5 Great Free Programs for Your Small Business

Last Updated May 4, 2010 11:44 PM EDT

Let's be clear: Free is not always better. Sometimes you really do need to pay for a commercial product when what it does is better than anything you can get for free.

But there are a lot of free options out there which are as good as what you can get by pulling out your credit card. Here are 5 of our favorites.

Last week, Download Squad offered their own list of free programs for your small or home business, and I agreed with many of their choices. Here, though, are the 5 free apps I would suggest are essential for any small or home business:

Microsoft Security Essentials. I used to recommend the free version of AVG, but these days, Security Essentials is hands down the best value in malware protection that money cannot buy. Bottom line: If you are paying actual money for anti-virus protection, you're probably a sucker.

Open ClipArt Library. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: You can never have too much money, Pokémon cards, or clipart. This expansive clip art collection is all public domain content shared via a Creative Commons license.

OpenOffice. You probably have a copy of Microsoft Office, and if you do, there's honestly no reason to change. Office is the gold standard and does everything you could conceivably want it to do. But if you have a very old version, you have a choice: You can upgrade, perhaps, or switch to OpenOffice, the silver standard in productivity apps. And silver's not bad -- it's second place. There are apps which match most of the functionality found in Office, and you should have no trouble reading old Office documents as you make the transition.

EasyProjects.NET. If you need to build detailed project plans and production schedules, Microsoft Project is the traditional and expensive way to go. Of course, there are a slew of cheap and free options out there, and none are better than EasyProjects.NET. For the prince of free, you get time and billing, message boards for cross-team collaboration, file attachments, reporting tools, and an elegant, interactive Gantt chart that compares favorably with Microsoft Project.

FoxIt Reader. Given all the uncomfortable squabbling between Apple and Adobe these days, we don't want to add to the bad karma by saying that we hate Adobe Reader, but well, we hate Adobe Reader. It's big, bloated, sluggish, and even a little buggy. A far better option: FoxIt Reader is our PDF reader of choice. It's faster and smaller than Adobe, and even more versatile. The best part? When you double click a PDF, it opens very nearly instantly.

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