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Tech Savvy for Oct. 23, 2008

by Dan Harper

    If the experts are to be believed, business startups need a fortune in seed capital.  If this was the case back at the turn of the century, small businesses wouldn′t have started, much less become the very thing that has made this country great.

    This is the second of the five part series on technology in small business, and this week we′ll cover office suites.  An office suite is a family of applications that generally include a word processor, spreadsheet, database, and presentation modules.  In Microsoft Office, these are known as Word, Excel, Access, and Powerpoint respectively.  While the emphasis will be on Windows software, Mac and Linux versions are available.

    A business needs an office suite, but Microsoft Office costs $499.95 for the package you need, and more if you do anything fancy. Cheaper alternatives include Corel WordPerfect X4 (yes, it′s still around) for $399, Sun Microsystems′ Star Office for $79.95, and ThinkFree Office 3 for $50.

    IBM Lotus Symphony is the latest offering of a decent and mature product. The Lotus software line began in 1983 and today it is a well rounded product with a mild learning curve. IBM offers this product for free at symphony.lotus.com.

    Competition started Star Office too.  In the 90s Sun Microsystems wanted to undermine Microsoft, so they bought a German software company who had a product that worked like Microsoft Office.  As time went on, Sun made more and more improvements, and according to many of its users, now it′s better than Office in many ways.

    The project later split into two branches.  Star Office is a top notch office suite with excellent support from Sun.  Open Office, does nearly as much and is free, though you will have to pay for support if you need it.  It is available for download at www.openoffice.org.  We made the switch to Open Office a couple of years ago, and there was practically no learning curve.

    Software hosted on a server and used through the Internet is a relatively new trend.  Examples include Quickbooks Online, Microsoft Office Online, Deskaway (www.deskaway.com), Google Docs (docs.google.com), Zoho Office (www.zoho.com), and Think Free (www.thinkfree.com).  The advantage is that the document is available on any computer and only one version of the document is flying around no matter how many people are collaborating on it.  The disadvantage is that you′re relying on an online service.  If something goes wrong, you may not have access or the ability to use the documents you created.  Many of these are free to play with, but pay for serious use.

    Next issue we′ll cover creative software.  Between Adobe Creative Suite Master Collection ($2499.95 on discount) and Autocad LT 2009 ($4699.95), you can spend $7200 plus, or save your money and use free or low cost alternatives!

    Got an idea for a business?  Talk to the Small Business Administration (SBA). You′d be surprised at the amount of resources available at the SBA website. They have everything from forms, contacts, advice, and

training just a click away at www.sba.gov.