5 Unusual Open Source Apps for Unusual Small Businesses

By Carla Schroder | Posted June 25, 2013

Small businesses encompass a wide range of occupations, and some of them are less common than others. They often require niche or specific software. Fortunately, there's a lot of great open source software to support these businesses.

In this roundup we'll learn about great open source software for some of the more unusual professions: music composition and score writing, movie pre-production, payment processing for performing artists and arts organizations, micro financing, and open source journalism and broadcasting.

Unusual Open Source Software

1. MuseScore Score Writer and Composer

One of the crown jewels of open source is MuseScore, the beautiful, elegant and powerful musical score writer and composer. MuseScore is open source and free of cost, and it's one of the most widely-used score writers in music education. It runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows.

You can start playing with MuseScore as soon as you install it, because it opens to a sample score titled "Reunion." MuseScore has a built-in synthesizer, so click the play button to hear it. A fun thing to do is go to the Display menu and enable the Play Panel, which lets you instantly adjust the volume, tempo, and play your score in three different styles: straight, swing and shuffle (figure 1).


MuseScore open source software

Figure 1: The Play Panel in MuseScore provides a nice set of instant score edits.

MuseScore supports a wealth of great features: composer, editor, colored notes, tons of effects, fingering charts, concert pitch, multiple styles and score templates. It's wonderful software, and it even prints scores pretty, elegant scores.

2. Celtx Makes Movies

Celtx is an amazing high-quality suite of software for telling your story. With Celtx you can write film and theater scripts, create storyboards with camera and lighting setups, block shots, and collaborate with everyone on your production team.

The software comes in multiple versions: desktop, cloud and mobile (iPhone and Android). You can choose between free versions and paid versions that provide more features. Prices range from $4.99 for mobile apps to $9.99/month for the hosted cloud versions and free trials for the paid versions. The software runs on Linux, Mac and Windows.

Celtx isn't just for plays and movies; you can also use it to write novels and comics. It includes all kinds of useful tools like formatting templates for different media (screenplay, stage play, comics, and novels), auto-conversion to different formats, storyboard player, a big batch of scalable clip art, script reports, call sheets, multiple language support, and cloud and mobile synchronization.

3. Artful.ly Payment Processor

Artful.ly is a great online system for processing payments for artists and arts organizations: ticket sales, donations, and contact management so you can stay close to supporters and customers. Artful.ly isn't just another online merchant payment processor, but is designed for artists and performers.

You plug the software into your own website for a seamless customer experience. It processes online credit card sales and donations, and cash and credit card sales at live events.

Artful.ly includes a batch of useful features such as multiple discount codes, group pricing, and automatic email receipts. You can export sales and donation reports, track attendance, sales, and donations per customer, and import and export contact records in various formats such as Excel and Salesforce.

Unlike ordinary merchant payment processors, Artful.ly charges a flat 3.5 percent of credit card sales. You pay only when you have sales, because there are no monthly fees or add-on costs. You'll need some tech help to integrate with your website, which is easy for WordPress users because the good Artful.ly people have created a nice WordPress plug-in.

If your site is on some other content management system, you'll need to do a bit of custom coding to integrate the Artful.ly widget, which is a simple task for an average Javascript/CSS coder.

4. Octopus Microfinance

Octopus Microfinance was created to run microfinance institutions (MFI). Microfinance institutions supply banking services for small customers: microcredit, which is very small loans to help individuals launch and expand their small businesses, insurance, savings, and funds transfers.

MFIs try to fill the gap left by traditional financial institutions, which do not serve small customers very well because of costs; it costs about the same to serve a small customer as a large one, so it's hard to serve small customers cost-effectively.

Kiva is probably the best-known microfinance institution, a non-profit with the social mission of helping to lift people out of poverty. Kiva connects individuals who want to make loans as small as $25 with microfinance institutions all over the planet who administer the loans.

These loans are small by U.S. standards, typically from $100-$2,000. A similar organization called GlobalGiving also connects lenders with borrowers, and lenders get to choose specific projects to support.

Octopus open source software

Figure 2: Octopus manages large amounts of data.

Octopus Microfinance is tailored to the needs of MFIs, providing loan management, reporting and accounting, savings accounts, customer relations management, multi-teller, payroll, auditing, and all the other necessary functionality. There are both free-of-cost and paid editions that include professional support and extra features. Octopus runs on Windows, and you can download and try it out for free.

5. Sourcefabric Open Source Journalism and Publishing

Sourcefabric makes open source content-creation tools for journalists, broadcasters and publishers. All four of the Sourcefabric modules below offer both free-of-cost and paid versions with support. Titles include:

  • Newscoop: an open source content management system (CMS) for journalists and news publications with features like scheduling and article status, archives, front page management, and "citizen journalism" management, which includes special tools for managing site-visitor participation.
  • Airtime: run an Internet radio station, with scheduling and automation, staff management, multiple live and Web-stream integration, and media library.
  • Superdesk: manages newsrooms and story creation workflow, and supports both print and online publishing.
  • Booktype: a comprehensive book publisher that handles everything from writing, editing, and publishing to paper and digital formats.

Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook,and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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