I have a medical office customer who had a computer get infected with Malware yesterday.  This was a winXP machine, non-admin account locked down via a domain controller, and centrally administered A/V.  This computer is locked down so hard they can’t even install a printer without logging in as administrator.  The entire network is behind a $1500 firewall appliance, complete with it’s own paid antivirus and filtering subscription.

The malware completely “installed” a fake A/V, fakealert/loader, proxy, and began showing porn popups.  The customer was simply doing their job, going online getting insurance information.

This kind of malware is written to install without requiring true admin privilege, yet is not easily removed by folks not knowledgeable or well equipped.  The “malware” content isn’t really even detectable by any A/V, period, as it isn’t really a virus until after it runs.  But, it messes things up bigger than life when it does.

These kinds of malware basically can’t be stopped.  Day to day, amongst the networking and other stuff I do, maybe 80% is malware remediation.  80% of that is of the fake antivirus variety.


“New” Malware Behavior

I haven’t seen this one before – but apparently it’s not really new.

Generally it’s possible to sneak in a Ctrl-Alt-Del in order to launch a task manager in order to kill fake antivirus processes and then run cleanup progs.  This one has the task manager disabled from the get-go, giving an error saying the administrator has blocked it.  Either that’s a fake message or they’ve implemented some sort of group policy.  According to MS it’s either a group policy or a registry hack.

Even after “fixing” the disabled task manager it would not run, which is typical malware behavior even though it was no longer GP’d out.  Rebooting the comp re-disabled the taskman.


This was a much tougher fake A/V, this comp had a cocktail of malware that was blocking updates from the various cleaning app websites even though I was able to go to the respective websites.  Got it out though.

Underground Services Let Virus Writers Check Their Work

I have often recommended file-scanning services like VirusTotal and Jotti, which allow visitors to upload a suspicious file and scan it against dozens of commercial anti-virus tools. If a scan generates any virus alerts or red flags, the report produced by the scan is shared with all of the participating anti-virus makers so that those vendors can incorporate detection for the newly discovered malware into their products.

That pooling of intelligence on new threats also serves to make the free scanning services less attractive to virus authors, who would almost certainly like nothing more than to freely and simultaneously test the stealth of their new creations across a wide range of security software. Still, there is nothing to stop an enterprising hacker from purchasing a license for each of the anti-virus tools on the market and selling access to a separate scanning service that appeals to the virus-writing community.

Enter upstart file-scanning services like and, which bank on the guarantee that they won’t share your malware with the anti-virus community.


For $1 per file scanned (or a $40 monthly membership) will see if your file is detected by any of 22 anti-virus products, including AVAST, AVG, Avira, BitDefender, NOD32, F-Secure, Kaspersky, McAfee, Panda, Sophos, Symantec and Trend Micro. “Each of them is setten [sic] up on max heuristic check level,” av-check promises. “We guarantee that we don’t save your uploaded files and they are deleted immediately after the check. Also, we don’t resend your uploaded files to the 3rd person. Files are being checked only locally (without checking/using on other servers.” In other words: There is no danger that the results of these scans will somehow leak out to the anti-virus vendors.

The service claims that it will soon be rolling out advanced features, such as testing malware against anti-spyware and firewall programs, as well as a test to see whether the malware functions in a virtual machine, such as VMWare or VirtualBox. For safety and efficiency’s sake, security researchers often poke and prod new malware samples in a virtual environment. As a result many new families of malware are designed to shut down or destroy themselves if they detect they are being run inside of a virtual machine.


Virtest checks suspicious files against a similar albeit slightly different set of anti-virus programs, also promising not to let submitted files get back to the anti-virus vendors: “Your soft isn’t ever sent anywhere and the files being checked will never appear in the fresh AV signature bases after scanning,” the site pledges. “On purpose in all AV-products are turned off all possible methods and initiatives of exchange of files’ info with the AV-divisions.”

The proprietors of this service don’t even try to hide the fact that they have built it for malware writers. Among the chief distinguishing features of is the ability for malware authors to test “exploit packs,” pre-packaged kits that — when stitched into a malicious or hacked website — serve the visitor’s browser with a kitchen sink full of code designed to install software via one of several known security holes. Many anti-virus programs now also scan web pages for malicious content, and this service’s “exploits pack check” will tell malware authors whether their exploit sites are triggering virus alerts across a range of widely used anti-virus software.

But don’t count on paying for these services via American Express: Both sites only accept payment via virtual currencies such as Webmoney and Fethard, services that appear to be popular with the online shadow economy.

Investigative journalist Brian Krebs is a former reporter for The Washington Post, where he wrote the Security Fix blog. He’s currently editor of

Free and Cheap Software That Outdoes the Big Guys

Here are 15 (mostly free) applications that can credibly replace big-bucks software.

Part 1 of a special five-part series.

Ron White, PC World

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 10:00 PM PDT

People say the best things in life are free. That certainly includes software capable of doing just about everything that major commercial applications can do.

We’ve found 15 “giant killers” that compete well with behemoths such as Microsoft Office and Photoshop. Some of our selections are open-source software, while others are “junior” versions of commercial products, put out by the vendors themselves. All but one are free.

Lots of software companies release demo versions that are little more than teasers for the package they want you to buy. The apps from big-name vendors that we’ve included here are different: With one exception, they are neither “crippled” versions nor time-limited samplers that cease to work at just the wrong moment.

Our Davids are worthy challengers to the Goliaths of the industry. Read on to see how they can help you get work done–easily, and almost at no cost.

Office Suites, Business Applications

When it comes to giants in the land of software, none are as big and powerful as the titans of Microsoft. Of programs foolhardy enough to challenge them, few have returned to tell the tale. But the following programs, though small, possess incredible strength.

