Licensing fees can be expensive for any business or educational facility. Companies such as Microsoft closely monitor their licenses and aggressively go after anyone they suspect might be violating the End User Licensing Agreement that their software comes with. Considering the price of the software keeps going up while the quality remains the same or declines, open source software becomes more and more attractive.
One important thing to understand about Open Source is that free does not actually refer to the price of the software, many of the offerings such as Open Office are available for free or at a reduced cost for commercial use, but it instead refers to the availability of the code. When you download an open source program you also get the source which you can modify to suit your needs.
Once perceived to be largely the domain of users of Linux and Unix distributions, more and more open source software has found its way on to the machines of Windows users including Firefox, the popular Mozilla browser. In the early days of such applications they were often difficult to use and only the most technically proficient with the Unix system should have attempted them. Now, programs like the Gnu Image Manipulation Project (the Gimp) offer all the functionality of Photoshop while being available for download on any computer connected to the Internet. The Gimp may not be the best example as the complexity of what it does confuses me.
If you need an IDE comparable to Visual Basic or the products Inprise offers, all you need to do is a quick Google search or go to Sourceforge.net and look at what they have available there. Lazarus, a Delphi clone, easily compiles and runs the code written for the commercial product with virtually no alteration. For those who do not favor Pascal, you can find virtually any other language.
The only desktop publishing software I have personally tried is Scribus, and as far as I have used it compares favorably with Pagemaker, but I do not do much desktop publishing. Most offices however will probably just need productivity tools. Most likely you will need to keep Windows unless you want to retrain your users to a different operating system, but OpenOffice offers all of the functionality of Microsoft’s productivity suite and can even read its files. If you use another package such as the one that includes WordPerfect, the software also reads that format. As it looks and feels like the commercial product do not worry about having to retrain your workers.
Before doing anything, check the licensing agreement to see what you may save. You may not have to pay anything at all for a business others charge a considerably lesser fee for non-private users. As with any software, check the technical specifications before installing any program. If you you have a large enough organization be sure to run it by your IT staff first. You’ll probably get stared at in amazement as they wonder why you did not make such a sensible decision sooner.