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Tech Savvy for Oct. 30 2008

Creative Software

 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 have made this country great.

    This is the third of a five part series on technology in small business, and this week we′re covering creative software.  Creative software is used to draw, design, and visualize.  It’s everything from desktop publishing to  Computer Aided Design (CAD).  High end software we can replace with low cost alternatives include Autodesk′s legendary AutoCAD LT 2009 (www.autodesk.com) and the Adobe Creative Suite (CS4) bundle from Adobe (www.adobe.com).

    One reader asked: “…by what measure do you gauge the equivalence of open source or free software and an industry standard like MS Office?”  Three factors:  • Can I do everything I did with an expensive product using a free one?  • Will there be a learning curve?  • Can I share documents with those who still use standard software?  Much of the answers to these questions depend on what you really do with the software, but for 99% of readers the products are functionally equivalent.

    First the bad news.  If you are used to AutoCAD, nothing else works in quite the same way, though this applies even to different versions of AutoCAD.  The good news is that there are excellent low cost and even free alternatives.  X-11 CAD Pro from Graytech Software (www.graytechsoftware.com) for $29.95 is a serious contender.  If 3D modeling is your thing, AC3D by inivis (www.inivis.com) for $79.95 lets you design things in 3D.  It works nothing like AutoCAD… it is much easier to learn.  TurboCAD Deluxe (www.turbocad.com) is also good choice for $129.95.  All three of these can read and write AutoCAD′s .dxf file format.  BRL-CAD (brlcad.org) is the clear winner in the free category.  It′s had 20 years of active development and is more capable than anything else.  The learning curve is a bit steep, but it was designed by the US military for their internal use and has the feel of a mature, polished product.  Graytech′s X-11 CAD Free edition is a good choice too, though it limits you a little compared to Pro.

    Adobe CS4 is much easier to replace. GIMP (www.gimp.org)is an open

source graphics editor on par with Photoshop.  Adobe Illustrator can be replaced with Inkscape (www.inkscape.org), and InDesign has an open source counterpart named Scribus (www.scribus.net). Pagemill and Dreamweaver′s functionality can be replaced with Nvu (net2.com/nvu).  All of these are free to download.  The only thing you′ll lose by using separate programs is integration, and most folks never use those capabilities, since these are some of the most poorly documented features.

    Next week we′ll talk about more cheap and free software, look at real numbers for a business startup, and discuss other advantages of open source software in a small business.  Got an idea for a business? Talk to the Small Business Administration (SBA). and see the resources available at the SBA website.  They have everything from forms, contacts, advice, and training just a click away at www.sba.gov.