The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element office suite

Most programs that have tried to compete with Office have come from other large companies, such as Sun, with enough cash to try to one-up Microsoft just for bragging rights.

And then there’s Ssuite Office’s The Fifth Element. (Yes, “Ssuite” is spelled correctly, and, no, we’re not talking about a Bruce Willis movie.) The Fifth Element, which has come from South Africa to take on the Colossus of Redmond, is an office-application collection with a wider range than Microsoft Office has. Any decent suite can do word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and e-mail. The Fifth Element also includes a browser, plus tools for managing LANs, holding chats, and making calls using VoIP. For media-oriented tasks, it provides a drawing module, photo and album editors, sound recorders, and MP3 and video players. That’s not all–it has a search engine, a sort engine, an envelope printer, encryption, and a chess game, too, offering more than 30 programs overall. And if that’s not quite the right combination for you, Ssuite Office supplies several other office-software packages of various levels of complexity, all free.

For all its breadth, The Fifth Element is shallow–and that’s meant in the most complimentary sense. Most operations require you to go no more than a couple of clicks into a menu. The most common tasks neatly appear at the top levels of the screens, making for quick learning and use. The design is a welcome relief from the madly swirling, morphing menus in Microsoft Office 2007. One reason for the simplicity, beyond making The Fifth Element a snap to use, is that most of the programs appear to be frankenware, pieced together from publicly available code. That makes them a kludge, but they’re very nice kludges.

Download The Fifth Element (Free)


AbiWord word processor

What would Microsoft Word look like if you stripped it of all the buttons, features, and gimmicks you’ve never used, and if you kicked out the obnoxious menus that forced their way into the 2007 edition like rowdy wedding guests?

Such a stripped-down Word would remind many longtime users of the simpler, faster, easier Word of yesteryear. Instead of merely yearning for the old days, however, you can download a free copy of AbiWord, a Gnu open-source word processor that behaves much like a time capsule for Microsoft Word at its prime. Regardless of whether the unsung programmers who’ve developed AbiWord intentionally set out to resurrect an older, better word processor, that’s what they’ve done. And it just happens to work with older Word-document formats and older formats from other programs too (though not with the Word 2007 .docx format).

AbiWord’s screen is clean and uncluttered. In the space of two toolbars, AbiWord manages to put within reach 99 percent of the tasks just about anyone needs out of a word processor, including formatting, styles, layout, spelling check, and printing, as well as symbols, footnotes, mail merge, and hooks to insert art. If you do need something more esoteric, say, math formulas or language translations, you can add them with plug-ins, some of which are ready and waiting while others are under development. If you have a pressing unique need but you don’t even know how to program your microwave, you can always offer one of the dozens of programmers who volunteer on AbiWord a fee for custom work. Try that with Microsoft sometime.

Download AbiWord (Free)

Atlantis Nova

Atlantis Nova word processor

Open-source groups are not the source of all free software. Atlantis Nova, a commercial program from Sun Solutions, is a great little word processor that does everything–except charge you a bundle.

Atlantis Nova is a Microsoft Word competitor that adheres to the 10/90 theory of software design: It provides the 10 percent of word processing features that most people need to get 90 percent of their work done. And it’s small enough–684KB installed–to fit on a USB thumb drive.

While the free Nova version is not a total replacement for Microsoft Word, it is a delight to use in its own right. You handle most tasks outside of basic typing through icons, which you control by a switch that instantly flips you between two sets of three-line, icon-studded toolbars. Atlantis Nova is perfect for traveling with an underpowered and cramped notebook, and it’s not bad on a desktop machine either.

If you need to include specialized content (such as differential equations) in your documents or if you want to create indices and tables of references, you’d best look elsewhere, perhaps in the direction of the new Atlantis Word Processor, the brawnier big sibling of Nova, which costs $35 (with a 30-day free trial); it includes features such as automatic spelling-as-you-type, double precautions against losing documents, drag-and-drop functions, encryption, and a “control panel” to handle complex layouts.

Download Atlantis Nova (Free)

Pegasus Mail

Pegasus e-mail software

Microsoft has already declared that it won’t support Outlook Express beyond version 6.0. Your choices, as a result, are to stay with a program in its declining years (wondering when to pull the plug), to lay out $100 or more for stand-alone Outlook, or turn to an e-mail program of the open-source persuasion, such as Thunderbird. Wait a second, though: Thunderbird is the most well-known free e-mail program, but is it the best? Before you answer that, try Pegasus Mail.

If you’ve never heard of Pegasus, that may be because you don’t live in New Zealand, where it originated. The best reason to use this free program is that is has built-in protection against spam, viruses, Trojan horses, and other things that go bump in the Internet. But even without that heavy-duty security, it puts other e-mail software to shame. Although at first glance it looks like Outlook or Outlook Express without a calendar and to-do list, closer inspection unearths so many goodies that you’ll soon forget the lack of a mere calendar. After all, it has encryption, mail merge, multiple address books, annotations, notepads, the ability to circulate messages one person at a time for orderly sign-offs, and (bless it) error messages that offer enough information to help you actually figure out what’s wrong. If you want a certain feature that isn’t built in, chances are good that one of the scores of plug-ins its fans have concocted will do the trick.

You know, those of us in the exciting world of professional computer journalism usually don’t keep using software longer than necessary to write an informed review. Then it’s back to whatever we are more familiar with. Not this time: I kissed Outlook goodbye in favor of this fantastic creation.

