25 Best Business Software Tools and Web Services

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FileMaker Pro is more intuitive than Access, with many prebuilt templates to get you started.
FileMaker Pro

Access is a part of many editions of Microsoft Office, but if you don't already have that database program in your toolkit, consider springing for FileMaker Pro instead. This database application is more intuitive than Access, while offering high-end features like live SQL data source support and easy Web-publishing capabilities, so your whole team can access the database via a browser. And its array of prebuilt templates helps you get up and running in no time. ($299)

E-Commerce Service

Yahoo Small Business

You'd be surprised at some of the sophisticated things being done with the simple e-commerce service at Yahoo Small Business. Yahoo provides everything from templates and wizards to credit-card processing and sales-tax collection. If you sell less than 50,000 units, this is definitely one of the easiest and quickest ways to go online. Even better: A small army of third-party developers stands ready to create Web designs that work specifically with the service. ($40/month and up, plus transaction fees)



If you have Microsoft Office, you already have Outlook, the industry-standard e-mail app. But if you're looking to save a buck and still get most of Outlook's features, Thunderbird is a capable, free alternative. Message tagging and a speedy, integratedsearch system actually offer a few improvements over off-the-rack Outlook. (free)

Yahoo's Zimbra Desktop includes an impressive calendar as well as e-mail and contact tools.
Yahoo Zimbra Desktop

Another interesting, non-Outlook e-mail option is Zimbra Desktop, which Yahoo acquired earlier this year. In simple terms, the Zimbra Desktop is an offline version of Zimbra's capable Web-based e-mail manager. It includes everything a small-business user needs: a contact manager, an impressive calendar, a to-do list, and even a simple, integrated document manager for quick note-taking. (free)

E-Mail Marketing

Topica provides an affordable e-marketing platform.

Don't call it spam: Communicating via e-mail with your customers is cool, as long as they opt in. Topica has been in the e-mail marketing/mailing-list game for years, and most spam filters are pretty kind to messages that are sent through its service. Topica is also one of the most affordable of such e-mail marketing platforms that you can find on the Web--and it sure beats running a mailing list server yourself. ($50 per month and up depending on e-mail volume)


Instant Messaging


You don't have to run four different instant-messaging applications just to communicate with your clients and with everyone in your office. Multiprotocol software like Pidgin allows you to communicate with users across more than a dozen IM services: Not just AIM, ICQ, and other biggies, but also lesser-known ones like Gadu-Gadu (it's Polish) and Zephyr. Trillian is similar, but it supports fewer services. (free)


Zoho Invoice offers simple, flexible Web-based billing.
Zoho Invoice

Don't need a full-fledged accounting app like QuickBooks? Zoho Invoice is a near-perfect Web-based solution for managing simple billing needs. Create and manage customer accounts, build invoices, and then print or e-mail them with a mouse click. You can also tie in your use of Invoice with Zoho's other, extra-cost business services. See our full review of Zoho Invoice. (free to $35 per month depending on invoice quantity)


Mobile Device Remote Access

SoonR Desktop

It's one thing to be stuck in an airport without access to a critical file back at the office, but what if you don't even have access to a computer? Enter SoonR, which lets you snag files from your PC or Mac via a mobile phone. SoonR isn't built for serious data transfer needs--but it just might get you out of a jam when it counts. (free)

Office Suite

Microsoft Office

Like it or not, any business, big or small, probably needs at least one copy of Microsoft Office somewhere in the building. All of the suite's applications are simply too close to being industry standards to ignore. It can be pricey, but you likely needn't worry about upgrading to the latest version--anything produced since the turn of the century should do. ($85 to $400 per user, depending on version)

The OpenOffice productivity suite is mostly compatible with Microsoft Office.

Don't want to fork over beaucoup bucks for Office? We can't blame you--and this alternative suite will work for 95 percent of your productivity needs. OpenOffice.org is mostly compatible with Microsoft Office, and operations are similar enough that any Microsoft user should have no trouble using it. The big three apps--word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation tool--are all here, along with a simple database and drawing tool. One caveat: OpenOffice has trouble with Office 2007 files; but the imminent new version, OpenOffice 3, is said to remedy that limitation. (free)

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