Business startups face many major expenses before they ever open their doors. Even if you operate in the online arena, therefor negating the costs of a lease (or property purchase), utilities, security, payroll and benefits, and so on, you may still have to shell out some major money for the equipment and software needed to launch your enterprise. And while you can certainly get deals on your hardware via sites like Dell that cater to those seeking to customize their gear and drop the dead weight (and cost) required by other retailers for items that are unnecessary, you might not be so sure about how to perform a similar feat when it comes to the software side of the equation. Don’t all businesses need pricy options like Microsoft Office Suite and QuickBooks in order to interface with the majority of clients and business partners and stay on par with their competition?

In truth, you will need plenty of software options when it comes to running a business these days, including programs to draft word documents, manage your bookkeeping, and perform hundreds of other tasks that confront you on a daily basis. But there’s no reason you have to drop major funding on pricy, branded software in order to meet your needs. Many people simply don’t realize the wide variety of open-source software that is available to individuals and business entities at no cost. And there are actually several benefits to choosing these options over the high-priced alternatives that everyone seems to have bought into.

The first thing you’ll no doubt enjoy is the price (or lack thereof). Open source software is offered for free to the public. Anyone who wants it can download it and begin using it. And there is a whole community of gifted coders out there supporting the open source movement, so that nearly any software you might pay for has a free counterpart somewhere on the worldwide web. While you probably worry that these freebies are in some way substandard, that is rarely the case. They may not look exactly like the paid programs you’re used to or function in exactly the same way, but most are just as good as (if not better than) the software options you’ve used in the past.

The reason is that open source is not only free; it is also open to change. Those who download the software may use their programming skills to fix bugs or otherwise improve the functionality and appearance of the software. Literally anyone can change the program to their liking and submit an upgraded version to the makers in order to offer it to others in the online community. This means that such software often improves more rapidly than paid versions, which are generally updated annually (unless there is a major problem). But it also means that you don’t have to pay again for a version that is virtually the same as the one you already have.

So before you whip out your wallet to get the latest Microsoft or Adobe update, consider that you could download Audacity, Gimp, Apache, or any number of other open source alternatives for free. It couldn’t hurt to try them out and you may find that they offer just as much functionality as their paid competitors and even more added value through regular upgrades.