Download Pegasus Mail (Free)


Kexi database software

Kexi is a Microsoft Access killer of the first caliber. It has one minor drawback: Under Windows you have a limit to the number of rows and tables you can create (at least until Kexi recoups its development costs). If you can live with that restriction, and you don’t mind going without tech support or a manual, go to town with Kexi (or switch to the unlimited Linux or FreeBSD versions). Your other alternative is pay $50 to release the Windows limitations and get support. If that seems a bit much, keep in mind that Access is $300 at retail. The $50 for Kexi won’t buy you the cheapest seat at a Little Feat concert.

And Kexi is well worth it, especially if you need to emphasize visuals in a database. Within minutes you can create a relational database with all the flexibility and versatility of Access but with greater ease. Like Access, Kexi creates the database structure in a series of tables–but without the fussiness that Access imposes in asking you to define far more things than you want to define. My favorite feature of Kexi is that it stores everything from tables to queries to forms in the database, so you can move or share the data and design by moving a single file.

You can use Kexi as a stand-alone or connected to relational SQL database servers. You’ll finally bump into limits, even in the full versions, if you keep pushing the complexity of your design, but Kexi is still a database that fills a deep hole.

Download Kexi (Free demo; $50)


Gnumeric spreadsheet

You’ll find absolutely nothing fancy, colorful, exciting, or gee-whiz about the open-source spreadsheet Gnumeric.

But do you believe that a thesaurus is essential to crunching numbers? Microsoft’s Excel has a thesaurus. Gnumeric doesn’t. How about translating from one language to another? You can do so in Excel. You can’t in Gnumeric. Do you need to calculate the modified Besseli function in (x)? Excel lets you. Gnumeric…oh, hold it…Gnumeric will, too. In fact, when you get down to the more obscure spreadsheet operations that I, and possibly you, have never heard of before, Gnumeric can be as esoteric as the best of spreadsheets.

The important thing is whether Gnumeric gives the right answers. Frankly, I’m no judge when it comes to financial derivatives, Monte Carlo simulations, linear and nonlinear equations, or, for that matter, balancing my checkbook. Gnumeric’s developers had math whizzes in to check the program out, and this application got the same answers as the high-priced spreadsheet did, only faster.

I do give credit to Excel for its fancier and more colorful graphs and charts, no mean consideration if you hope to get approval for your new project by wowing the board with drop-dead graphics instead of merely dead numbers. For pure number-wrangling ability, however, Gnumeric makes installing Excel unnecessary.

Download Gnumeric (Free)

2D and 3D Graphics Tools

Photo and 3D editing tools are the most expensive applications on the market, with some costing many thousands of dollars. Several alternatives, however, do a very good job and cost you nothing.


PhotoFiltre image editing software

Photoshop’s popularity is as high as its list price, a stunning $999. (That’s “stunning” as in Taser.) You can, of course, find that package for less, even for free if you are willing to prowl the Internet’s dark alleys looking for a literal steal. PhotoFiltre, on the other hand, will make you an honest artist/designer/photographer, and you don’t have to hock your grandmother’s wedding ring–or your soul–to enjoy it.

The important difference between PhotoFiltre and the more elaborate Photoshop is PhotoFiltre’s simplicity–in use, not in what it can accomplish. Its tools and menus, for one thing, are more evenly distributed, reducing the need to plow deep into the program’s interface just to flip an image 90 degrees.

PhotoFiltre lacks some of Photoshop’s professional abilities, such as handling layers, as well as more arcane features, such as stitching photos into a panorama and altering perspective. But PhotoFiltre does have an arsenal of plug-ins that provide some tricks of their own, such as a filter that emphasizes shadows, highlights, or both, without your having to select the areas of dark and light.

A beautiful rippling water reflection is only three clicks away. Most effects, in fact, take only a couple of clicks. PhotoFiltre doesn’t have Photoshop’s jam-packed dialog boxes that permit the fatally fastidious to fiddle with a photo for hours. It’s fast. It’s simple. It’s powerful. It works. And it’s free.

Download PhotoFiltre (Free)


Autostitch panorama software

So you can’t do everything in PhotoFiltre that you can in Photoshop. That’s just more proof that one-stop shopping is overrated. Take, for example, Photoshop’s autostitching, which Adobe prefers to call “photomerge.” By either name, the feature attempts to piece and blend together two or more photographs to create a panorama. Photoshop does a decent job of it, although inevitably you must tell the application what photos should go together and in what order, and you have to make sure that up is the same direction in each picture. If you give Photoshop that many hints, it can handle the rest, creating a seamless expanse of photography.

But whether Photoshop is too rich for your pocketbook or you can pay for it from petty cash, you should get to know Autostitch, a free tool dedicated to panoramas. In addition to producing a panorama with the same perfection found in Photoshop, Autostitch can look at a PC folder packed with pictures and select photos that are screaming to be joined in panoramic splendor.

Created by Matthew Brown and David Lowe of the University of British Columbia, Autostitch comes with a screen full of settings for controlling how the final product should look, but most of them are so esoteric that fiddling with them, trying to unravel their purpose, is the sort of thing that can lead only to madness. Ignore the controls. Just print panoramas with panache, and thumb your nose at Photoshop.

Download Autostitch (Free)

Maya Personal Learning Edition

Maya PLE animation software

Today’s programs for creating animation are amazing. They can turn the most klutsy artist into a Walt Disney or Chuck Jones by automating the intricate, finger-busting work of turning thousands of drawings into a few seconds of animation. Just as incredible are such programs’ prices: Autodesk 3ds Max 2008 costs $3495 retail, and Autodesk Maya Unlimited 2008 can be yours for a trifling $6995. Or, you can pay nothing. Zilch. Nada. That’ll get you a sizable chunk of what goes into the latest version of Autodesk Maya.

