Small business owners are constantly managing multiple priorities, especially when it comes to technology budgets.  The good news is that there has never been a better time for cost effective open source productivity tools, many of which are available for free to help small businesses compete in increasingly technology dependent markets.


1.  Desktop OS – Ubuntu Linux

Linux has come a long ways since the early days of being exclusively the domain of hackers and uber-nerds.  Ubuntu Linux is now at a refined version 16 and supports many devices and hardware.  The Ubuntu open source operating system project has grown from humble beginnings and is now currently being developed and supported under the guidance of Canonical Corp, who offer various releases and packages for a multitude of purposes, including standard desktop office workstation.

Ubuntu Linux is a good operating system option for small businesses who want to keep costs low, but still require a powerful desktop computing solution, however does have a learning curve and requires a bit of a cultural shift to adopt into a business.  As well there are occasionally cross-platform application and document compatibility issues, which if coming from Windows or other OS, should be investigated prior to any migration.The desktop version is downloadable for free from Ubuntu’s website.

  2.  Office Productivity Suite – LibreOffice

Software productivity tools are a necessary mainstay of most office and business computing environments, and can often run into the thousands of dollars per user for licensing fees.  Enter free open source office productivity suites such as LibreOffice.

LibreOffice was formed by many of the contributing developers and volunteer community who originally worked on OpenOffice.  When OpenOffice was acquired by Oracle (via Sun Microsystems) in 2011, many of the contributing community left the project and started LibreOffice.  Currently LibreOffice version 5 is in active development with bug fix patches and feature enhancement updates being regularly released.

LibreOffice also has compatibility versions available, including a reader suite for Android.


3.  Desktop Email Client – Thunderbird

Mozilla’s Thunderbird desktop email client has been a venerable swiss army knife of digital communication for a long time.  In the beginning, the software which would become Thunderbird was baked into the Mozilla Suite and was both a web browser and email client.  In 2003 Mozilla split the software into two projects namely Phoenix and Minotaur, which eventually became Firefox and Thunderbird.

Since then Thunderbird has evolved into a powerful communication platform incorporating email, RSS Feeds, and Newsgroup functionality into a highly stable and functional form.  Thunderbird runs great on Ubuntu, even with large email folders and numerous RSS feeds.

Thunderbird also has a multitude of powerful add-ons and extensions such as the Mozilla Calendar Project’s Lightning add-on, which incorporates time management functionality.

Thunderbird is currently under active development with regular bug fix patches, feature enhancements and add-ons being released by Mozilla and the contributing community.  The latest stable release v. 45.8 is available for free download on Mozilla’s website.

4.  Project Management – OpenProject

The latest version of OpenProject Community Edition is downloadable from their website.  Options exist also for paid Enterprise and Cloud editions, which include advanced features and expert support.




5.  Customer Relationship Management – SugarCRM

SugarCRM has been around since 2004 and has grown into a leading Customer Relationship Management tool.  There is a CE “Community Edition” which can be downloaded for free to get a feel for the interface, athough many small and medium businesses eventually transition to reasonably priced paid editions, which are more fully featured.



6.  Graphics Editing – GIMP

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is a cross-platform open source image editor with free downloads available for Linux, OSX, and Windows operating systems. GIMP was originally coded as a software project by a couple student developers at Berkeley around 1996.

From it’s beginning GIMP was developed as an open source project,with a functional plug-in system to encourage others to tailor the software as needed. Since that time GIMP has evolved into a powerful and easy-to-use image manipulation package rivaling the best professional editing suites available.

GIMP is now widely deployed with a large user community who regularly contribute to the program codebase and plug-ins, as well as tutorials and extensive documentation on GIMPs web page.


7.  Vector Graphics – Inkscape

Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics editor, which by default uses Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format, an open XML-based W3C standard.  Inkscape is widely-used and has a large community of contributing developers, who release regular program bug fixes and feature enhancement updates.

Inkscape is a powerful editing tool and can open natives files from popular professional graphics editing suites such as SVG, AI, EPS, PDF, PS and PNG.  There are a large number of add-ons available as well to extend functionality of the base program.  Inkscape has well organized and maintained documentation available in it’s online wiki, and the program is available as free download for Linux, OSX and Windows platforms.

The translation from other popular vector formats isn’t perfect, and occasionally gradients and other features get distorted, but it usually does a pretty good job with imports and is a finely featured editor within it’s own SVG format.  And the best part is that it’s open sourced.

 8.  Audio Processing – Audacity

Audacity is an open source, cross-platform audio software tool for multi-track recording and editing.  It is a functional and stable program with a rich feature set and plug-in system for customization and extension.

Audacity has an active development community, mailing lists and there is a lot of documentation available online including a wiki style repository.  There are also many tutorial videos on youtube, as well as how to books about the finer points of using the powerful audio recording and editing tool.

The current version of Audacity is available for free download for Linux, OSX, and Windows platforms.


9.  File Compression Utility – 7-Zip

7-zip is an open-sourced file archiver used to compress and extract data files and can handle most of the popular formats including its own native format 7z, which supports AES-256 encryption and gigantic archive sizes.  7-Zip was originally written by Igor Pavlov in 1999, and has a command line as well as graphical user interface, versions for Windows, Mac, Ubuntu, Linux and others.

The current version of 7-Zip can be downloaded for free on




10.  Text Editor – Notepad++

Whether you are looking for a digital scribble pad or writing source code, Notepad++ is a great tool for maximizing productivity and streamlining workflow.  Along with highlighting code, Notepad++ provides an intuitive multi-document (tabbed) interface which is a significant improvement over simple text editors.

Notepad++ was originally developed by Don Ho and is now maintained by a group of contributors with regular feature updates and bug fixes.  Notepad++ is versatile and extensible with many plugins currently available.

A couple great text editor alternatives for Linux are gedit and geany.


11.  File Transfer – FileZilla

If you need a full featured FTP client, FileZilla is a very good open source alternative.  FileZilla supports most FTP features including secure encryption options like FTPS/SFTP/SSH.  The graphical user interface provides a familiar drag and drop functionality, with options for simple setup or more advanced configuration.  In addition to versions for Linux, FileZilla also provides an FTP server for Windows platforms.

The program was written by Tim Kosse in 2001 and has an active community of contributors including online user forums and comprehensive documentation.  The latest version of client software for a variety of platforms including Linux, Windows, and Mac is available for free download from Ubuntu users can install directly from Software Centre, or command line package manager.


12. Media Player – VLC

VLC is a popular and versatile open source media player with excellent cross-platform support.  The program was originally released in 2001 by a team of developers known as the VideoLan Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a universally accessible digital media platform.

VLC is widely acclaimed for it’s ability to natively decode the majority of media protocols, and flexible customization with a skin editor and many extensions available.

13. PDFCreator

PDFCreator is an open source document conversion program from the software company PDFForge, who also make several other quality document management applications.  PDFCreator supports major file formats and features of PDF (portable document format), including document security options such as digital signatures and file encryption.

PDFForge maintains an online user forum and product support documentation.  PDFCreator is a free download for personal use, and there are reasonably priced licensing options for businesses.