50 Must-Have Open Source Apps for Your Home Office

Tuesday Jun 21st 2011 by Cynthia Harvey
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Open source apps for most every home office task, most of which function on Windows.

These days, more and more people work at home at least part of the time. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than half of the 29.6 million small businesses in the country are home-based.

If you add to those figures the number of people who telecommute to their jobs part of the time, the Telework Research Network estimates that between 20 to 30 million people work from home at least once a week. And WorldatWork claims that approximately 44 million Americans work at home at least one day a year.

Whether they work for themselves, a small business or a large multinational corporation, all of these workers need good software for their home offices. And many of these people who work at home don't have a lot of money to spend on that software -- especially if they work for themselves.

With those workers in mind, we've created a list of open source applications that are the most helpful for home offices. Unlike many of our other Datamation lists, we've kept the number of applications in each category small—usually just the one or two top apps in each category. Nearly all of this software will run on Windows, and these are some of the most mature and user-friendly open source applications available. If you're reasonably tech-savvy, you should be able to set up and use any of these apps.

Also, recognizing that home office computers get used for more than just work, we've included a mix of business software, utilities, and "fun" apps for those times when you need a break.

As always, if you'd like to recommend another open source app that we've missed, feel free to add a comment below.

Accounting

1. Front Accounting

If you run a business from your home office, consider this easy-to-use Web-based accounting system with some ERP features. You can install it on your own Web server or pay a fee to use the on-demand version. Operating System: OS Independent.

2. GnuCash

GnuCash works well for very small businesses and/or for tracking your personal finances. It can import data from Quicken, and it offers good reporting capabilities. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Backup

3. Areca Backup

Ideal for daily backup, Areca is user-friendly and very versatile. It supports compression and encryption, as well as incremental, differential, full and delta backup. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

4. Redo

While many backup solutions only store your data files, Redo saves a complete image of your system to a thumb drive or CD. It takes a little longer to create these backup files, but it gives you the ability to do a bare metal restore if your system experiences massive failure. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

Blogging

5. WordPress

Used by more than 25 million people, WordPress is a tremendously popular blogging platform. It's owners describe it as "both free and priceless at the same time." Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Browser

6. Firefox

Available in both desktop and mobile versions, Firefox offers ease-of-use, fast performance, advanced security and many customization and personalization features. According to StatCounter, about 30 percent of the people browsing the Internet use Firefox. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Collaboration/Groupware

7. Collabtive This Basecamp alternative makes it easy to track projects, milestones and tasks. You can host it yourself or use the online SaaS version. Operating System: OS Independent.

Compression Utilities

8. PeaZip

If you need to compress, extract or encrypt a file, PeaZip does the job nicely. And it supports a huge number of archive file formats—it creates 12 different types and reads 133 different types. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

Desktop Publishing

9.Scribus

Most desktop publishing programs are very expensive, but Scribus offers the same features for free. Whether you need to create a press-ready four-color brochure design or you just need to make fliers about your upcoming block party, Scribus helps you create professional-looking documents. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

E-mail/Calendar

10. Thunderbird and Lightning

Together, Mozilla's Thunderbird and Lightning applications provide an alternative to Microsoft Outlook with e-mail, calendar, to-do list, etc. They offer an intuitive tabbed interface, spam protection and good search capabilities. Operating System: OS Independent.

11. Zimbra

If you have employees or partners and need a mail server for your home-based business, Zimbra offers an open source alternative to Microsoft Exchange. Users can access their mail accounts through the Web interface or the free desktop client that offers similar functionality as Microsoft Outlook. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Encryption

12. AxCrypt

Downloaded more than 2.2 million times, AxCrypt is the most popular open source encryption software for Windows. Simply right-click on a file in the Windows Explorer in order to encrypt it or double-click to decrypt. Operating System: Windows.

File Transfer

13. WinSCP

Downloaded more than 45 million times, WinSCP offers a very popular client for downloading files via FTP, FTPS or SFTP protocols. However, as the name suggests, it only supports Windows. Operating System: Windows.