Autodesk must be selling enough of those high-priced programs to feel good about giving away free copies of Maya Personal Learning Edition. The program doesn’t include all the goodies found in its professional counterparts. It lacks the speed with which the other applications render complicated images, and it also omits the newest innovations, such as the latest shaders and skin editors. It does, however, give you the rigging and animation technologies that let characters move with both soft and rigid body dynamics, Maya paint effects, a complete particle system, toon shading, and four renderers. Though you have no tech support to rely on, you can find oodles of documentation, demonstrations, and online discussion groups.

Download Maya Personal Learning Edition (Free)

Blender 3D

Blender 3D animation software

If Maya PLE doesn’t seem robust enough, take a look at another animation program, Blender 3D. It’s a sterling example of what can be accomplished within the GNU free-software movement, and it can definitely hold its head high when compared with commercial animation programs. The work it turns out is vividly detailed–check out the screen shots–and movements are convincingly smooth.

Folks frequently use it to build complex avatars and environments on sites such as the 3D chat system. The reason is pretty simple: Blender has all the features you need to produce interactive 3D graphics and games that are compatible across platforms. Its suite of features allows modeling, rendering, and postproduction polishing.

Download Blender3D (Free)

Just Good to Have

Though this last group shares no particular theme, all of these downloads are likely to come in very handy, sooner or later.


Dia organizational chart software

For people who depend on organizational charts to make sense of life, Dia is a savior. A product of the Gnome Project, Dia is best described as a noncommercial counterpart to Visio. Dia doesn’t try to take on Visio diagram-to-diagram, polyline-to-polyline, but it does provide more than enough of the usual components–boxes, ellipses, polygons, and sticky connecting lines and arrows–necessary to create office diagrams, chains of authority, and illustrations of electrical circuits. If you need shapes that Dia doesn’t have, it gives you instructions on how to add custom objects.

If those tools aren’t sufficient for you to diagram everything from the office hierarchy to your children’s Little League season, Dia has a few other tricks that can help. One particularly good feature is the ability to work in layers. You can create your diagram as a stack of subdiagrams, a digital representation of drawing the diagrams on sheets of clear acetate. The layers let you extend your diagram into the third dimension, too: Think of the layers as separate blueprints for each story of a office building. You get to see not only how offices are laid out on each floor, but how the floors are connected by wiring, pipes, and elevators.

The program’s best trick, though, is Best Fit. Any diagram I have ever drawn, on paper or on a screen, wound up running off the edges because it was too big. Best Fit takes care of such problems in an instant, reducing sprawling diagrams to whatever size they need to be. It makes me look as if my own thinking were organized.

Download Dia (Free)

ClamWin Free Antivirus

ClamWin Free antivirus software

Dozens of antivirus programs–Symantec AntiVirus, McAfee Virus Scan, and Kaspersky AntiVirus, to name only a few–have much in common. They all work diligently to intercept the next invasion of computer malware. And annually they all wring as much money as they can out of users in exchange for their services.

You can get protection from viruses without paying a cent. Turn to ClamWin Free Antivirus, an oddly named program that adheres to the Gnu open-source model. It won’t charge you anything for virus protection–not now, not a year from now.

What do you get for nothing? A program that, in its latest version, works in Vista as well as in XP, scanning your files for the fingerprints of viruses and spyware identified by a virus database that is updated several times a day. You may schedule or launch scans at your whim. A right-click menu choice provides more-selective scans of specific files or folders. The program also offers integration with Microsoft Outlook for inspecting message attachments that could be carrying dangerous code.

What don’t you get? ClamWin does not yet automatically inspect files as you open them. If you download the latest whiz-bang plaything from the Internet, better check it with ClamWin before you open it. That’s not a bad trade-off for a free malware checker. Since no single antivirus tool is perfect, you should always use more than one such program anyway. Why pay for them all?

Download ClamWin Free Antivirus (Free)

Pdf995 Suite

Don’t be fooled by the Acrobat Reader that Adobe pushes at you every chance it gets. Sure, Reader is free for the download, but it’s also passive software, letting you only peruse PDF (Portable Document Format) publications that have been created with a higher species of Acrobat. If you want to extract pages from a PDF, add pages, stamp it with “Approved” or “Burn After Reading,” or do any sort of editing, or if you want to create your own PDF documents, first you have to shell out $95 to $450 for a version of Acrobat capable of creating the files.

Instead, get Pdf995 Suite. It’s not exactly free; whether you pay, and how much, depends on how you feel about enduring a nagging ad for Pdf955 and other software from the same company. In return for viewing the ads, you get the ability to create standard PDF files by sending the original documents to a virtual printer, a setup that lets you produce PDFs from within any software that can print hard copy. Another module, PdfEdit995, lets you combine separate documents in one PDF, insert comments and bookmarks, add rubber stamps, convert from PDF to HTML, or, to retain just the text, convert to a Word .doc file. Another module, Signature995, encrypts PDFs and adds digital signatures.

Despite that panoply of PDF pleasures, you may grow weary of seeing the same ads each time you use the programs. If that happens, you can banish all of the ads by buying a couple of the modules that make up the suite; each is $10. For $20 more, you can buy every program in the company’s arsenal, including such worthy utilities as OmniFormat (which lets you convert among 75 file formats), Photoedit 995 (which provides the usual necessary touch-up tools), BackItUp995, Zip995, and Ftp995 (all of which do exactly what you’d think they would), and a half dozen others.

