Software for Small Business/Non-Profits

I deal with quite a few small businesses, and they are always in need of good advice and information to run their business effectively and efficiently. The thing about a small business is they don’t have money to simply through away on computer hardware and software. They also don’t have the resources to hire a full time IT person to sit and run their network and file servers and keep everything up to date. Often the person that ends up responsible for doing the computer updating and fixing is the person that knows the most about it.blank1.gif

Thinking about some of the small businesses I work with I thought I would put some of the things I recommend to them in person down here on my blog, so those of you who are responsible for taking care of some of the day to day computer maintenance and work will have some more resources to make it easier. You might know of some of these things or you might have other options that I don’t know of. If you do please leave a comment so I can look at them.blank1.gif

Small businesses all have different needs for software. An insurance agency might have very different software needs than a non-profit, but there are some common software that all businesses and non-profits need.

Anti-Virus
I used to recommend Norton Anti-Virus but over the years Norton has become nothing but a resource hog. Not only has Norton Anti-Virus become a resource hog, but it is getting harder and harder to purchase just Norton Anti-Virus without all of the extras that they through in like a firewall. Most small businesses don’t need the bloatware that Norton has become. Windows XP has a built in software Firewall that works well enough for most businesses, not to mention most computers are behind routers that help to protect from outside attacks already. Because of the bloatware of Norton and how resource hungry it has become I recommend small businesses and non-profits take a look at using AVG Anti-Virus. It does a great job of protecting your computer from viruses, updates automatically and can be set to scan daily. Most importantly it does not take an extra GB of ram to run it. They also offer a home version that is free for home users and non-commercial use.

Malware
For some additional malware protection look at Spybot Search and Destroy. It is by far the easiest malware protection you can get. Easy to update, run and fast compared to scanning your computer everyday.blank1.gif

Office Suite
Why do small businesses and non-profits spend hundreds of dollars lining Microsoft’s pockets buying their Microsoft Office. It is bad enough that they are using Windows, and face it the majority only use Windows becuase it either came with thier computer or their finance software requires it. Two alternatives for office suite software is OpenOffice.org and Google Docs. For a lot of people OpenOffice is the better alternative because it is more like the traditional software approach they are used to, meaning it is software installed on their computers and not an online approach. I personally use Google Docs quite often, and more and more many of my office tasks are moving online.

Photos
Many small businesses and non-profits have photos and images to manage. Often all they need is an easy to use package like Picasa by Google.

You can also get Picasa as part of the Google Pack, but personally I don’t care for some of the extra things they have in the pack. But it can make it faster to just install the pack.

PDF Creation
Sooner or later every small business or non-profit needs to create a pdf file to share with someone else. If you are using OpenOffice.org or Google Docs then you have no problems, but if you need to create a PDF from some other software then you can take your chances converting it using an online conversion site like ZamZar or you could install CutePDF Writer. There are other PDF writers but I have had good luck with this one and it is free for commercial use. blank1.gif

Backup
Small businesses and non-profits all need a backup plan or all of your hard work can be wiped out in an instant when (yes when) your hard drive dies. I have talked on and on about backing up your data. Buy an external hard drive like the Western Digital MyBook External Hard Drive and create a simple batch file to make copies of your data on your external hard drive and use Windows scheduler to make it run automatically. This won’t help you if you have a fire or flood and your computer is physically destroyed, so you need to have an off site backup as well. For that I prefer MozyPro, because it is very easy to use and provides a very easy off site backup solution. You could also buy two external hard drives and store one in a safety deposit box or some place secure. If you are going to do that though you should just get MozyPro it will cost less and be less time consuming. If you don’t like MozyPro then take a look at one of the other competing services. Most important make sure you have an off site backup.

There are some of my recommendations for software that will not cost a fortune to buy and will cover some of the basic needs of small business and non-profits very well. I never covered web browsing and email. You can probably guess that I recommend using Firefox and Thunderbird for those applications. Is there other basic software that you have found to be essential to small business? What software do you find essential? What software would you add to this list?blank1.gif

