Open Source Applications for Small Business - Page 2

By Aaron Weiss
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Messaging Freely
While e-mail still reigns as the Internet's “killer app” of the, “e-mail” now includes instant messaging, calendars and other groupware collaboration tasks. The typical business probably uses Microsoft Outlook as their messaging client, particularly if they already own a license to Microsoft Office, which bundles it. Microsoft expanded Outlook's popularity by leveraging it on the collaborative features of the company's Exchange server.

Exchange server combines traditional standards-based messaging with Microsoft extensions for duties such as calendaring, scheduling and tasks. It's easy to find free open source software for traditional messaging. Leading the pack is Mozilla Thunderbird, a full-featured messaging client with support for POP and IMAP e-mail, NNTP newsgroups, and RSS feeds.

You can add calendaring to Thunderbird with the Lightning extension or run Sunbird, a standalone version of the same calendar application (in case you don't use Thunderbird for e-mail). Although Sunbird/Lightning lets you share calendars through WebDAV servers and is compatible with Apple iCal, it does not communicate with Exchange servers for access to Outlook calendars. This makes Sunbird/Lightning a good alternative to Exchange calendaring if all you need is the functionality without the interoperability.

The only full-featured free and open messaging client that can talk to an Exchange server is Novell Evolution, but the Windows port is still a little rough around the edges compared to its Linux-based original. It supports only XP, cannot communicate with SSL-encrypted Exchange server, and is sorely in need of a visual face-lift.

Free and open Exchange alternatives like Zimbra support both Outlook and its own free open clients, but require the installation of server software.

Lightening calendar screen shot
You can managing a calendar with the Lightning extension for Thunderbird.
(Click for larger image)

If you IM, you can chat the day away with Pidgin. This lightweight and intuitive multi-protocol chat client supports AIM, ICQ, Jabber, Google Talk, MSN, Yahoo and other IM platforms, simultaneously.

Photoshopping Without Photoshop
To its credit, becoming a generic word like kleenex and xerox, is a feather in Photoshop's cap. Like Office is to productivity software, Photoshop is to graphics editing: the de facto, the mac-daddy, the gold-standard choice. But it takes a lot of gold to buy the gold standard, and a full Photoshop license weighs in at $700. But you don't have to use Photoshop to photoshop, and you don't have to spend a dime, either.

The unfortunately named GIMP (“GNU Image Manipulation Program”) has long been the “Photoshop-killer” for anyone using Linux, but it's also available for Windows. Although GIMP isn't about to knock Photoshop off its pedestal among high-end devotees, generating output for the printing press, it offers plenty of sophisticated tools for creating Web and software graphics or touching up and editing digital photos.

But GIMP critics say that the interface is confusing, because it is built around a collection of windows rather than one large editing canvas. To address its controversial graphic interface, there is GIMPshop, a modified version of GIMP with a layout more familiar to people who have already racked up hours in Photoshop.

Then there is Paint.NET, a Windows-specific graphics editor built on Microsoft's .NET framework. Its full-featured and intuitive interface belies the software's lightweight 1.5MB footprint, and it supports popular image-editing features like layers and transparency, and it provides an accessible learning curve.

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This article was originally published on February 21, 2008
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