Download Pdf995 Suite (Free with ads; $30 for the Suite without ads)

Money Manager Ex

Money Manager Ex finance software

Software can become too good–or, rather, too big, too full of features, too complex, and too difficult to work with. One of the nice things about open-source software is that it’s still a boutique operation; you don’t have hundreds of programmers, testers, focus groups, managers, lawyers, and marketers, each throwing in their two bits’ worth.

Money Manager Ex is the Baby Bear of financial managers: Not too big, not too small, not too hard, not too easy–it’s just right. For anyone whose finances are big enough to need frequent attention but not so large as to require a dedicated accountant, Money Manager Ex tracks money as it comes in and goes out. It’ll let you know how much your investments have earned, when the bills are coming due, and whether your cash flow is flowing down the toilet.

Though the program can import Excel spreadsheets and make reports that let you examine your finances from assorted viewpoints, it can’t help you pay bills, make bank deposits or withdrawals, or calculate your taxes. But then, if it could do all that, it would start looking like Papa Bear, and you’d wind up hiding from all the work it would try to get you to do.

Download Money Manager Ex (Free)


SoulSeek peer-to-peer software

Whenever I download new peer-to-peer software for testing, I cringe at the thought of what dank evil lurks beneath the surface of programs that grab, from the Internet, purloined MP3s and movies that opened at the megaplex only last week. Peer-to-peer programs are perfect booby traps: The promise of free music, movies, and software lures all but the saintly to “experiment” with illegal downloads, and often justice is served when the P-to-P software harbors viruses, spyware, and–just as bad sometimes–sloppy programming.

The pristine cleanliness of Soulseek would alone make it the first choice among P-to-P programs. It is open-source, whose proponents approach software development not simply as a task but as a calling to create free software that shall go out unto the world to spread digital delight to all. It and Azureus, an open-source BitTorrent project, are the only two P-to-P programs I feel comfortable using without having first backed up my disk drive and sprayed Lysol into the crevices of my computer.

But here’s the really good part: Soulseek has two features that are even cooler than cleanliness. One is a queue that tells you exactly how many other users are waiting to download the same files. Lines stretching out to the hundreds are not uncommon, but neither are copies of the same songs that have no one at all waiting to download them. Which do you choose? If you need a further hint, check out the ‘average download speed’ column for the swiftest transfers.

The other great feature? With a right-click, you can select ‘Download Containing Folder’. This simple, brilliant gem of programming lets you download with a single click all of the songs in another user’s folder, which ordinarily equates to a complete album. Want more? Try the Wishlist. Fill it with the songs and artists you can never seem to find. Check back a few nights later, and like a cobbler befriended by elves, you’ll find that Soulseek has spent its spare time looking for those elusive tunes. All of these features make Soulseek such an original, clever program that I’m astonished it hasn’t been imitated again and again.

I know, you’re looking for a catch. There are two, of sorts. If you insist on downloading songs that are beset continuously by loaded queues, send the developer a $5 donation to enjoy cutting to the head of the line for 30 days. The other catch is that this program is for music only. If you want software or movies, you’ll have to go back to the seamy side of town.

Download Soulseek (Free)

50 Open Source Apps for Small Biz/Home Office

50 Open Source Apps for Small Biz/Home Office

September 28, 2009

Cynthia Harvey

When it comes to businesses using open source software, medium and large enterprises seem to get most of the press. However, small office/home office (SOHO) setups with 10 employees or less may see even greater benefit from switching to open source applications.

Why should all the legions of small and home offices consider open source software? Cost savings. A simple switch from Microsoft Office to, for example, can save a small business around $400 (or more) per PC. When you’re in the start-up phase and counting every penny, that savings can make a huge difference.

Of course, many small business owners are hesitant to try open source software. After all, if you have 10 or fewer employees, you probably don’t have an IT guy to come and help you if something goes wrong. And many other small business owners have never heard of open source software or don’t know about the high-quality applications that are available.

With these business owners in mind, we’ve put together a list of 50 superb open source apps for SOHO users. We tried to narrow the list to well-tested, easy-to-use applications that average small business owners with minimal technical expertise would be able to install and use on their own.

Whether you’re sold on the concept of open source and ready to convert to Linux on the desktop or you’ve never heard of open source software before today, we’ll think you’ll find at least a few apps on this list that can help your small office improve its bottom line.


1. TurboCASH

Designed as an alternative to QuickBooks, TurboCASH is a simple but flexible small business accounting program with multi-user and multi-company capabilities. On the downside, it only runs on Windows, so you’ll need an emulator if you want to run it on Linux. Operating System: Windows.

2. GnuCash

This app works well for personal finance management and also includes some small business features such as customer and vendor tracking, invoicing and bill payment, and tax and billing terms. It’s not as full-featured as some other accounting programs, but it is compatible with Quicken and OFX formats. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

3. Front Accounting

Web-based Front Accounting offers basic business accounting for small businesses plus enterprise resource planning capabilities for larger businesses. You will need your own server for this app. Operating System: OS Independent.


4. Amanda

The most popular open-source backup and recovery program in the world, Amanda protects more than 500,000 computers. You can use it to archive files on your own server, a tape drive, or you can back-up in the cloud with a commercial service like Zmanda. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, Mac, BSD.

5. Areca Backup

Simple to set up and very versatile, Areca lets you choose which files to archive on a local server, network drive, thumb drive, or FTP server. You can also choose whether to make a basic copy of all your files or a delta backup which includes only those files which have changed since the last backup. Operating System: Windows, Linux.


6. WordPress

Want to set up a company blog? WordPress offers three simple steps to get your blog online in just minutes, even if you’re new to the whole concept. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.


