How To: Get Basic Business Software |

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All business owners need basic software to help them perform the daily operations of their companies.

We consider basic software to be essential tools (or “desktop applications”) that help you create and read important business documents. This article focuses on three types of essential software:

  • Word Processors
  • Spreadsheets
  • PDF Reader/Writers

Virtually every business owner needs basic software to create and read documents and spreadsheets. However, it's easy to become confused by the plethora of software options on the market, which have a wide range in cost, functionality, and compatibility. If you’ve just started your business, you’ll want to keep costs low and find software that is most compatible with your company’s needs.

While there are several unpaid options for basic software (or "freeware"), we don't recommend relying solely on freeware to run your business as they are less dynamic and offer fewer advanced features. For more information on these products, as well as basic software programs for Mac users, read our related STARTicle on Top Software and Cloud Alternatives to Microsoft Office.

Before you get basic business software, you should:

Tip:  Buying a computer and getting basic business software are steps that should occur simultaneously. You will need to determine your software needs so that you purchase a computer that is compatible with your software choices, and vice versa.

Microsoft Office

Windows Small Business SoftwareMicrosoft Office is the gold standard desktop application suite on the market, and we highly recommend it for business use. The software package includes Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheets), PowerPoint (presentations), Outlook (email) and OneNote (note-taking). MS Office is recommended for anyone who needs to share highly formatted documents or use complex Excel functions, such as pivot tables or macros. The majority of businesses use Microsoft Office, so you won’t have to worry about compatibility issues when sending/receiving files. MS Office is available for both Mac and PC.

Decide on the number of computers on which you want to install Microsoft Office.

You may want to purchase MS Office for some computers and not others to cut down costs. Consider using freeware (like or cloud apps (like Google Apps) on older computers or computers that are shared among multiple employees.

Choose your license type.

  • Traditional Disc: This license type, often referred to as Full Packaged Product (FPP) in the past, includes a DVD, a 25-character Product Key, and a Quick Start Guide. It can be installed on a PC that is preloaded with Office, a new PC that has not been preloaded with Office 2010, or on an existing PC. Office Home and Business and Office Professional are licensed for 2 PCs, one PC and one portable device for the same user. A Traditional Disc product license can be transferred to a different PC if the user upgrades to a new PC.

  • Product Key Card: The Product Key Card is a 25-character product key that customers can use to easily activate Office on an existing PC that meets Office system requirements. The Product Key Card is valid for 1 PC and is not transferable to another PC. This license type usually costs less than the traditional disc software.

  • Download: You can download Microsoft Office Home and Business or Office Professional directly from The main benefit of downloading the software is that you don’t have to pay for shipping or wait for your discs to arrive by mail. You can choose to purchase licensing for up to 2 PCs or just 1 PC. Microsoft allows you to re-download any of the Office versions at any time to the PCs on which you originally downloaded the software.

Purchase your software.

Purchase either the Home and Business edition or the Professional edition. Do not purchase the Home and Student edition since it does not come with Outlook and Microsoft disallows you from using it for business purposes.

Follow the instructions provided with the software on how to install it and set it up.Install it on your computer.

Alternatives to Microsoft Office

 To read about top, low-cost alternatives to Microsoft Office, including Apple iWork, and Google Apps, read our STARTicle: Top Software and Cloud Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Adobe Reader X

Adobe is the original creator of the PDF file, so it makes sense that Adobe’s Reader is the most widely used and versatile on the market. It is the only PDF Reader compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. Adobe Reader X allows you to view, search and print PDF files. You can also comment, digitally sign, highlight, and place “sticky notes” on pages within PDF files. It integrates with Microsoft Sharepoint to open, edit, and save PDF files.

Download Adobe Reader X.

Tip: As long as a PDF’s “Additional Features” are enabled, you can place a signature on the document whether or not there are actual signature fields already contained within the file. Just go into the Tools menu, select “Place Signature,” and insert a signature field wherever you’d like.

Free PDF Writers

If you think you won't be creating PDFs frequently enough to justify buying Adobe Reader X, we recommend going with a free PDF writer to create the occasional file. There are several free programs that you can use.

Friendly Tips

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Microsoft Office Home and Business 2010

  • Use freeware in additon to Microsoft Office. Decide how much you are willing to spend on basic software for your company before you buy. Ask yourself whether you can take advantage of free software options (like Google Apps or, or some combination of Microsoft products and freeware, to cut down on costs.

  • Use an older version of Microsoft Office to save money. Do you really need to purchase the most current version of the software on the market? Often you can save money by using older versions of Micorosft Office without much loss of functionality or compatibility. Search for older Microsoft products on Amazon.

  • It's a good idea to make your software and computer choice at the sime time when you are just starting out. Purchasing software should go hand in hand with purchasing a computer to ensure that they are compatible with each other and best serve your business' needs.

Fair Warnings

  • When buying Microsoft products, do not cheat by getting a pirated version or a Home & Student version. Microsoft is very aggressive about defending software license agreements. Also, while you may be able to write off Home & Business versions on your taxes, you might be audited if you write off Home & Student versions.