These are frugal times for business and an organisation starting out might have very little money to spend on IT. Even if you're part of an established business, you're probably feeling the pinch.
Here are five extremely useful computing resources that are free of charge for small business users, unlike some "free" services you might see that are only for home users. These choices have few if any restrictions, and are established services unlikely to shut up shop anytime soon.
1. Google Apps For Business
If your organisation has under 50 employees, then Google Apps for Business (formerly called Google Apps for Domains) is for you. It offers free email under the umbrella of your own organisation's domain name (you can pay Google $10 to reserve a domain name, if you don't already have one). You can also have your own private Google Docs system along with your own Google Calendar system.
In use, the email system looks and feels just like regular Gmail, except that your own organisation's email addresses are used rather than a Gmail one (such as [email protected], rather than something like [email protected]). One nice touch is that the email address book is shared automatically amongst your users.
It's all hosted on Google's computers, so you won't need your own mail server computer. You'll benefit from almost zero configuration and maintenance, plus a promised 99.9 percent uptime guarantee. Put simply, Google takes care of everything for you. The spam filtering is the same excellent system as Gmail, which is to say your employees just won't be bothered by anything dodgy.
There are some limitations on the free version. As well as the 50 user limit, each user account can send emails to only 500 recipients per day. This won't be an issue for most of us, but it's easy to imagine an enthusiastic sales person hitting that ceiling now and again. You also can't send attachments larger than 25MB, although this will only be an issue for those working in the media industries who have to ship around large photographs or video files.
Even if you have to pay to upgrade to the Premier Edition, which allows unlimited users and a host of other benefits, it'll only cost $50 per year. Who can argue with that kind of value?
Some service providers, such as Dreamhost, offer free-of-charge one-click configuration of Google Apps for any domains you have registered with them.