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5 Ways to Save Money With Open Source Software

Open source software is often free to download and use. The open source model has become so popular that projects both small and large are being developed this way, resulting in viable alternatives to costly commercial software for both home and business.

Why spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on software? These days everyone is looking to save money. Using some creative thinking and learning a few new tools you can use open source projects to lower your costs.

1. Replace Windows with Linux
“The Ubuntu Linux desktop is an easy transition for Windows and Mac users.”

New PC’s usually come pre-loaded with Windows, so the Windows pricetag can be a hidden cost. You can pay well above $100 or more to upgrade Windows when a new release comes out. Plus, with several versions of Windows available, choosing the right one without overspending can be even more confusing.

Defending against viruses, spyware, and other forms of malware is another hidden cost of using Windows. Spending money on commercial anti-malware products or losing time and data recovering from an infection can both take a toll on your budget.

You no longer need to be a computer wizard to use Linux. The most popular version of Linux today is called Ubuntu Linux and to the naked eye, it looks and operates very much like Windows. Many popular applications you use on Windows like Firefox and Thunderbird are also available for Linux or have similar alternatives (see #2).

Although Ubuntu Linux is not the only version of Linux available, it is a great choice for anyone accustomed to Windows. Unlike Windows, Linux is not a target for viruses and spyware. You do not need to run any anti-virus software or spend money on security products.

2. Find Open Source Alternatives to Commercial Software
Many popular, commercial software products that normally cost a bundle can now be matched by free, open source alternatives. Open source software is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Some applications even run on all three. Here are just a few examples:

– Microsoft Outlook users can try using Mozilla Thunderbird.

– Microsoft Office suite users can use OpenOffice or LibreOffice for word processing, spreadsheet, database, and presentation projects.

– Adobe Photoshop users can create graphics and edit digital images with The GIMP.

– Adobe Acrobat users can create PDF documents for free in Windows using PDFCreator.

– Many more alternatives can be found here.

3. Combine Open Source with the Cloud
If you are a business, running hosted applications can be very expensive. For example, hosting a Microsoft Exchange server to provide e-mail and scheduling services for a company can typically cost about $5 per user per month. That is $500 per month for a company with 100 users.

Consider one alternative scenario, using the open source Zimbra messaging platform and the Amazon EC2 cloud hosting service. Although EC2 pricing varies with usage, you could reasonably expect to pay less than $500 for the whole year of e-mail hosting using this combination compared to Exchange. Of course, this savings path is not for beginners-you’ll need expertise to get the system setup, or pay someone who can, but in the long run the savings can still be substantial.

The same principle could apply to other enterprise services including CRM and even web hosting.

4. Use Asterisk to Create a Corporate VoIP System
Corporations pay good money for sophisticated PBX systems. These telephone networks do everything from route calls to employee extensions, to providing automated voice menu systems for callers, and managing call center support lines. Whether you are a 10,000 employee enterprise, a small business, or just a one-person operation working from home, you can have all the sophistication of a telephone exchange using Asterisk.

Asterisk is free and open source software for developing a business communications system. The software can be intimidating at first, in part because it is not one point-and-click system but a toolbox of features that can be combined to solve different types of scenarios. There are books and expert consultants available to help setup Asterisk, and even though these will cost money, your total expenditure will be much less than any commercial PBX.

5. Have Fun with Open Source Games
“Screenshot from 0 A.D., the free open source game of ancient warfare by Wildfire Games
Playing the latest and greatest video games can be great fun for you or your kids, but hard on your wallet. At $30-$50 apiece, commercial game prices add up quickly. There is a whole world of free and open source games to keep you occupied (or someone you’d like to be occupied) for a long time.

Despite what some people might think, open source games are not limited to rudimentary graphics. Here are three that easily rival more expensive commercial games:

– Cube 2: Sauerbraten: A first-person shooter with complex graphics in an immersive 3D environment. A fun way to release some tension!
– 0 A.D.: Real-time strategy game set in an historical context. Control armies, invade foreign lands, and developer Risk-like strategies to conquer the (ancient) world.

– FlightGear: Full-fledged accurate flight simulator with hundreds of aircraft to choose from, ranging from bi-planes to modern jumbo jets. Realistic 3D graphics will make anyone with a fear of flying instantly feel woozy.

Windows users can find hundreds more free open source games, from puzzles to card games to racing, to while away the hours without breaking the bank, or even spending a dime.

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