Sunday Business Post – Technology Page – October 12 2008
See this article on the Sunday Business Post’s website by clicking here.
With money tight in many households , some consumers may baulk at the idea of shelling out hundreds of euro on software packages.
Serendipitous timing then for the growth in quality and popularity of free software applications and web-based services that have much, if not all, of the functionality and usability of their ‘paid-for’ cousins.
Microsoft has dominated the market for office software since the early 1990s. However, a number of free applications now offer similar word processing, spreadsheets and presentations functionality to home and business users.
Sun’s Open Office software is a freely available and downloadable alternative to MS Office. It features a word processor (Writer) similar to MS Word, a spreadsheet (Calc) similar to Excel, presentation programme (Impress) similar to PowerPoint and a database programme (Base) not unlike Microsoft Access.
Users familiar with MS Office should have no problems with Open Office’s layout or functionality. Open Office is designed so that files created in Microsoft Office can be opened, edited, saved and then be re-opened in Microsoft Office if required.
Download it from: www.openoffice.org
Google Docs is a web-service containing word process or, spreadsheet and presentation applications. Registered users create and edit documents in their web browsers and save and manage them online. The web-based applications have been designed to look and feel very similar to traditional Office programmes.
Tasks such as creating documents, formatting text and inserting tables and images are all done in the same way. Documents created online can be saved to the user’s PC in traditional formats, or e-mailed directly using gmail.
An extra feature of Google Docs is online collaboration, where documents can be shared, opened and edited by multiple users at the same time. As it is a web service, Google Docs users need to have constant access to the internet, however.
Visit it at: http://docs. google.com/
There are many different free accounts software packages available, ranging from some that are little more than fancy calculators, to complicated solutions that require professional installation and could be used to run a medium-sized business.
GnuCash is a simple double-entry personal bookkeeping system, based on formal accounting principles, which also has features useful for small business accounting. Individuals or households can use GnuCash to do simple accounting tasks such as balancing a chequebook, managing credit cards or tracking mortgage or rent payments.
Transactions can be categorised into simple folders such as rent, groceries or transport. Small business owners can set up GnuCash to carry out tasks such as the payment of invoices and the recording of suppliers and customers. GnuCash also has a range of more complex functionality, such as importing information from online banking services or creating reports that can analyse your incomings and outgoings.
Download it from: www.gnucash.org
TurboCASH Accounting calls itself ‘‘the world’s first fully-featured open-source accounts packages for small business’’ and is designed for single users, small networks and distributed networks.
It includes functions under headings such as debtors, creditors, general ledger, full stock control, Vat accounting, invoicing, bank reconciliation, trial balance, balance sheet and income statements, full reporting and analysis, as well as mutli-company and multi-user capabilities. An Irish version has been developed that includes Irish tax and Vat details.
Download it from: www.turbocash.net
Photo manipulation and organisation
Digital photography has given the world a new verb: to ‘photoshop’. Many people now use their computers to improve, edit and even add or remove elements from their original photos.
Free photo manipulation software solutions are generally not as powerful as Adobe’s Photoshop CS4 suite (RRP €689.00 ex-Vat), however they can be useful for casual users who want to improve their photos.
Picasa is a software application that can be downloaded from the internet for free and used to organise and edit digital photos. Users can import photos directly from their camera or open images already on their PC.
Picasa’s photo-editing features allow you to do things such as resize or crop your photos, reduce ‘red-eye’, adjust the colour and lighting and add effects like black and white or sepia. Picasa users can also store and publish their photos online for their friends to see, or upload them to photo sharing services, such as Flickr, or save them for printing.
Download it from: www.picasa.google.com
Amateur photographers can also use online photo manipulation services to tweak their photos. Web services such as Photoshop Express and Picnik allow registered users to upload their images to the internet and edit them in real time on their browser.
Improvements are carried out in real time so you can watch the changes take place (and undo them if required) immediately, before you upload the shots to Facebook or e-mail them to friends.
Some users might be a bit wary of protecting their valuable files and information with a freeware solution, but a number of security packages have built up solid reputations over the last few years as reliable and competent security solutions.
AVG Free is a wide-ranging security package that includes a virus scanner, rootkit scanner, spyware scanner, e-mail scanner and a firewall. This means that every time you get an e-mail, visit a webpage, or try to download something it will not allow you to continue until the programme is sure it is safe. The software automatically updates itself every four hours to keep up to date with the latest threats.
The latest version – AVG Free 7.5 – has an improved user interface and does not use as much RAM, so it does not affect other programmes running on your computer.
Cautious users can set up AVG to scan everything they download or every website they visit, while more techie-types can disable some of the automatic functions and only use the programme when they suspect a potential problem.
The software is free for home users, while business users can purchase upgraded packages that include extra protections and telephone support.
Download it from: http://free.avg.com