7. Firefox

If you’ve never tried open-source software, Firefox is an ideal place to start. Switching to Firefox from Internet Explorer won’t save you any money since both are free, but Firefox may save you time with its super-fast page loads and small memory footprint. Plus, it offers superior security and privacy controls and lots of customization options. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

Compression Utilities

8. 7-zip

7-zip creates archive files with a very high compression ration. In laymen’s terms that means it can take really big files and shrink them really small for e-mailing or file transfer. It reads and writes most well-known compression file formats (like zip and tar) and includes encryption capabilities. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

9. PeaZip

This compression utility supports an amazing number of different file formats—87 different extensions at last count. If you have a compressed file you can’t open any other way, give PeaZip a try. Operating System: Windows, Linux.


10. Thunderbird

These days it seems like more and more people are using Web-based e-mail accounts, but if you prefer an Outlook-like e-mail client or want to be able to check multiple accounts from one location, you may want to give Thunderbird a try. It’s made by Mozilla, the creators of Firefox, and it boasts fast e-mail searching, easy message tagging, outstanding security, and the ability to save searches. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

11. Zimbra

Owned by Yahoo, Zimbra offers a number of different versions of its e-mail client and collaboration suite, some for free and some commercially. For very small offices, the best option may be Zimbra Desktop which aims to combine the best of a desktop e-mail client with the best of Web mail. It offers e-mail, contact management, calendar, document management and offline access, and it’s compatible with Gmail and Microsoft Live accounts. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

12. Evolution

Known as “the Outlook of Linux,” Evolution offers an integrated inbox, calendar, to-do list, and contact list for Linux only. Operating System: Linux.


13. AxCrypt

The leading open source encryption software for Windows, AxCrypt has been downloaded and registered more than 1.5 million times. It works from within Windows Explorer—just right-click to add encryption to individual files or folders. And it allows you to send self-decrypting files via e-mail, so that the recipient doesn’t have to install any software in order to access the file. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

14. TrueCrypt

Need to protect sensitive files? TrueCrypt can encrypt all or part of your files with very strong encryption algorithms. It’s especially helpful if you store a lot of information on a laptop and are worried about people gaining access to that data if it’s lost or stolen. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

File Transfer

15. FileZilla

FileZilla makes it easy to transfer files via FTP. Note that the client version (use if you want to download files from someone else’s site) is available for any operating system, but the server version (use if you want to set up an FTP site to make files available to others) is only available for Windows. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

16. WinSCP

This Windows-only file transfer app supports SFTP and FTP. It includes two different inferface options—one that looks like Norton Commander and one that looks like Windows Explorer. Operating System: Windows.

Desktop Publishing

17. Scribus

Scribus helps users create professional-looking documents for commercial printing (with CMYK separations) or for electronic distribution as PDF files. Feature-rich, it can do most of the things you can do with a commercial desktop publishing programs, like InDesign, Pagemaker, or Publisher, but unfortunately, it cannot open or save documents in other desktop publishing program file formats. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.


18. Zen Cart

Designed by shop owners and merchants working with designers and programmers, Zen Cart can be downloaded, installed, and managed by anyone with basic computer knowledge. You can set up your product catalog, manage pricing, and more without needing to write any code. Operating System: OS Independent.


19. Gimp

Gimp (short for “GNU Image Manipulation Program”) offers much of the same functionality as Photoshop. You can use it to retouch photos or create your own images for your Web site, brochures, newsletters, etc. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac, Solaris, BSD.

20. Inkscape

An alternative to vector drawing programs like Illustrator or CorelDraw, Inkscape makes it possible to design your own logos and other illustrations. It includes some very advanced features suitable for professional graphic designers, but it is still easy enough for amateurs to use. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac, Solaris, BSD.

Instant Messaging

21. Pidgin

Pidgin lets you chat with friends on more than a dozen different IM networks right out of the box, and plug-ins make it possible to connect with just about every chat network in existence. It’s also available in more than 70 languages. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

22. Adium

If you’re on a Mac, you won’t be able to use Pidgin, but you can use Adium, which offers a nearly identical feature set. Operating System: Mac.

23. Miranda IM

This Windows-only chat client’s claim to fame is its extremely small size. It lets you connect with multiple networks at once, but doesn’t use a lot of system resources and is very fast. Operating System: Windows.

Media Player

24. VLC Media Player

Downloaded more than 41 million times, VLC Media Player’s outstanding feature is its flexibility. It can play nearly every audio and video format, and you can even use it to stream video from your own server. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac, BSD, Solaris.

Mind Mapper

25. FreeMind

Great for brainstorming, keeping track of projects, or organizing research, FreeMind lets you incorporate text, symbols, arrows, and multiple colors in a document as if you were doodling on a white board or a scratch pad. It’s such a unique piece of software that you really have to try it to understand what it can do. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.



If you’re going to be traveling, makes it possible to take all your favorite open-source programs–and your settings and bookmarks–with you on a thumb drive. It includes Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird, ClamWin, Pidgin, Sumatra, KeepPass, CoolPlayer,, and a couple of games. Operating System: Windows.

Office Productivity


If you’re considering open-source software as a way to save money, is a great option. It includes word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and databases, plus a drawing program and an app for creating scientific and mathematical formulas. Best of all, it reads and saves in Microsoft Office-compatible formats, so there’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars on commercial software. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac, Solaris.

28. StarOffice

StarOffice is the same as OpenOffice but with paid support from Sun. If you think you’ll need help desk support on a regular basis but don’t want to pay the high prices for Microsoft Office, StarOffice might be for you. Prices start at $34.95. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac, Solaris.