14. FileZilla

If you're on Linux or a Mac, try the FileZilla ftp client. And this site also includes a Windows server version if you want to set up your own ftp server. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Games

15. Enigma

In this puzzle game, the goal is to uncover matching pairs of Oxyd stones while avoiding various traps and obstacles. With more than 1,000 levels, it will keep you busy for a long time. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X.

16. Frozen Bubble

This extremely addictive game offers one-player or multi-player play. Shoot the cannon and pop the bubbles. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

17. PokerTH

Downloaded more than a million times, this version of Texas Hold 'Em offers a very nice interface. You can play against up to ten computer-generated or online opponents. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

18. SokoSolve

Another addictive puzzle game, SokoSolve is a Sokoban game, where you push crates around in order to achieve various objectives. The rules are simple, but the puzzles can be tougher than you expect. Operating System: Windows.

Graphics

19. Dia

Similar to Microsoft's Visio, Dia helps you create org charts, network diagrams, flowcharts and similar types of documents. It creates XML files by default, but can also export to EPS, SVG, XFIG, WMF, PNG and some other graphic file formats. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

20. Gimp

Similar to Adobe's Photoshop, Gimp is a photo manipulation program that's full-featured enough for professional photographers and graphic designers, but user-friendly enough for amateurs. Key capabilities include a full set of painting tools, sub-pixel sampling, powerful gradient and blend tools, full alpha channel support, layers, quickmask, transformable paths and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

21. Inkscape

Like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw and Xara X, Inkscape is a professional-quality vector graphics drawing program. You can use it to create your own logos, technical drawings and other types of artwork. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Instant Messaging

22. Pidgin

Used by millions of people, Pidgin lets you chat with friends on 16 different IM networks, all at the same time. It supports many of the features unique to the different networks it supports, and it has a large library of plug-ins that extend its capabilities further. However, it doesn't support OS X. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

23. Adium

For those using Macs, Adium offers most of the same capabilities as Pidgin. Operating System: OS X.

Invoicing

24. Simple Invoices

Available as a Windows desktop download, in a Web server version or in a hosted cloud version, Simple Invoices makes it easy for very small businesses or organizations to bill their clients. It's browser-based, includes reporting capabilities and sends invoices as PDFs for a professional look. Operating System: OS Independent.

25. Argentum

Argentum offers a slightly larger feature set than Simple Invoices, for those who also want to track client billing and shipping information, employee time, do simple budgeting and more. It's also available as a free download or in a paid hosted version. Operating System: OS Independent.

Mind Mapper

26. FreeMind

Mind-mapping software makes it easy to create diagrams that show the relationships between ideas and words. It's a great tool for brainstorming sessions, project management and outlining long documents. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Portable Applications

27. PortableApps.com

You don't have to be on your own PC to use your favorite open-source software—PortableApps.com packages many of the most popular apps so that you can take them with you on a thumb drive. The standard suite includes Firefox, OpenOffice.org, Pidgin and nine other apps, but dozens of other portable open source apps are also available on the site. Operating System: Windows.

Miscellaneous

28. RedNotebook

RedNotebook combines a calendar with a free-form journal for keeping tracking of upcoming events or recording your thoughts. Features include searching, templates, word clouds, automatic saves and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

MultiMedia

29. VLC Media Player

One of the most popular open source multimedia players, VLC plays most audio and video files, CDs, DVDs, streams and more. It also includes some helpful file conversion tools and a streaming tool. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

30. Songbird

An open source alternative to Apple's iTunes, Songbird helps you mange, play, purchase and sync your music and video files. It comes in both a desktop version and a mobile version for Android devices. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X, Android.

