Do you pay for software and online services?

Software and services collage

It’s possible to run a small office/home office (SOHO) set-up with a completely free operating system, software and internet services… but do you? Are there any commercial packages or paid online services you consider ‘must-haves’? I thought I’d quickly run through my paid/free stance and I’d love to hear your thoughts although I don’t think we need to get into a discussion on ‘acquiring’ commercial software for free.

Free operating system

If you run a Linux system, you’ll be familiar with free operating systems and open source software. I run Ubuntu Netbook Edition on my Acer Aspire netbook and I’m just about to try out Linux Mint on my second desktop. What holds me back from completely moving to Linux is my day job where I have to be able to work on Microsoft Word files. More on that later. I’m running Windows 7 on one desktop. Of course in the Windows world, once you’ve bought the OS, you can run a completely free set-up too.

Free software

I run a small office/home office (SOHO) set-up and work from home. Pretty much all the software I use is free or open source. However, I do some work in the publishing sector and they still rely very much on Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat. Many authors submit work in Word doc format (rarely docx I find) and authors and publishers usually expect work to be returned in doc format with Track Changes turned on. It’s a real shame that open source software hasn’t really caught on in the publishing field yet. So I have to use Microsoft Office to cope with clients who use commercial software. Yes, you could convert Word doc format to Open Office Writer odt format, turn on track changes in Open Office Writer then convert back to doc format but there’s always a worry that some formatting/changes will be lost in conversion. So for work, I have to use MS Word on my desktop running Windows 7. There’s a good recent discussion on office software, free and commercial, at How-To Geek.

The only other paid software I use on my Windows system is an old copy of Serif PagePlus for DTP and Serif PhotoPlus for photo editing. I haven’t upgraded these in years – the old copies I have are just fine. But a quick look on the AlternativeTo website shows that I could move to Scribus as a free alternative for DTP and there are lots of free alternatives (software and online services) for photo editing.

But for many working from home on a Windows system, I’m sure it’s possible to find all you need if you look at free software alternatives and online services. By the way, I don’t believe it’s necessary to pay for security software either. If you’re running a Window system, Microsoft Security Essentials is free for you and is probably all you need for real-time protection. If you’re running a Linux system, you probably don’t need any antimalware software.

Free services

Every online service I use is free…so far, although I don’t expect it to remain that way in the future. We’ve had it good so far. Like many of you I’m sure, I use a good spread of Google apps. Yes, they’re free but the downside is targeted ads, which I don’t mind, and the knowledge that they’re building up a fair old archive of information on you. So I try to use good alternatives to Google services when I can.

So over to you. Do you use a free OS? Is there any commercial software you must have on your Windows system? What about online services – anything you’re paying for? Drop a comment below.

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