High Tech On The Cheap

It isn’t easy living life as a small budget organization. Everything eats into your budget and nothing is cheap, even paperclips add up. One of the largest ongoing office expenses is office productivity software. However, some recent advances in open source products might make your life significantly easier. One such product I’ve been playing around with the past few months is Mozilla’s Sunbird Project, a stand alone calendar application…


Ever since Windows made its appearance, I’ve never found a calendar application I’ve enjoyed or found particularly useful. Although Sunbird has a few wrinkles to iron out, it’s still significantly better than the bulk of offerings out there costing $100 or more. Of course, the best part about Sunbird is that it’s a free download and the open source platform insures that the myriad of crafty developers out there will create dozens of useful add-ons and extensions.

One of Sunbird’s best features is the ability to export calendar files via email or to host a team calendar at a remote server, such as WebDav. If you’re on the road a good bit, have team members that work from home, or your office doesn’t have a LAN this is a particularly useful feature as departments can still share their schedule updates. If you spend a little time getting to know the software you can even use it as a basic project management tool.

Sunbird is only one of several high tech pieces of software that any organization can download on the cheap, has a low learning curve, and satisfies a number of daily office requirements. However, keep in mind that Sunbird is still a project in development so it’s not completely fleshed out, but even so, it’s still an excellent program that promises to only get better.

Over the summer, we’ll look at a few other software products that can help small budget organizations do much more with much less.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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3 thoughts on “High Tech On The Cheap

  1. Good points, Drew, and thanks for the pointer.

    While you’re on that topic, Google Calendar (http://www.google.com/calendar) and Google Spreadsheets (http://spreadsheets.google.com/) might also be of interest, especially if you are sharing data with others.

    I’ve been using OpenOffice.org for some time now (http://facilitatedsystems.com/weblog/2006/06/office-suite-experiment.html), and I’m finding I generally like it better (i.e., I can do a faster and better job using it) than the other brand, independent of the cost differential.

  2. Drew, I’m happy to see you touching on this subject. There are a lot of choices available that are both free and very capable. Greater implementation of alternative software products, however, will probably require some adjustment on the part of users.

    I’m thinking particularly of that 3000 lb gorilla, MS Office. Switching to Clac, for instance, might take some effort for a finance person raised on Excel. Interoperability (that is, sharing with other people in other organizations) is another big concern; not insurmountable, but again requiring some effort upfront. Is it better to impact productivity a bit to save on licensing costs? That’s not a simple question.

    But, still, the rewards can be substantial, especially for an organization that needs a “back office” server system. That’s where Microsoft, Apple, etc. really rake in the bucks. That’s where Linux can really come to the rescue.

    While that’ll take some expertise to implement and maintain (so does MS and Apple stuff!), it also holds an opportunity. Get with your local computer science trainers or computer club. Open-source is all about sharing and community. Get some fifteen-year-olds (black clothing, white music devices) who want to fight the Evil Empire to come in and set you up. Want to host your own downloads? Child’s play – literally.

    Then, give ’em a fist full of tickets, and tell the ushers not to be afraid. That’s the krew that’s helping keep us in business. That’s our audience of tomorrow.

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