Open source collaboration software can help small businesses improve teamwork, increase productivity and decrease costs. We look at the best open source collaboration software available today.
As the workforce becomes more mobile and employers look for ways to improve productivity, collaboration software become increasingly popular. According to a June 2016 study from Markets and Markets, organizations will spend $23.39 billion on cloud-based collaboration software tools this year. By 2021, the analysts expect the market to grow to $42.57 billion, for a compound annual growth rate of 12.7 percent.
Collaboration software offer small businesses a wide variety of benefits. They can increase teamwork and communication, particularly if people on your team work in different locations. They can also help you share knowledge more widely throughout the organization and lessen the chance that employees will waste time duplicating the same work. They can also streamline your business processes and reduce the need for face-to-face meetings—both of which can decrease costs.
[Don’t mis this article: 50 Productivity Tips By and For Small Business Owners]
But collaboration tools can be expensive, and small businesses often have difficulty finding software with the exact features they need.
If you’re looking for small business collaboration tools that fits both your budget and your business needs, consider open source collaboration software. Open source software licenses don’t cost anything, which makes these collaboration tools much, much less expensive than other options—even if you choose to pay for support or cloud-based versions of the tools. In addition, everyone has access to the source code for open source solutions, meaning that you can customize the tools to your exact needs.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the best open source collaboration tools for small business.
If you’ve ever seen or used Basecamp, then Collabtive will feel very familiar. It’s a project management tool that lets you tracks projects, milestones, task lists, and tasks right from your browser. It can send you email alerts when something gets done, when someone uploads a file, or when someone misses a deadline. Plus, it synchronizes with most calendar applications. For extra security, Collabtive encrypts your data, and it offers role-based permissions—you decide who can set up a project and who can mark a given task as complete.
If you’re technically savvy, you can download the open source collaboration software for free and install it on your own Web server. If you’d rather have someone else take care of those details, the company can host it for you in the cloud for a very low price. However, note that Collabtive is a European company and lists its prices in Euros.
Cyn.in is something of an all-in-one open source collaboration software tool. Somewhat similar to Microsoft Sharepoint, it’s a great option for setting up an intranet for your small business. It includes tools for wikis, blogs, file sharing, calendars, discussion boards, bookmark directories, multimedia galleries, and more.
If you have teams within your business that work on different projects, you can set up separate collaboration spaces (or even sub-spaces) for each project. It also includes social media-like tools that enable discussions, status updates, and even ratings and voting.
You can acquire the Cyn.in collaboration software in several different ways:
- Download the open source version for free and install it on your own server. Note: this option does not include technical support
- Buy a subscription to the on-demand, cloud-based service, which offers three pricing tiers based on the number of users
- Buy a pre-configured software appliance that resides at your own facility. Note: you need to supply the hardware, but you get all the software you need to run Cyn.in in one easy-to-install package, and you get technical support and automatic updates.
If you’re looking for a simpler, less full-featured open source collaboration software option, DokuWiki is worth a look. It’s easy-to-use, and it’s very effective for tasks such as setting up a corporate knowledge base, keeping a shared journal about a project, collaboratively writing a software manual or other materials, or creating an intranet.
The software is completely free to use, but you must download and install it on your own servers. If you need technical support, you can either ask a question in the online community forum, or you can purchase professional support from a variety of third-party vendors.
Think of EGroupware as similar to Microsoft Outlook—but with extra features for project management, time-tracking and collaboration. It includes a shared group calendar and address book, email, and file sharing—plus, it comes in mobile versions that you can access from your smartphone or tablet.
EGroupware offers its open source collaboration software in several different versions with different price tags. The free version comes with an open source license, and you can download and run the program on your own hardware. A full version adds more features and professional support; prices are based on the number of users. Finally, there’s a subscription-based cloud version—also with pricing based on the number of users. Note that all prices are in Euros.
Feng Office boasts that it has more than 2 million users, including well-known companies like the University of California Berkeley, Airbus, NASA, the NBA, and Xerox. It’s also very popular with small professional services companies such as advertising agencies and law firms.
At its core, Feng Office is project management software that lets you track projects, clients, related documents, and time spent on the project. It also includes an integrated calendar, email notes, and more.
If you’re looking for a free solution, Feng Office comes in a community edition that includes all the basic features. It also offers Professional and Enterprise editions that you install on your own servers. It also offers those same three versions delivered over the Internet on a subscription basis, with prices for the community version starting at $14 per user per month.
The Group-Office open source collaboration software combines groupware features—email, calendar, and tasks—with customer relationship management (CRM) features—like the ability to add notes about customers, a helpdesk, time-tracking, and newsletters. Note that while Group-Office describes itself as an “enterprise” solution, it’s very suitable for small businesses.
The software comes in two different editions: the free community version and the paid professional version, which includes helpdesk, time-tracking, mobile sync, project management, and document editing. You can purchase two other features—billing and document search—as separate add-ons. Group-Office also comes in a hosted, cloud-based version with prices in Euros.
If you like to use the Firefox Web browser, you might also like Thunderbird, an email application by Mozilla, the organization that makes Firefox. It includes several features that make it easier for small business staff to collaborate on projects. Those features include integrated Web search, a tabbed interface, a quick-filter toolbar, advanced email search, and integration with Twitter, Google Talk, and Facebook Messenger. You’ll find a host of add-ons to extend its capabilities even further.
Like Firefox, Thunderbird is a free download, and it works on Windows, MacOS, and Linux PCs.
Tiki began life primarily as a wiki (and used to be called TikiWiki). Today, it’s a more full-featured open source collaboration software tool that also includes blogs, forums, calendar, image galleries, and surveys. Many people use it to manage their websites, and it can be particularly useful for intranets focused on a particular project. People have downloaded more than a million times, and it has won lots of awards.
Available only as a free download, Tiki does not offer paid support. However, you’ll find plenty of help and documentation on the website.
The Zarafa open source collaboration software combines groupware (email, calendar, contacts, and tasks) with file sharing and Web meeting functionality. It’s one of the most complete open source communications tools available. It boasts “millions of users worldwide” and claims to be “the most important MS Exchange email alternative in Europe.”
The main Zarafa page primarily promotes the software’s paid versions, which are hosted in the cloud with monthly subscriptions paid in Euros. You can find the free open source version on the Community Hub.
The free, open source version of Zimbra offers an alternative to Microsoft Exchange. You can run it on a Linux server (either your own or in a public cloud) to host your business’s email, calendar, and collaboration tools. Your staff can then access their email using the Zimbra client, Outlook, or any other email tool on a PC or mobile device.
The same company also offers a variety of paid collaboration tools based in part on the same technology. Zimbra claims to have more than 500 million people using its collaboration tools.