29. Gnumeric

While it is compatible with Excel file formats, Gnumeric isn’t meant to be a clone of any other spreadsheet application; instead, its creators are aiming to make the best spreadsheet available. It offers a lot of advanced features—including some graphing capabilities that many users find superior to Excel. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

30. AbiWord

For word processing only, AbiWord is an extremely lightweight Word-compatible app that offers many of the features people use most often, including mail merge. It’s fast and doesn’t require a lot of system resources, but it doesn’t have as many advanced features as other word processors. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac, BSD, Solaris.

Operating System

31. Ubuntu

Switching from Windows or Mac to Linux on the desktop can be a little intimidating, but Ubuntu Linux is probably the most pain-free way to make the switch. The graphical interface looks a lot like Windows and is very easy to learn. Plus, Ubuntu comes with much of the best in open-source software that you would need for a small or home office installed by default. It’s completely free, but commercial support is available.

32. Red Hat

// While it’s definitely targeted towards large enterprises, Red Hat Enterprise Linux is also a good option for larger small businesses, particularly those interested in installing Linux for servers. It’s the most popular commercial distribution, so you can be sure it’s tried and tested. Prices start at $349, but a free, non-supported similar version is available from Fedora.

33. SUSE

Like Red Hat, SUSE Linux Enterprise and Open Enterprise Server from Novell are aimed at larger businesses but can be used by smaller businesses as well. Prices are also similar to Red Hat, and a free, non-supported similar version is available from openSUSE.

PDF Tools

34. PDFCreator You don’t have to buy the full version of Adobe Acrobat in order to create PDF files. This handy app can create PDFs from nearly any Windows program that can print files. The latest version also adds encryption and digital signature capabilities. Operating System: Windows.

35. PDFedit

Need to change an existing PDF document? PDF edit makes it possible to add text and annotations as well as make other changes to PDF files. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

36. Sumatra

If you’re tired of downloading constantly updated and ever-larger versions of Acrobat Reader, you might want to try Sumatra PDF viewer instead. It’s lightweight and very fast, and it can even be run off a thumb drive. Operating System: Windows.

Project Management

37. OpenProjBilled as the open-source alternative to Microsoft Project, OpenProj is used by more than a million users in more than 140 countries. The desktop version (ideal for small offices) is available for free. For larger groups, the Projects on Demand SaaS version is available for $20/month. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

38. GanttProject

Even if you’ve never used a project management application before, GanttProject makes it very easy to schedule tasks and assign resources. It’s also completely compatible with Microsoft Project file formats, and you can import and export to spreadsheets as well. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

39. Achievo

If your small business is large enough to have its own Web server, Achievo offers flexible, Web-based project management, scheduling, and time tracking. It’s especially well-suited for companies whose employees don’t all work in the same building, and it even includes multi-lingual support for companies with employees in different countries. Operating System: OS Independent.


40. Untangle

The Untangle Gateway Server incorporates a firewall, Web filter, anti-virus, anti-spyware, intrusion prevention and more into a single package. To use it, you’ll need an old computer that you can hook up to your network as an Internet gateway. The basic software is free, or you can purchase a supported small business package with some extra features starting at $40/month. Operating System: Linux.

41. Endian Firewall Community

The community edition of Endian firewall offers a lot of the same functionality as Untangle and also requires an old PC that you can set up to run on your network as an appliance. In addition, Endian offers supported hardware or software appliances for purchase from the same site. Operating System: Linux.

42. ClamWin

Want to protect a single PC instead of a network? ClamWin offers good anti-virus and anti-spyware protection, but it does require a little more user intervention than most commercial products (i.e., you’ll have to actually click on a file in order to scan it). Operating System: Windows.

43. KeePass

Have trouble remembering all of your passwords? KeePass stores all your passwords in an encrypted master database so that you only need to remember one master password. Operating System: Windows.

Time Tracking

44. eHour

For consultants, freelancers, lawyers, and other small businesses that charge by the hour, eHour makes it easy to track time spent by multiple employees on multiple projects for multiple clients. It’s available in both a standalone version and a server-based version. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

Web Site Development

45. Drupal

The Drupal content management system features some of the best help and tutorials you’ll find anywhere for walking you through the process of setting up your own database-driven Web site. The basic application includes features like blogging, forums, and contact forms, and the add-ons make it possible to add features like e-commerce and podcasting. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

46. Joomla

Similar Drupal, Joomla is a content management system that lets you set up a database-driven Web site. It boasts a very active user community and the Web site offers an “Absolute Beginner’s Guide” that can walk even the extremely non-technical through the process of creating a site from scratch. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

47. Amaya

Developed by W3C, Amaya incorporates a Web browser and a Web page editor into a single application. Originally, it was designed to support HTML and CSS, but it has been extended to include some support for XML as well. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.

48. Firebug

If you’re comfortable editing code, Firebug is a fabulous tool for editing your Web pages live. It integrates with Firefox and makes it easy to search, edit, and find errors in your HTML, CSS, or JavaScript. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac.


49. MediaWiki

Want to set up a Wiki-style site? MediaWiki is the app used to run Wikipedia, and it’s also available for other organizations who want to take advantage of its collaborative editing capabilities. (Note that in order to use this app, you need your own server.) Operating System: Windows, Linux, Mac, BSD, Solaris.


50. BleachBit

System running slow? BleachBit helps you clean up your temporary files and other unnecessary junk to free disk space and protect your privacy. It can also shred deleted files so they can’t be recovered and “vacuum” Firefox to make it faster. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

The true cost of migrating to open source

The true cost of migrating to open source,1000002985,39635251,00.htm

Mark Taylor

Published: 07 Apr 2009 16:52 BST

Microsoft’s sleight of hand has made the real financial advantages of open source appear to vanish, says Mark Taylor.