8 Responses to Software for Small Business/Non-Profits

  1. true…XP is one of the better OS’s that microsoft has put out in the past few years..infact since 98 in my opinion. But can’t you really go wrong with open source? For a more advanced user id suggest using Linux Slackware, or if you are in for extream security, OpenBSD -stable. Now before you start off on me, *nix isnt for everyone, i may know that best of all from personal experiances in the past. Gentoo or Ubuntu are great for beginners…more so than Mandrake (Mandriva). n Common…software wise, 3/4 of the applications out there for windows were derived from Opensourse code to begin with. “Well, how can i go about using my favorite windows application?” easy.. Windows Emulator (WINE) easy to install and to use as well. Security wise..well personally id say installing some form of *nix is the first step, the second is getting you’re hands on a copy of TripWire. Whats tripwire you might ask. well its a form of an Intrusion Detection System. it monitors you’re file system and notifies you of any changes to the data on your hard disk while at your machine or away from it via email (need to have sendmail enabled though). As for a firewall, you have alot of options out there, one of my personal favorites that ive been using for a long time now is firestarter with the GUI front end..cause lets face it folks sometimes you just get sick of cmd line at times. Another plus to this is that you can configure you’re own policies for you’re firewall aswell. Or if you wish to use the base install that comes with most linux distrobutions you can use IPtables which you can also create your own policies for but can be at times a bit of a pain which is where KMyFirewall comes into play, its a great policy editor for IPtables. Now you ask yourself, “I have a fairly secure based operating system, i have a decent IDS, and a policy customized firewall. How do i know my system is actually secure?” Well you have some options here, NMap (maybe THE best port scanner in existance) and Nessus (a powerful exploit engine/scanner) together you can scan youreself for open ports and compare the services running which were provided to you by the NMap scan against the Nessus scanner and attempt to exploit you’re self. Then patch if needed or update to the latest version of said software. As for you’re basic everyday application needs you do have alot more options than you think, as i had said before if you wish to continue using windows applications you always can resort to using WINE, now if you’re like me n like to run with the little guy, i like using StarOffice which is an equally powerful Office suite, as for graphic applications i love using GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) which i consider myself is equal to using Photoshop (im going to catch alot of flack for saying that..but what ever). Browser and mail wise, i still enjoy using Opera for its features, speed dialer especially. Also for the .torrent file extension support. Lets face it…why run an external application when you can get the same results in an all-in-one browser which is so robust like Opera. As for you’re email needs, you’re set right from the get-go with Kmail, the client has full support for all of you’re email needs. Now the question of Instant Messaging comes to mind, “MSN, ICQ, Yahoo, Jabber, etc… are all windows based applications, what am i to do about this?” Well if you really wanna be a resource hog you can run WINE and run all of the seperate applications through the emulator or… you can run one of the many multi-protocal clients out there, one to mention in particular is Gaim which i really do suggest that you check out, im not sure if there is a windows variant of this, if so id suggest using that over anything else which above all others, has secure messaging using its own 128 bit key. As for you’re basic encryption needs there is always GnuPGP, the *nix variant of windows’ PGP. As for music/video there are alot of great players to pick from, most important, XMMS (Winamp variant) and Xine which for me personally has been a very reliable media player especially when it comes to streaming music. Another thing that i have noticed alot lately is *nix machines being used as POS in alot of stores which is great to see now with the prices in windows vista ever so greater than XP and the lack of support for software on its previous versions. Plus…Its Free, which is a great cost cutting sound for new and small business’s and non-profit groups. Lets not forget to mention file sharing in wide area networks…with the added security of the SSH2 protocal, which needs to be deemed the new standard for remote access for control on other machines and its stability and security in regards to new advances in FTPd software. =]

    hope you enjoy

    – devaughn

  2. OpenOffice.org has a lot of features that would be very useful for small businesses, including the PDF generator that lets you set passwords, make forms and hyperlinks, etc. Plus you of course have Draw, a nice substitute for Canvas or Illustrator, with connector lines similar to those in Visio.

  3. I have never used Draw! I know it is there, but have never had a reason to I guess. You are right for a small business that needs to do some basic drawing it would work great.

  4. These are some very good suggestions. Defiantly get an online office backup, don’t rely on tapes or cds. Also, look for refurbished pcs and spend an extra $30 to put more ram in them. These can be had for as little as $150.

  5. Refurbished PC’s! That is a great idea. I have used refurbished PC’s as file servers for small businesses, and a local school gets refurbished Macs for their computer labs.

  6. While I personally use Ubuntu Linux for my desktop, it is not possible for many small businesses to use Linux or BSD etc. Often the specialized software that they need has only been developed for Windows. True Wine can sometimes run that software it is much easier to keep them on Windows. Unfortunately that is just a reality for some businesses. Heck, even businesses and non-profits that do use Macs often have to have one PC in the place to keep their books.

  7. That looks interesting, except there is no prices listed, they offer a free demo, but they really say nothing about how it works. I could not even find a software requirements list. Does it run on Windows? Macs? Linux? The site seems to be pushing Value Added Resellers. Great, no prices for them either. The service might be great for small businesses, but there is not enough information on the website to tell. For the size of a lot of the businesses I deal with, and I suspect the people that read my blog, this is overkill. When I say small business I mean small. Under 10 people. But I am not done my coffee yet this morning so maybe I am just cranky.

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