Free Apps & Software for Non-Profits

According to the National Day Calendar, February is Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) Month. Open source (OS) software can be a fantastic resource for non-profit organizations that need technology, just as a for-profit business does, but often have fewer resources to pay for expensive solutions.

So, what is an open source software? You probably already use some of the most popular open source packages without even realizing it.

  • WordPress (blogging and website design)
  • Firefox (internet browser)
  • Android (mobile device operating system)

These are all open source software. OS software developers (aka the copyright holders) make the source code available to anyone to view or edit. The software or app is also free for anyone to use, copy, or give away. OS software is often developed in a public collaboration. For example, if you click on About Firefox in the browser’s Help menu, you will see that the Firefox internet browser “is designed by Mozilla, a global community working to keep the Web open, public and accessible to all.”

The idea behind this way of creating software  shareit for laptop is the theory that programmers, who work for a for-profit business and the business itself, are focusing on protecting their ownership and profit in addition to, or instead of, making the software the highest quality it can be. OS advocates believe that a larger group of programmers, who rely on peers to find and eliminate problems in the code, will create a more useful and higher quality product for everyone.

The big advantage of open source software, of course, is that it’s free. The fact that the code is public means that hundreds or even thousands of programmers and users may test, evaluate, debug, and enhance the app you eventually use. Here are the top 5 reasons open source advocates give for the benefits of open source software, in addition to the zero-dollar price tag:

  • Security: the more people who can see and test a set of code, the more likely security flaws will be found and fixed.
  • Reliability: it’s peer reviewed, with bugs fixed immediately rather than in far-future versions.
  • Identity: it can be customized.
  • Low-resource intensity: open source software can frequently be run on the older computers common in non-profit offices.
  • Freedom of choice: No commitment until you are sure (try as many different packages as you want-they’re free!)

There are downsides, however. The most common, in my experience, is that there probably isn’t a help desk or tech support phone number for users to call. The help desk for an OS software system may be the same blog or website where programmers and testers download code and discuss bugs that they find.

Below is a list of some OS apps and software, which many non-profit organizations will find useful. They are all widely used, award-winning packages. Just remember, that doesn’t mean they are all automatically right for YOUR non-profit. Consider who on your staff (whether in-office or consultants) will

  • install the software
  • maintain the software and any data
  • train new users
  • use the software on a regular basis

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