Free doesn’t mean crappy anymore, companies like Google are now trying to get everyone hooked on internet products to promote its brand and to change the way people think about applications. Others like Unfuddle are trying to get you locked into their services with the free versions and then up-sell you when the time is right.

Either way, we win! So with that in mind, lets check out some free stuff that I love.

Source Control (Unfuddle)

Unfuddle is a project management Software as a Service solution that gives you a bunch of typical project management features; bug management, projects, even milestones.

The best part though is that they give you an unlimited amount of SVN repositories (200mb file size limit). So you can create a repository for each project and its all free. Good free source control isn’t something I’ve been able to easily find, so its good to know of Unfuddle which makes things easy for me.

Collaboration (Google Sites)

Google Sites
It probably speaks volumes that after talking about using Unfuddle a project management service, I suggest you use Google Sites for collaboration. I can’t believe people out there still don’t know about Google Sites, its the best thing ever. Really.

Google sites is the mutation of the wiki and the WYSIWYG into one. You get the Wiki part because it allows anyone to create pages and edit data at will, yet the barrier to entry of a Wiki is mostly removed with the visual editing abilities of the page editor. You can share your site with the world and let everyone see your collaboration baby, or you can restrict it to a few select individuals and keep it amongst those who are really involved with your project. There’s no limit to the amount of users you can add, you can add any of the Google Gadgets available out there, and it even comes with a full Office Suite.

Also because its Google, they have a team constantly working to improve the sites feature, they have recently added more layout options for your page, additional themes which can make some pages actually look like a real homepage, and even AdSense support.

Metrics (Google Analytics)

The First thing I do when I start a new web project, or take over someones website, is to introduce Google Analytics. If your not familiar with the product, it tracks your sites traffic, and gives you a mountain of data in relation to your visitors. Some of my favorite stats are listed below.

  • From which referring sites did your visitors originate?
  • What page are people navigating to most?
  • What are your most popular days of the week.
  • What search terms are people using to find your site?

The nature of your site and the method of campaign to get your site out there will determine which stats mean the most to you, but there is so much information there that its just interesting to browse through and play with, even if you don’t care how many hits your site gets.

As a note, I tend to do this as quickly as possible at the start of the project so I can start gathering data to work with as early as possible. It takes a day to gather enough data to present you with a report, so you can’t see the results of your hits today, but tomorrow you’ll be good to go.

Entertainment (Pandora)

Pandora is a streaming music service that generates playlists based on your suggestions to the system. So you can type in a band or song name and it will play songs for you similar in type to the songs you added to it. The free version is becoming more and more handicapped, so proceed with caution if your wary of such things.

Also a word of caution, when you get a playlist that you really like, DON’T TOUCH IT! Pandora by its nature is meant to branch out and if you add something, its likely to start branching out to areas your not so excited about. I’ve ruined a few playlists by adding a song/band that got me something I totally wasn’t expecting.

Finances (Mint)

Mint is amazing, its a model of usability, technilogical achievements, and provides an amazing service for free. I have tried to setup a financial system 3 times in my past, one of them being a free copy of MS Money, and two others being Free Open Source systems. I never did get any single bit of information from them that helped me make a decision in my spending habits. I didn’t know what I was spending my money on, how much I was brining in, how much I had saved. Its probably because I didn’t read the 250 page, MS Money for Dummies book.

Mint walks you through the happy path for getting setup, prompts you for your account information, gets everything setup and then provides you with intelligent screens, graphs and overviews to give you the perfect picture of whats going where and whats left. You’ll never escape having to categorize transactions for the system, but Mint still helps you do that in a simple way. (Could be better though guys, keep at it!)

Billing (InvoiceMachine)

Invoice Machine
As a developer at a company like Salesforce, I probably do 20-30 different things in a single day, and only maybe 2 of those involve coding. When you start to do some work on your own and no longer have the advantage of a Finance Dept, you find yourself doing 40-50 different things in the course of a project.

With InvoiceMachine, it really is a simple little system that allows you to send invoices off to your client that look acceptably professional.

Thats it!

I’m sure theres other alternatives to all these services, they are just the ones I use. Though if you got ones better then what I posted that are free, please mention them!

1 comment

One Response to “Free services solving expensive problems.”

  1. Kris "Justise" Gray » Google Sites Data API Prototype Says:

    […] made note of my fondness of Google sites […]

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