You don’t always need to have expensive software installed on your computer.
From image-editing programmes to free online office suites and calendars that you use in your browser or smart-phone, a quick online search will find lots of free tools that can replace a lot of your desktop software, or serve a niche requirement to your business.
To get you started, we take a look at our favourite top ten free online tools for your business!
1. Google Drive – drive.google.com
We start with three different applications from Google. Google Drive used to be known as Google Docs until it extended its service to be a free file-storage facility too.
Drive gives you a free alternative to Microsoft Office: a Word Processor, Spreadsheet and presentation software with pretty much all the functionality of Word, Excel and Powerpoint – but with the added attraction that everything you create is stored online and (as it works in a web browser) you don’t have to download any software to your computer to access it. So, take notes in a meeting on your office computer, then go home and sign-in on your laptop and all your work files are there for you edit and access. You can also import and export files in Microsoft formats, or if someone else is using Google Drive, share the document direct to their account. Amazing!
2. Google Calendar – www.google.com/calendar
Another great free resource from Google is Google Calendar, and once you have signed up for one Google account, all Google tools are then available for you to use. Google calendar is built around the iCal calendar format, meaning you can either use it in your browser or “sync” it with your phone’s own inbuilt calendar software. So add an appointment when you are out and about on your phone, then when you log-in back at the office the appointment will also have been added there too.
You can link a number of different calendars, and calendars of friends and colleagues. Great if you need to manage meetings and appointments for a number of different people working together.
3. Google Alerts – www.google.com/alerts
The final Google tool we’re mentioning here is Google Alerts. Alerts is a very simple but powerful tool that will email you whenever Google picks up new websites, stories or content about specific keywords that you set.
If you want to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing, or pick up news for a certain geographical area then this will save you a lot of time of regularly searching the internet.
Google Alerts groups all the results into a single email report for the day, so it won’t flood your inbox if you have chosen a very active keyword.
4. Pixlr – www.pixlr.com/editor
Pixlr is pushing our expectations of what free online software can do. With no need to sign-up for an account, and no need to install any software, the Pixlr Editor gives you an image editor comparable to Adobe Photoshop but without the massive price tag.
If you are a user of Photoshop you will instantly recognise the Pixlr interface, with an almost identical toolbar, layer and history pallet and a whole suite of filters and tools to either edit your photographs or create graphics from scratch.
Pixlr can also import files created in Photoshop, but exports in either its own “PXD” format or the usual “flat formats” of JPG, PNG, TIFF, BMP or export your photos direct to your social media sites. For those who are less experienced with image editing software, there are also two more versions. Express: http://pixlr.com/express/ which has a very simplified interface more suited to tablets; and O-matic: http://pixlr.com/o-matic/ which works more like applications such as Instagram.
5. Dafont – www.dafont.cm
Dafont is the leading free font resource used by professional designers.
If you want a new, different or just really cool new font then you can browse through the site’s repository of thousands of fonts that are freeware, shareware, demo versions or public domain fonts.
The fonts are grouped by design type, most popular and newest – or you can just sit back and browse through thousands of fonts until you find one you like. The font can be downloaded in a single button-click and comes with all the relevant licencing information as a text file.
6. Bubble.us – www.bubbl.us
Bubble.us is a really handy tool for doing some creative brainstorming! With no need to sign-in you can instantly start creating mind-maps (a creative process where you start with a word or phrase in a bubble in the centre, and then branch out with different words and ideas into other bubbles) without having to manually draw in all the bubbles and arrows if you were to create them in Word or a traditional drawing programme.
Doing mind maps on your computer or tablet instead of on paper means you can edit them, rearrange them, or share them with other people. You can export your maps as JPEGs or PNGs and if you sign up for a free account then you can also save them for later – however, as long as you don’t clear out your browser cache it will save your diagram in a tab for a time.
7. Remember The Milk – www.rememberthemilk.com
Remember The Milk is a combined to-do list and reminder service in one. Completely free to use, once you have created an account you can then access it through your PC, or with dedicated Apps on iPhone, Android and Blackberry.
On setting a reminder or task though a very easy to use interface, RTM can send you reminders through your mobile app, by email, text message or an instant messaging service (such as Skype). Set up different lists for different areas of your life (you can have one group for work, and another for shopping for example!) as well as syncing the application with any calendars you currently use, such as Google Calendars or your phone’s inbuilt calendar system. Never forget the milk – or anything else you need to do – again!
8. Free OCR – www.free-ocr.com
A very powerful tool to capture text from a printed document. Simply scan the document and then upload the resulting JPEG (or PDF, BMP etc) to Free OCR, and a few seconds later you will be presented with the text from the JPEG which you can then copy and paste into whatever application you want to use.
It’s not perfect – the interface isn’t pretty and you still need to proof-read the generated text as it can mix-up commas and full stops for example – but in general the better quality of the scan, the better the result.
As very common on free web services, you have to get through a security “captcha” for each scan you upload. However, 10 seconds trying to translate random characters is better than the 10 minutes it would take you to type up a side of A4!
9. Survey Monkey – www.surveymonkey.com
Want to do easy customer surveys, or market research on a new product or service? Then Survey Monkey makes this amazingly easy to do online and (for the basic version) is completely free! Within seconds of signing up for an account you are lead through a remarkably simple interface where you can set up multiple-choice questions, ratings, check-box responses or just allow people to give text answers.
Once your survey is complete you can invite people to fill it out in a number of ways, from simply emailing your contact a link, letting Survey Monkey send the emails for you or integrate the survey into your Facebook page or website.
The power of Survey Monkey becomes clear once people start answering your questions though, allowing you to view the results in real-time, filtering the data down as you see fit or exporting into to various charts for detailed analysis.
10. The Design Mechanics domain name checker – www.thedesignmechanics.com/domains
Launching a new company, service or website but don’t know what domain names (website addresses) are available to buy? Usually, you want your domain name to match your company name so finding out what is available is very important.
The Design Mechanics’ domain name checker is a free, quick and easy tool where all you need to do is enter the domain you want to check (without the “www.” or the “.co.uk” / “.com”) and the checker will instantly let you know if the domain is available as a .co.uk or a .com. Once you’ve found an available domain you want, you can either buy this through your current domain name supplier or contact us direct and we will secure it for you!