I‚Äôve been a fairly big proponent of open source software for some time.¬† For those of you not familiar with the open source movement, it‚Äôs the idea that many developers across the world, working together through peer reviews, can develop evolving, superior products.¬†
Open Source software are typically described as ‚Äúprojects,‚ÄĚ rather than products, as there are typically many more releases/revisions than commercially driven products, and there are many more collaborators, who often contribute a small amount of their time.¬† Open Source projects are typically labors of love for programmers.
You probably already use some open source products.¬† Firefox is extremely popular, in a large part because it is open source.¬† The reason there are so many cool add-ons and extensions for Firefox is because the source is ‚Äúopen‚ÄĚ to other developers to put together these cool tools.¬†
In contrast, Internet Explorer has little in the way of customization because Bill Gates et al don‚Äôt want anyone messing with their code.¬† The same rings true for WordPress -‚Äď lots of extensions/add-ons because it‚Äôs open source.¬† You‚Äôll notice that the larger a project is, the more stable the releases, and the more customizations that are available.¬† Be careful of really small projects unless you like tinkering and are ready to invest some time.
One of the most attractive aspects of open source is the price: It‚Äôs free!
Developers make money by offering support and charging to develop custom extensions that users want.¬† However, for basic users, you can typically find all the support you need on the project forums, and you probably won‚Äôt want any customizations unless you get really into a project (I‚Äôll admit, I‚Äôve had a few WordPress plug-ins put together for me.)¬† Since times are tight, this is extremely attractive proposition.¬†
Here are a few open source projects that Realtors, specifically, will find useful:
Open Office is the open source alternative to Microsoft Office.¬† They‚Äôve done a bang up job, as well.¬† You can open and save files in pre-2007 formats, but it‚Äôs still a little tough in the .x formats.¬† However, there are hacks around it (or you can just ask your friends with 2007 to please save in the old format.)¬† You can configure Open Office to always save files in Microsoft friendly formats.¬† The difficulty level is easy.
Thunderbird is managed by Mozilla, which is the same group that puts together Firefox (so you know it‚Äôs good.)¬† If you still use a desktop client to manage email, Thunderbird is more feature rich than Outlook Express, and is only missing a couple of the features of Office Outlook.¬† With some moderately difficult tweaking, you can run mail merges from Thunderbird to Open Office.¬† Installation and running is extremely easy.
Infinite Responder is more difficult to install than either of the above mentioned products (which are basically click, click, done,) but gives you the opportunity to save the most money.¬† I checked out more than a few subscription auto-responders, which can run ~$30/month, as well as email blast services, which can run in the hundreds/month depending on volume.¬† Infinite Responder has the basic functionality that these services offer, but for free.¬† In order to set it up, you need to have a hosting plan and know how to configure a mysql database ‚Äď or you can hire the developer to install it for you for a one time $30 fee.
There are many, many open source projects available that are typically easy to use, and easy to install.¬† Visit Open Source Windows and OSAlt to see if there‚Äôs anything available that you need ‚Äď there probably is!