Free Software Every Small Business Should Have

Here are six applications that I can’t live without. These programs can improve your workflow and team working. The best bit is that I’ve only included products that are available with a ‘no cost’ option. The subscription versions (where available) are even better. Do you have any must have applications? Share your suggestions in the comments.

1. OneNote

Update: August 22, 2016. Evernote changed their licencing options and I decided it was time to move on. Much to my surprise I’ve opted for a Microsoft product as a replacement. I now use Microsoft OneNote for all my Information storage and long-term documentation. I’m migrating my notes from Evernote on planned and ad-hoc basis – If I need information from Evernote I move it, and as a background task I’m reviewing and shifting batches of notes on a regular basis. OneNote has a few limitations and annoyances – but so does Evernote. On the whole I’m Enjoying using OneNote a lot more than Evernote.

1. Evernote.

Capture, save, organize and search all your notes. An absolute must. It will also search scanned documents and pdf files. I’ve been using Evernote since it was first released and can’t recommend it enough.

2. Trello.

Ignore the unusual name (and the dog icon), it is a great product for managing teams and multiple projects/tasks. The user interface is a joy to use. You can have Multiple task lists, assign tasks to people and enjoy an excellent visual progress indicator. In my experience it’s much better than ‘Remember the Milk’ and other similar products.

3. Freemind.

The only app here that is not based online. If you know what mind mapping is, then I need say no more. Freemind is a java application, which means it is totally cross platform compatible (I use it on both my Linux and Windows machines). Mind-mapping is a fantastic tool for seeking clarity, and helping one to structure one’s thoughts. I find it is also excellent for website and database design. Freemind is very flexible, but does have a fairly steep learning curve. However, the rewards that come from using it makes it all worth while.

4. Rescue Time.

If, like me, you spend endless hours at the computer, Rescue Time can help you to focus on what’s important. It monitors your computer activity and tells you exactly how much time you are spending doing what. How much time a week do you spend on Facebook? Rescue Time will tell you! It also includes productivity tools to help you focus on what you should be doing.

Update: August 2016. Another product to look at is toggl. I used Toggl for quite a while and liked the paid-for version’s reports. Once again a change to the cost of the plan forced me to review my usage, and I’ve gone back to Rescue Time. That said the free version of Toggl might suit some users.


5. Dropbox

I’ve used Google Drive, OneDrive and OneDrive for business. Dropbox stands head and shoulders above the others for ease of use and reliability. The free version starts out with 2GB of storage – enough for most people. I’ve upgraded to the Business version with full version back-ups ($130 per year). When a virus infection wiped all my photographs (Over 30,000 images) I was able to get them all back quickly and easily from dropbox.


5. Google Drive and Docs.

With 15GB available Google drive is an excellent transparent cloud drive similar to Dropbox. Use Google docs for documents that need multiple editors, get on chat or the ‘phone and several people can edit a document together in real time. Integration back into MS Word or Excel can be a tad problematic, but the benefits are excellent.

Update May 17, 2014. I recently encountered problems using shared Google Drive folders on a PC and MacBook, so I cannot recommend Google Drive if you are using a MacBook. In my experience the syncing is unreliable. You can read more here: Why I’ve stopped using Google Drive.

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6. Keepass.

This isn’t a productivity tool, but it is an absolute essential. Keepass is a program that securely stores passwords and account data. It allows you to set a different secure password for every account, and the only password you need to remember is the one that gets you into Keepass. Keepass will generate highly secure strong passwords for you. One aspect I love is its ability to complete the username and password fields for you with one simple keystroke.

I keep my keepass database on my Dropbox so that I can access my passwords anywhere.

7. Bonus: Thymer

I know I said six, but I really must mention a seventh, Thymer – Thymer provides a brilliant user experience, it’s so clear and easy to use. It’s another project management task / time management and recording application. The presentation is uncluttered, giving you just the information you need, while still managing to record all the details you want. I consider it one of the best. It only failed to make the above list because the cut off between the free version and the paid for version is too abrupt in my opinion. It’s well worth looking at though.

What productivity tools do you use?