Monday, November 17, 2008

More on open source software - keeping costs down

We all need to keep costs down at the moment, so let's look at some tools that you can use to write proposals that keep the costs down - In fact, they don't cost anything.

Let's look at what you really need to do when writing a proposal. It's usually a mixture of text and graphics, with maybe some numerical tables in there too. So first and foremost we need a good word processor. MS Word is still the best (and I still use it), but we all know that MS Office is anything but free. But there are good alternatives, that whilst not doing everything Word does, can sometimes do the things that Word can't do - and these days the document formats are completely transportable.

Graphics applications. Let's be honest - free graphics applications used to be crap. In fact most free software did. If you wanted to do graphics stuff you needed Corel Draw and Photoshop (OK, so I'm going back a bit). Not anymore. There are free graphics packages out there that give you all the functionality you need to create your proposal graphics, if not to satisfy the whims of the out and out graphic designer. Here's a big tip - use proper diagram creation software for your diagrams and stop fiddling around with the terrible drawing features in Word. You'll have more easily re-usable diagrams, more control over them in your documents and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble when it comes to consistent formatting and making them look good.

Sometimes we may need to have an online meeting with bid teams or clients. Want a free alternative to WebEx? OK, it may miss out some of the top features unless you are  in the paid version, but DimDim is good enough for the Learn to Write Proposals free consultations, which means it's pretty good.

The free and open source market is mature and is full of good products that don't fall over every time you click on something. Take the leap of faith and start using some of them - you may take convincing to buy the commercial equivalent again.

Office applications - online office applications. Google Docs is another that will allow you to share and collaborate with others on a single document at the same time. I prefer the greater functionality and product set of Zoho - it's very feature rich for an online application and allows to to also use it offline.  - office suite. OK - I admit that I still use MS Word, but that is the only Microsoft Office application that I use as there are some functions that Word provides (especially Proposal Accelerator - maybe I should create a version for Open Office?)  that still makes it the best word processor around. As for the rest of it, Open Office is more than powerful enough for me. - pdf maker. Need to create a .pdf file - this is the best tool to do it free, with no adware. Works as a Windows printer driver (so you can use it from virtually any application) and has lots of features including quality settings, watermarks and more.

Graphics applications  - photo image editing. I used to be a Photoshop user, now I just use this - it has more than enough features for what I need and I find it very easy to use. Only downside is that you need to install Microsoft's .net framework on your computer first. - diagramming software. An alternative to Visio if you need to create  flowcharts and basic diagrams. I always recommend creating these graphics separately and then inserting them as a graphic in MS Word - it gives you far greater control and will save you time in the long run. There is also a very usable drawing/diagramming programme in the full install of Open Office.

FastStone Capture  - screen capture. (Last free version here) Don't underestimate the usefulness of a screen capture tool to instantly make new images from your desktop - this programme is just great! I use the last free version (5.3). It has all the features I need.

Web conferencing This is a great free service that allows you to hold online meetings, web conferences, product demonstrations etc.  I use it for the Learn to Write Proposal free 1 hour consultations. 

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