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The 5 Best Free Software Utilities for Business Owners

A couple weeks ago you learned how to launch a business on the cheap, but what about running the business you already have? How can you keep costs low but efficiency high?

Start with software. If you're spending (or planning to spend) any kind of money at all on commercial software for your business, chances are good there's a free or open-source alternative that can do the job just as well.

I rounded up some well-known favorites in the aforementioned dirt-cheap-business gallery, but those were mostly for individual use. Today, let's look at five incredible utilities -- all of them free -- designed for business operations. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by what money can't buy.

1. Microsoft Security Essentials
Perfect for smaller shops, Microsoft's free (and highly rated) anti-virus utility can be used on up to 10 PCs. (Actually, I'm not sure what would prevent you from installing it on, say, 30 or 40 PCs, but Microsoft says 10's the limit.) This has the potential to save you hundreds of dollars annually on security software. I'm running it myself on five machines, and it has performed quickly, quietly, and efficiently on every one of them.

2. OpenProj
Designed to replace Microsoft Project (which, incidentally, sells for a thousand bucks), OpenProj offers a full roster of project-management features: Gantt Charts, Network Diagrams, WBS and RBS charts, Earned Value costing, and so on. Plus, it's cross-platform compatible (Windows, Mac, and Linux), unlike the Windows-only Project.

3. OrangeHRM
You spend enough money on human resources without paying for HR software on top of it. OrangeHRM is a complete human-resource management solution designed for SMBs. It includes modules for things like personnel information management, leave management, time and attendance, and benefits. There's even a self-service module employees can use to update their own information. This is really a killer tool for companies looking to manage HR on the cheap.

4. Soluto
Does your PC take a week to boot up? Are you constantly fielding "My computer is slow!" complaints from employees? Before you cave and spend all kinds of money on new machines, try installing Soluto. This ingenious free utility makes PCs boot faster. I'm running it myself on my desktop and laptop, and it has improved considerably the boot times on both. It's the kind of thing you or your IT manager would need to deploy one PC at a time, but it's worth the effort -- and should help quell the complaints.

5. Spiceworks
Whether you're the IT guy in charge of your company's 10 PCs or you've got a staff managing 1,000 of them, your business needs a comprehensive network-monitoring solution. Spiceworks is arguably one of the best free IT tools of all time, offering network management and monitoring, a user helpdesk, equipment inventory, and lots more. The latest version even comes with an iPhone counterpart for easy systems management on the go.

Have you found any other free/open-source gems for running a business? Tell me about them in the comments!

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