Microsoft Excel is the well known ‘industry standard’; it does far more than you are ever likely to need, but it also does the basics very well, it’s pretty simple to learn and it runs on Macs as well as Windows (and you can swap files as well, which is useful if you’re using a Mac and your bookkeeper is using windows). For for a free and open-source alternative, try Open Office.
Moving to Web 2.0 based spreadsheets, Google Docs & Spreadsheets are now working very well. The spreadsheet side doesn’t try to do everything, but for simple cashflow forecasting, and project costing, it’s fine. The great thing about Web 2.0 applications is how easy it is to collaborate on-line with other people (like your bookkeeper) who can help you get things right.
Documents and organising
Google docs has pretty good word-processing facilities with built in collaboration and automatic publishing to blogs.
Writeboards are another way of writing documents online and collaborating with others.
Backpack is very useful tool for organising lists, links and notes and sharing them with others – and like most Web 2.0, browser based apps, the basic package is free to use – all you need is a compatible browser running on almost any internet connected computer.
Firefox is an open-source, widely compatible browser which has a lot of useful third party plugins – and it’s free.
If you like Backpack but need a more powerful project planning tool, the same people make Basecamp which is probably all you’ll need.
While spreadsheets can most easily be used for simple databases, if you’re looking for something that’s more powerful, is easy to customise, networks well and is properly supported, FileMaker Pro takes a lot of beating. It’s flexible, scriptable, has a huge developer community and runs on Macs and Windows machines, allowing data to be shared across platforms.
Base is the free, OpenOffice alternative.
Like it or not, you are not going to be doing much business without email. Web 2.0 giants like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft’s Hotmail offer free services and store everything online so you can check new and old email from any connected device. Mobile phone interfaces are making it even easier to stay in touch too. Smartphones with Wifi integration are going to mean we need never be out of touch – unless we want to be.
2D Presentation software
Powerpoint by Microsoft dominates the PC market while Keynote for Mac has an easy to understand user interface and some stylish effects. Impress is a free, OpenOffice one and there are several Flash based packages available.
However a really simple and free way to show slides is to upload them to Flickr or a similar photo sharing site. These have the advantage of allowing your clients to see your presentation again after you have left (if that is what you want of course) without having to make up DVDs or printed material.
For serious time-consuming but amazingly powerful previsualisation tools, try Antics. It’s not cheap, and it does have it’s limitations, but if you really want to impress a client or work out a storyboard in three dimensions, there is no better way.
However, if you’re looking for some free software to design some 3D visualisations, Google’s Sketchup is a fine piece of software and a lot of fun to use.
There’s a wide range of choices and prices for non-linear editing software. We like Final Cut Studio as the easiest to use, most powerful suite of applications which do virtually everything you need to make professional video. It works in HD format and integrates with Shake putting incredibly powerful, just-about-affordable, creative tools into the hands of the creators themselves.
If you just need something simple to edit your video into a presentation iMovie comes built in with every new Mac and does a very decent job.
If you have experiences with these or other useful software that you would like others to know about, please use the forum to share more specific advice.