008 / r.04.2009
Free Productivity Software That Works
Popular productivity software usually ships in "suites" and can be quite expensive. A few hundred dollars for Microsoft Office, several hundred for Adobe Acrobat, and so on. Well, if you are starting out, or need a paid/free solution, here are some great options.

Office Software
IBM's Lotus Symphony is probably the most deliberate replacement for Office's most popular applications. It is free, and runs on your computer, just like Microsoft Office. It can open Word, Excel and Powerpoint files, and save new files in those formats as well. Symphony is built on Open Office, which is based around an open document format. Making new letters or spreadsheets in Lotus Symphony will try to automatically save in this "open document format", but it is one simple step to have the software save it instead as a familiar .doc, .xls, or .ppt to be compatible with Microsoft Office.

Better yet, it can natively save your files as a ubiquitous PDF, for sharing.

Google Docs is still in Beta, but is quite mature. Google Docs is web-based, meaning it does not live and run on your computer, but rather you can use it through your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.).

Google Docs is much like Symphony in that it replaces Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Google Docs has one big advantage though, it is perfect for collaboration. Example: you need a Google account (free) and you can create documents. Your friend also signs up for a Google account, and starts making documents as well. Now, both of you can choose to "share" individual files with each other. Not only can you both edit a file simultaneously, but also chat, with a built in chat window.

Google docs sounds great, but it is not without its limitations. For example, there is no "shrink to page" that is commonly desired when printing a spreadsheet.

Open Office is a fully featured Office replacement. I'd only recommend this for a power user, as it is much more feature rich and thus more complicated than the rest.

So what is paid/free?. Well, most of the above have the options of paying for more robust versions, geared for business. A business might adopt (pay) for these solutions with the thought that their employees can benefit from having free versions to use at home for household/family uses, and ultimately improve their skills, which might bring down your tech support and training costs.



Communication
Email is, of course, the internet's first "killer app". It is the way we work now. Many of us power users use Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes. Most of us do not use them to their full potential - in that case, there are some free options.

Thunderbird. This is a drop in replacement for Outlook, the only down side is that it will not sync with a Windows Mobile PDA.

Web-based email comes in many forms and is usually free - Hotmail, AOL email, Yahoo, Gmail, etc. Hotmail, or as it will be known, Live Mail, has some advantages. It has a free local application you can install, which works much like Outlook Express, but 100 times better. It supports multiple accounts (and keeps each account's messages separated). When used with a Hotmail, MSN, or Live Domain address, the email is simultaneously available online so you can access everything while on vacation. This also means that it is automatically backed up on Microsoft's servers, so don't worry about backing messages up. Lastly, Windows Live Mail allows the same account to be used simultaneously on multiple Live Mail (software or web-based) so it is great for small workgroups. There is practically no limit on the account (currently 5GB).

When using Windows Live Mail Software in conjunction with Microsoft Live Domains, you can have a practically free SMB email solution.



Pictures and Picasa
Organizing and editing images can sometimes be a daunting task. Google has a great solution for organizing, making simple touch ups, and printing images on your computer. Picasa is a light weight application that scans your whole computer and instantly "links" to all the images you have. From there, you can create organizational groups, rename, sort, etc. Double click an image and you are presented with a very easy-to-use editing menu. Want to print a few 4x6's on one sheet of paper? No problem!




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