If you think that you don’t currently use any free software you’re probably wrong. Most blogs are powered by WordPress and at the very least you’re likely to be using a browser like Firefox or IE. In fact there are hundreds of free apps for your computer that can help you save time and effort on a whole host of jobs.
Here are some of the free tools I use for getting things done around the office.
OpenOffice.org (OOo) is one of the unsung heroes in free software. Offering database, spreadsheet, word processing and presentation modules, OOo competes with Microsoft Office, Google Docs and a number of other providers.
Tracking the market share for free software is tricky; without sales transactions accurate numbers are hard to come by. The most reliable statistics show that while Microsoft Office is installed on about 80% of all machines OOo has the second biggest chunk of the market at 9%, nearly three times the share that Apples iWorks can boast.
Naturally it is easy to use, offering all the functionality you can expect and it’s possible to find other add-ons to expand on the basic programs. OOo supports all common file types I’ve come across, plus there is a very active and supportive community if you need help.
A couple of favourite OOo tools which go beyond what the competition provides are a vector-based drawing application and a maths suite. The drawing application lets you create and manipulate diagrams easily. You play with the lines that make them up rather than actually drawing pixels. The maths suite is a powerful tool, useful for both solving maths problems and for embedding equations in your documents.
File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a mechanism by which files are sent and received by computers over the internet. The technology has a number of uses like sending big data files (e.g. a video), syncing office files or creating a central online repository for company letterheads, report templates and the like.
FileZilla is a favourite free FTP tool. It comes with client and server-side software making it easy for businesses that own servers to host data and for employees to access the files they need. Unfortunately setting up an FTP server requires intimate knowledge of your network and so it is a job best left to your system admin. Once installed the simple client/server system with the added levels of security will enable easy manipulation of files over your network.
For the less technologically inclined there are other options for sending large files without the hassle of getting an FTP server setup.
MailBigFile is a cloud-based solution where you upload a file and the site mails your intended recipient a link to download it. While this sounds great, do be careful over the content of the files you send; no personal data about customers should be sent outside the EU unless it’s going to a registered “safe harbour”* company. But overall it’s a very useful service and really helps with transferring files that would be bounced if emailed as attachments. BigMailFile has a 20mb limit for free accounts but offers a premium service which allows 20gb files to be transferred as well.
When producing email shots, putting together slides or creating web pages it’s quite common to use images. However, it’s rare to receive a photo with the right specification for what you need and it takes time to open up a big package like Photoshop, just to re-size an image.
That’s where PIXresizer comes in. An extremely lightweight and quick freeware program that allows resizing of both individual images or the conversion of an entire folder into a specified size and file type. This can save lots of time.
I hope this list helps you pick out some choice free software that’ll assist you in your everyday tasks in the office. If you have any other freebies that you’ve found helpful please share them in the comments below.
* More information on safe harbour can be found here: http://export.gov/safeharbor and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_Protection_Directive.