Switching from proprietary to open source applications can do several things for a small business. Compared to their proprietary counterparts, open source apps are often more stable, cheaper, and have a large community that offers support for the small businesses that are utilizing them. Here are three you should be using in your small business.

Mozilla Firefox

I’ve been using this browser since it was called Firebird way back when. I stopped for a bit last year in favor of Chromium, but I’m back. Tweaking privacy settings is fairly easy; there are a plethora of plugins available for it; and it’s cross platform. I can use Firefox in Linux (my usual situation) in Windows, and on my Android phone. There’s a Mac version too, but the only Mac I use is an iPad that I get by being on the local school board. Safari is fine for the little browsing I do on that rig.

You can grab it on Mozilla.org’s Firefox page for free. I suggest the Echofon plugin (if you’re on Twitter) and the Cookie Whitelist plugin. The second one takes a backward approach to cookies. Rather than blocking the ones you don’t want (which would be quite a list) this plugin allows you to only accept cookies from sites you DO want. It’s a much easier list to maintain.

Some trouble you might have are vendor websites and online tools that only work in IE. If your vendor wants to keep your business, then I suggest you get them to make their stuff cross platform. When I run into such an app or website, I wonder what it’s doing that REQUIRES Internet Explorer and Windows. Seems like it’s probably making calls to my operating system that might be a security risk. In addition, these sites and tools also completely useless on the majority of mobile devices. That’s a sizable chunk of the public to ignore. Do you want to do business with an ignorant vendor?

OpenOffice and LibreOffice

These two apps (I’m counting them as one) are very similar at this point. There was some sort of disagreement I guess and lots of people who were working on OpenOffice left the team and started up LibreOffice. I’ve gone with them and use LibreOffice exclusively, mostly because Oracle getting involved when they bought Sun (who originally started OpenOffice) makes me nervous. Their recent shenanigans between Oracle and Google over Android and Java code only cements this concern.

But the fact is that either of these apps will open most documents created in Microsoft Office, and will open them well. Macros will likely cause problems. I hardly ever run into them, and so haven’t had the pleasure of trying to make them work. Generally, if I run into a spreadsheet that is beginning to require even too many formulas, I start looking to change things over to some sort of database (MySQL or PostgreSQL) based application. A browser based database app (one that runs is Firefox, remember?) is usually best.

One of the handiest features of these office apps is the “export to pdf” button. One click, and BAM! Instant pdf file, ready for emailing. Speaking of emailing…

Mozilla Thunderbird

Another app from Mozilla, Thunderbird is a powerful alternative to Outlook, complete with calendar capabilities if you need them. I successfully hooked it up to a Google calandar (until the school board gave me the iPad) without a problem. I’ve been using it to check email since it came out, and have all but one person using it where I work now. My favorite setup is with IMAP servers, since I can see the same thing on one computer (received AND sent emails) that I can on another.

These three apps will make any small business formidable, and they each cost nothing. Get familiar with them and you’ll do well.