Office Productivity

31. OpenOffice.org

Recently moved from Oracle's management to the Apache Software Foundation, OpenOffice.org offers an open source alternative to Microsoft Office. It includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics and database software, and it reads and writes to Microsoft Office file formats. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

32. LibreOffice When some developers became unsatisfied with Oracle's handling of OpenOffice.org, they created this fork. It includes all the same functionality and programs as OpenOffice.org with some slight modifications and a few additional features. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

33.WriteType

If your children use your home office PC to write school reports (and of course, they do), you may want to check out WriteType. It's a word processor with special features for young students, like word completion, read back, highlighting, grammar and spell check, and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

PDF Tools

34. PDFedit

You don't have to purchase expensive Adobe software in order to make modifications to existing PDF files. PDFedit lets you edit text, delete and renumber pages, add markup and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

35. Sumatra

This alternative to Adobe Reader boots up fast and offers a very simple interface. In addition to PDF files, it also reads XPS, DjVu, CBZ and CBR files. Operating System: Windows.

Project Management

36. OpenProj

Downloaded more than 1.5 million times by users in over 100 countries, OpenProj is a very popular free alternative to Microsoft Project. Supported reports include Gantt, PERT, WBS (work breakdown structure), RBS (resource breakdown structure), Earned Value costing and other charts. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Security

37. Untangle

If you're reasonable technically savvy, you can download the Untangle Lite software and use it to create your own gateway security appliance out of an old PC. It includes anti-virus, anti-spam, anti-spyware, phishing protection, OpenVPN, a firewall, intrusion prevention and more. If you're less technically savvy, the company also offers paid versions of the software that add more features and support. Operating System: Linux.

38. Endian Firewall Community

Endian offers the same gateway security functionality as Untangle. You can download the community version to use a PC to create your own appliance, or you can purchase a pre-configured appliance that comes with support. Operating System: Linux.

39. ClamWin

If you're not on a network, ClamWin can provide good antivirus protection for a single system. It boasts more than 600,000 active users. Simply right-click on a file to scan it or use the scheduler to plan a full scan of your entire system. Operating System: Windows.

40. KeePass

Using the same password all the time is dangerous, but remembering multiple passwords can be difficult. KeePass offers a solution—an encrypted database that stores all of your passwords. All you have to remember is one master password. Operating System: Windows.

Time Tracking

41. eHour

If you bill clients for work performed by the hour, eHour makes the process easy. You can track multiple clients, multiple projects, multiple workers and assign multiple hourly rates. It comes in both a standalone version for a single system or a server version for your network. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Web Site Development

42. Joomla

Powering 2.7 percent of all the websites on the Web, this Web content management system is both very popular and very easy to use. Paid support and paid hosting are available on the site. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

43. Drupal

Extremely flexible, Drupal powers both very large sites filled with Web apps and very small blogs. It includes more than 10,000 modules and more than 1,000 themes to help you create your website. It's also the content management system used by the White House. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

44. Nvu

Calling itself the "#1 free Web authoring system," Nvu aims to make it easy to design your own Web pages. For newbies, the site also explains how to get your own Web domain and has links to Web hosting companies. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Utilities

45. BleachBit

BleachBit speeds up your system and protects your privacy by cleaning out your cache, erasing your Internet history, and deleting cookies, temporary files, logs and other unnecessary files. It also includes a file "shredder" that completely eliminates all traces of deleted files. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

46. PNotes

This fast and lightweight app lets you leave yourself virtual sticky notes on your desktop. It also offers features like scheduling, audio notes, encryption, password protection, tabs, smilies, transparency and more. Operating System: Windows.

47. Electric Sheep

When you have this app running on your system, your computer will communicate with thousands of other systems around the world to create interesting abstract animations. Vote for your favorite animations, and they'll live on longer. The name comes from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

48. Really Slick Screensavers

If you're looking for a screensaver that's a little bit out of the ordinary, check out Really Slick. It includes a dozen different colorful (and sometimes nausea-inducing) screensavers. Operating System: Windows.

49. Eraser

It's not enough to delete sensitive files from your system—in many cases they can be recovered with forensics tools. However, Eraser can "shred" your files by writing over them with random data so that they cannot be recreated. Operating System: Windows.

50. Darik's Boot And Nuke

If you're getting rid of an older PC from your home office, make sure you completely erase the hard drive before donating it or throwing it away. Start up your computer with a Darik's Boot and Nuke disk in a drive, it will destroy all the information you had on all of the drives in your system. Operating System: OS Independent.

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