I was hugely entertained by the latest piece of Microsoft spin: apparently the recession is putting a dampener on migrations to open source. Of course, the suggestion is nonsense. In fact, my daily experience flatly contradicts Microsoft’s assertion, but then its marketing is not aimed at me. It is trained on those still inside the proprietary lock-in prison.

That latest piece of Microsoft nonsense makes too easy a target and is not my real focus here. I would rather dig into the true financial story behind migrating to free software.

Despite what prime minister Gordon Brown thinks, the UK is going into this recession in the worst condition of any G20 country. As Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan put it: “The government has run out of our money.”

Nevertheless, I agree with Brown that this is an international crisis and one that demands an international response, even though not all countries are in the same dilapidated condition as the UK.

Responding to the crisis
How do we, as technologists, respond to the reality of far less money, increased competition in a shrinking market and the ceaseless demands by management for innovation? How do we square this circle?

Microsoft knows the answer is free and open-source software, just as well as we do. It has spent a fortune analysing the ‘threat’ and has chosen the cost of migration as the attack most likely to succeed.

The reason migration makes such a great target is that it is the period in the IT lifecycle where IT is most vulnerable, likely to receive the highest level of criticism, and where it encounters the greatest costs. A botched migration can be a career-terminating event.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Typical cost profile for proprietary software migrations

Microsoft’s argument is that it costs more to move from one generation of proprietary software to free software than it does to move from one generation of proprietary software to the next. Like all good propaganda, the payload depends on it appearing logical and on it being capable of appearing true if you measure it in a certain way.

The IT cost profile for most organisations is similar to that shown in Figure 1:

  1. Costs peak at each migration with outlays on hardware and software, retraining, additional staff and consultancy.
  2. They then drop to the long-term level, which includes a hefty proprietary-licence component. Your local proprietary vendor will do its very best to ensure these long-term costs increase year on year.
  3. The cost of migration is generally considered to be the period around the peak. I have highlighted the most recent migration in the graphic.

The cost-of-migration propaganda works only if:

  1. You buy the line that proprietary-to-free is more expensive than proprietary-to-proprietary.
  2. You ignore long-term cost savings and look only at the narrow strip around the migration itself.
  3. You do your costings using only neo-proprietarist, commercial open source and ignore real free software, which is of course exactly what Microsoft and those like them want you to do.

Proprietary-to-free migrations
The real picture of proprietary-to-free migrations for most organisations is similar to Figure 2.

If you work with real free software, not neo-proprietary versions, the worst-case peak cost of migration is no greater than the proprietary-to-proprietary kind.

If you also look beyond the migration window defined by the proprietarists, you will see that the really substantial savings accrue over time. So, project return on investment is better than proprietary-to-proprietary, with long-term sustainable cost reductions across the whole infrastructure.

That simple fact is why, despite propaganda to the contrary, free-software migrations are accelerating in the current economy.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Typical cost profile for a migration from proprietary to open-source software

As chief executive of Sirius Corporation, Mark Taylor has been instrumental in the adoption and rollout of open-source software at some of the largest corporations in Europe, including a growing number of companies running exclusively on free software, end to end, server to desktop. A direct participant in some of the leading enterprise open-source projects, Taylor is also a well-known authority on all aspects of the open-source phenomenon.

The Ten Habits of Highly Secure Employees

No matter how secure your firewall is, the weakest security link for any organization is the employee….

Take the clean desk test HERE from the same website.

A list of 6 mistakes most people make every day, HERE.


The Ten Habits of Highly Secure Employees

Ten simple ways for employees to help protect company data and assets

August 05, 2008 — CSO — You’ve decided to get away from your desk for lunch, but you’ve forgotten your access card. Since you only have a few minutes, you prop open a door. Seems harmless, right? Unfortunately, it’s a move that creates some risks.

“Most company information isn’t lost by electronic hacking, it’s lost through individuals’ mistakes or lack of knowledge of how to protect information,” says Eddie Everett, senior vice president and national director of the global services department for risk consultancy Control Risks.

These 10 tips can help you avoid some common security blunders and give yourself, and your company, peace of mind.

  • Be alert. Be aware. Challenge unknown people in the office—this can be done in a manner that is both direct and courteous. Ask unaccompanied strangers wandering the halls where they are going and if they have a visitor ID. Someone who is supposed to be there won’t mind the question.
  • Prevent tailgating. We like to be polite, so we hold doors open for the people behind us, even if theyre strangers. That’s not a good practice to get into in any workplace area that requires authorized access. If you don’t recognize the person following you through the door, ask for ID.
  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
  • Remember the clean desk policy. Conceal sensitive documents within your workspace, especially when you’re working with confidential information.
  • Secure your laptop while in the office. It takes a second for someone to snatch a laptop, and with it your company’s intellectual property. Securing your laptop is much like locking your house—its just a good habit.
  • Don’t leave PDAs or thumb drives lying around. They’re even easier to pick up than laptops.
  • Don’t assume that everyone who walks through your building is a friend of the company. If something looks wrong, get help.
  • Be aware that other people will access open workspaces when you’re not there. After hours, cleaners and maintenance workers come through. Plan accordingly.
  • Keep quiet. If you’re discussing sensitive issues regarding your company or clients, be sure only those you’re conversing with can hear you. As Everett points out, “it’s quite amazing what you can overhear in an elevator.”
  • And for those traveling on business—do you need all of the information you have in your briefcase? Probably not. Work on the assumption that you might lose what you’re carrying, and make sure there is nothing on your laptop that is mission-critical to your company.
  • From the August 2008 Security Smart employee awareness newsletter.

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