Cost rationalization is the flavor of the season. With every enterprise — small or large — looking at reducing costs on all fronts, IT budgets are getting affected too. While large enterprises are moving to outsourcng model and bargaining hard with the vendors, many small companies do not have that kind of option. Yet, they need to minimize costs more than anyone else to be in business.
This story started with the idea of giving some cost minimization tips to small and medium enterprises. But as we were working on it, someone asked: why less cost, why not free? And lo, the effort steered towards identifying IT areas where the enterprises used to spend on, but which they can now get for free. The result is this compendium of free IT heads, largely on using the web. We have even added one free audio conferencing service in the list.
But the challenge in trying to compile such a list is that subjectivity becomes a challenge. The inherent danger of compiling such a list is that a lot many people might not agree with the elements in it and debunk it impractical or childish, while on the other hand a similar audience might actually be happy with the same and use it to their benefit. One man’s honey is truly another’s poison.
The chief purpose of the list is to provide a small guide to the emerging companies to put in place a growth strategy and be able to deal with some of the common pain points. Another point that needs to be noted here is that much of the free software movement has been carried out by the Open Source Community, hence most of the applications that are listed here are essentially open source and free software alternatives to the proprietary ones.
- Free Storage
Backup is the single largest issue faced by small enterprises. While the big daddies have their stacks of NAS and SAN, the smaller companies or entrepreneurs don’t really know how and where to store their documents. The issue is not only of the availability of space but also the ease of use and reuse.
To start off, there are a lot of services that are available online that provide free. There is Dropbox.io that provides a 2 GB online space free to its user and then has graded payment options for people who want more. Box.net is yet another service that allows 1 GB of space free of cost to the user with a file limit of 25MB.
But the one that takes the cake is Windows Live SkyDrive service from Microsoft that currently offers 25 GB of free personal storage, with individual files limited to 50 MB. This is a mammoth amount of storage (for enterprise and important documents) and can be accessed through the web. Earlier Yahoo! also had provided a similar service, Yahoo! Briefcase but now has wrapped it up. According to certain reports, Google also has plans to offer similar kind of service titled as Gdrive.
- Hosting your Website
One of the most important requirements for a business today, is an online presence. Essentially a business without a webpage is basically a like a manager without an MBA degree, he/she can be successful to an extent but after a while requires some sort of formal education to excel. Similarly it is very important for a business or even individuals to have an online presence.
To facilitate websites, there are scores of hosting service providers that let businesses and individuals host there pages for free and in exchange banner or sponsored adverts are displayed on the website. Services like Freeservers, 5gighost, Freebeehosting, etc. let one host a website with limited bandwidth and storage space for free. Google too lets people develop their own websites, with its service called as Google Sites.
Meanwhile for small businesses wanting a more professional website, Intuit software company offers a Free Website Builder that lets people build a website in a jiffy. The service is initially free and then charges are applicable based on the level of expertise that is required by the user.
- The Google Universe
Ever since Larry Page and Eric Schmidt ventured into online sphere in 1998, with the launch of Google, there has been much change brought about by the innocuous search company that has transformed into the largest web-based firm. Today Google is part of almost everyone’s life, with the company name becoming a generic term for online search. But the company is not content with merely search and offers a host of services for both individuals and the users, both free and for a fee.
Among the most innovative services from the stables of Google has been Google Apps, a service for using custom domain names with several Google products. It features several Web applications with similar functionality to traditional office suites, including: Gmail, Google Calendar, Talk, Docs and Sites. Linked by the Gmail email id, Google offers a range of services that can be employed by the discerning entrepreneur, for instance one of the services that are offered free by Google is Google Analytics, a service that lets an individual or firm study in depth the efficacy of the online property. Using the tool, individuals can devise strategies that are best suited to its readers and customers.
- OS Alternatives
Practically speaking, in the Operating System space, there is no real alternative to Microsoft. With almost all complete dominance of the marketplace it is hard for any user or organization to not think Windows or Vista. But nonetheless, there are still the options namely of the Penguin variety. Indeed, GNU Linux has been one of the most formidable challenges to the dominance of Microsoft.
As of now, much of the dent made by the penguin is currently limited on the server side, with scores of organizations going in for Linux derivates like Red Hat, Novell, etc. It was a space where Microsoft was not too keen to battle out. But now, the challenge extends further, the desktop. Over the past year or so, a South African based company has been making inroads on the desktop space by e offering Free OS and applications that more or less mimic the Windows or rather the Vista environment. Ubuntu is steadily becoming a choice for companies and professionals that are looking for options that are easy to use and cost nothing.
- Another Office(s)
Another reason why Microsoft has been able to maintain a dominance of the marketplace is due to its spread of the Office Suite of applications. People across the world are using the Window applications, like MS Word or MS Excel. The company sells a suite of these applications in the market and the pricing is dependent on the type of application desired by an individual.
There is an alternative that is available to people who don’t want to pay anything to giant from Redmond and invest the same money in some fruitful way. The name of the suite is OpenOffice.org. Available freely on the Internet, the suite offers applications like Writer (MS Word), Calc (MS Excel), Impress (MS Powerpoint), Base(Microsoft Access). Etc. As lot of CIOs across the board that are keen to curtail on the costs are already looking at OpenOffice.org as a substitute for Microsoft Office and the trend will only get higher in the coming days.
- File sharing through FTP
Another application that is gaining much popularity on the Indian soil is the FTP or File Transfer Protocol. Through the same, companies and individuals can upload their works or documents that can be accessed by a wide variety of people. This is usually done in cases, where the size of the mail is in excess of 10 mb.
Currently, there are scores of applications in the market that offer similar functionality but it is hard to beat Filezilla in the same game. In fact over the past few years there has been a launch of yet another OS, namely FireFTP. In fact, both of them are quite effective in uploading the documents to a ’storage cloud’.
- Business Tool
For businesses that are on the growth trajectory, it is very important to be able to better manage the resources within the organization as well as outside. Over the years, host of companies have made immense profit by providing tools and applications that let an organization be better able to do its resource planning. Known ubiquitously as ERP, these solutions are of immense importance for an organization on the ascendancy.
While there are the costly applications like Microsoft Navision that are present in the market, quite a few free software (with limited capabilities and trial versions) are also available like Compiere, xTuple and OpenERP. These software applications let the user do quite a fair bit of resource planning on an enterprise scale. Though, there are scores of issues in terms of usage of such free software in terms of limitations and capabilities. The onus is on the company to be better utilize the same and could be a good starting point for new entrepreneur.
- Audio Conferencing
Unlike web-based applications, telecommunications is still local and any service offered has to be offered locally. This is India’s own free service launched by one of the Internet’s successful early pioneers.
Most of us have paid for WebEx and similar audio conferencing services provided by carriers and other service providers. Here is a free audio conferencing service (sabsebolo.com) started by the man who introduced the world to the big free wave by introducing Hotmail. Sabeer Bhatia’s service is ad supported and is surely no match for paid services like WebEx but the fact that it comes for free and is of acceptable quality means it is worth trying for internal meetings, if not for business presentations. The service can be obtained through local number dialing in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad
To be honest, the list is certainly not complete. As there are a lot of additions that can be made in terms applications and softwares, for instance open source alternatives in desktop publishing or data compression. In the end, as was mentioned earlier much of the ‘free’ software emanates from the open source community. Thus it would be unfair if we did not give them the credit to the fabulous community of altruists working overtime to set us free. As long as this vibrant community is working, we can be sure of one thing there will be a lot more lists like this in the coming days.
(This article of mine had been recently published in Dataquest)