Free alternatives to essential business software

A third of the UK's small businesses are using illegal, unlicensed software.

This is according to new research from the British Software Alliance, which found that 30 per cent of firms admit to installing software on more computers than is allowed by the software's licence.

There are significant legal repercussions to the use of unlicensed or incorrectly licensed software. Many businesses consider themselves to be forced into this situation by the high cost of the software they need - but what if that software was free?

Well, there is a huge range of totally free software available that will perform many of the tasks you require of the big-ticket alternatives. Here we run down some of the ones you might use every day.

Office suites - alternatives to Microsoft Office

Open Office

Open Office is a free, powerful, open source alternative to Microsoft Office. It offers word processing, presentation, database management, spreadsheet software and more, all in one package. Open Office has been two decades in the making, and is one of the most popular pieces of open source software available. openoffice.org

LibreOffice

LibreOffice is another fully featured alternative to Office. Version 4, which has just been released, is a major update, and sees the software become even easier to use. LibreOffice has been set out in such a way that it should be familiar if you have used other office suites before. libreoffice.org

Google Docs

Google Doc has a few major advantages over software like Open Office. To begin with, it is based in the cloud - meaning that you access it through your web browser, and that you do not need to install anything new. As documents are also stored in the cloud, Google Docs is excellent for those who wish to collaborate on documents with others. It is not, however, as fully featured as some of its downloadable alternatives, so you will need to weigh up flexibility and functions. docs.google.com

Graphic design - alternatives to Photoshop

GIMP

Slightly strange name aside, GIMP is a powerful, fully functional Photoshop alternative, offering many of the key features on which Adobe's software hinges. GIMP can, however, take some getting used to, so you may want to look elsewhere if you are in a hurry. gimp.org

Photoshop Express

Adobe offer an online version of their hugely popular software. Photoshop Express is primarily an image editing platform and, while it has a limited feature set in comparison with its paid-for alternative, its offering is more than sufficient for many users. photoshop.com/tools/expresseditor

Web design - alternatives to Dreamweaver

Kompozer

Kompozer is cross-platform, downloadable web authoring software based on a previous solution called Nvu. Although it is not hugely attractive, it is a comprehensive solution for those who are already familiar with HTML, or want a simple visual editor. kompozer.net

Wordpress

It is worth remembering that you do not, in fact, have to design your website from scratch. Using a platform like Wordpress you can have a fully functional site up and running with a minimum time investment and little prior experience. Read our guide to Wordpress for small business.

Audio editing - alternatives to Audition

Audacity

Audacity is one of the most popular free utilities available. It is a fully functioning audio editing suite, allowing you to make detailed changes to your sounds. It is also very intuitive, enabling you to make simple alterations quickly and painlessly. audacity.sourceforge.net