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Business special: The best free tools for SMEs

Free small business software guide

Secure email: Comodo

Standard email offers all the privacy of dropping a postcard into a mailbox. How can you perform the electronic equivalent of sealing and registering a letter?

A security certificate, such as a digital ID that is attached to the email message, verifies that the email originated with the sender and has not been altered along its route. A digital ID identifies a specific email address and is usually issued by a trusted authority.

A Comodo digital ID is free for one year of personal use. Comodo provides straightforward instructions for creating and installing a digital ID that is accepted by most email clients, including Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express.

To communicate using secure email, just send an email with your digital ID attached. The recipient of the email must also have a digital ID and an email client with S/MIME to support encrypted communications.

Small Business Accounting: Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007

Every business bean counter can benefit from an automated way of keeping track of those beans. Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 (only available in the US at present) is a basic accounting program that will help businesses making the move from manual bookkeeping (even if it's just listing expenses in a spreadsheet).

Express is the little brother to Office Accounting Professional 2007, formerly called Office Accounting. The free Express offers fewer accounting features and reports than Professional and is single-user only. Express is a large 200MB-plus download, so don't consider it unless you have a broadband internet connection.

Despite these limitations, many service businesses will feel quite at ease using this good-looking and well-designed app. It's intended to appeal to users who are familiar with Microsoft Office applications such as Word and Excel.

Installing Accounting Express also lets you sell online more easily, thanks to its links to eBay and PayPal sales tools. It also simplifies access to services for credit card processing and online banking. Normal fees apply for use of eBay, PayPal, credit card, banking, and other third-party services.

If your business sells products, the lack of important inventory and sales order capabilities in Express will probably be a deal killer. These and other higher-end accounting functions are available in Office Accounting Professional, but you'll need to pay for that one.

Small Business Accounting: TurboCash

If you run an off-the-rack type of small business, you can be quite satisfied with the capabilities of packaged business management applications such as Microsoft Office Accounting Express. But if your business has special requirements, using a packaged application can be like wearing a jacket with sleeves that are uncomfortably short.

While you can start programming an accounting application from scratch (or, more probably, hire someone to do so), that's much like re-inventing the wheel. If you require a custom solution, it's usually more cost-effective to start with something that comes close to what you need, then modify the source code to deliver a precise fit.

TurboCash is a free and capable open-source business accounting app that comes complete with source code. Modifying the source code for an accounting application should not be approached without careful planning. It requires more technical knowledge than installing a packaged app. You may need support from a contract programmer or an experienced consultant.

A number of third-party plug-ins enhance the capabilities of TurboCash. Most plug-ins are not open-source and require payment.

If you can't find all the accounting capabilities you need in a packaged application, the freebie TurboCash may provide the framework for an accounting system that's just right for your business.


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