Just about everyone wants to work more productively, both in the home office and the business office. Microsoft’s Windows 8 has ushered in a whole new generation of business productivity software, for purposes ranging from creating and editing office docs to taking notes, conducting videoconferences, and dictating letters by voice for quick transcription into text.
Most apps specifically designed for the tile-based “modern” UI in Windows 8 lean toward entertainment and other lighter fare, but a few of these apps — such as Evernote for Windows 8 — are business-oriented, and more of these apps are on the way. Meanwhile, other new releases of SOHO (small office home office) applications and services will operate on just about any Windows PC, whether it’s a shiny new Windows 8 convertible or ultrabook or that clunky old Windows XP machine over in the corner that your boss (or spouse) doesn’t want you to throw away. Some of this software is available for Apple Macs, too.
If you’re looking to buy business productivity software as a thoughtful but pragmatic holiday gift, you’ll find prices that run the gamut from several hundred dollars all the way down to free. However, the free cloud-enabled apps are typically accompanied by paid subscriptions for basic and/or premium services.
Here below, in no particular order of importance, are ten cool business productivity software products. (Also, if you’re interested in Windows software in categories like entertainment, photo editing, gaming, and PC security, check out our Holiday Guide article on “Fun & Useful Software for Windows 8 & Earlier PCs.”)
1. Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS) 12
Talking to your PC and having it accurately type what you say has long been a dream for power users. Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS) — a software package for turning talk into text — fulfills that dream quite well.
DNS 12 comes in four editions: Home, Premium, Legal, and Professional. For business use in the home or office, the Professional edition offers the widest feature set, if you can cope with its $599.99 MSRP.
Operable on Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP, the Professional edition offers features that include natural language commands for applications like Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, as well as support for multiple dictation sources (digital recorders, iPhones, and other sound capture devices); Bluetooth microphone support; and even remote desktop connections, where a thin client or terminal services client can access a remote PC with Dragon installed on it.
2. Evernote for Windows 8 and RT
Like Evernote’s traditional Windows desktop apps, and Evernote’s mobile apps for platforms such as Android and iOS, Evernote for Windows 8 is designed to let you take notes and efficiently organize just about as many electronic documents as you want.
Basic, cloud-enabled service is also free, although you’ll need to pay for a premium subscription to enjoy some of Evernote’s features. Extra capabilities available through the premium service include substantially more uploads per month, faster conversions of scans and handwriting to text, and the ability to turn off the advertising which supports the free edition. The subscription cost for a premium account is $5 a month, or $45 per year.
If you haven’t heard by now, Microsoft Office 365 is the subscription-based counterpart to Microsoft’s Office 13 software package, offering cloud-enabled flavors of the latest versions of perennial favorites like Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, OneNote, and Access.
Although the upcoming Office 13 might turn out to be more economical for lots of consumers, Office 365 brings a better deal on pricing for any home or business office supporting five or more Windows PCs.
Microsoft is offering Office 365 in Home Premium, Small Business, ProPlus, and Enterprise versions. You can play around with the previews right now, but the commercial editions won’t be available until early next year. So if you want to “gift” someone with Office 365 during this year’s holiday season, you might want to give him or her an IOU on a subscription.
Want to go face-to-face with co-workers from your home office, a hotel room, or just about anywhere else? OmniJoin, a service from Brother, advances low-cost videoconferencing a notch or two.
What, specifically, are OmniJoin’s advantages? First, video quality is high performance. Second, integration is superb. The software is designed so you never have to leave it, allowing you to show PowerPoint presentations, play recorded videos and more, all from within the same program.
Pricing is based on two levels of service. Basic, for $49 per month, allows up to 12 video participants and up to 20 video participants, providing video at 720p resolution. Pro service, for $79 a month, handles up to 20 video participants and up to 50 voice participants, delivering up to 1080p high definition video.
Microsoft’s Skype for Windows 8, another app for the Modern UI, doesn’t offer group video calling yet, although that capability is reportedly on the way.
What it does offer is a smoother user interface (UI) than traditional Skype applications for the Windows and Mac OS X platforms.
Available as a free download, Skype for Windows 8 is deeply integrated with Windows 8 People. Social apps like Facebook and Twitter also tie into the People functionality. Start Screen icons, known as live tiles, can update with new information constantly.
Skype pipes new messages to the tile, so you don’t need to constantly keep checking the app for updates.
6. WinZip 17
Online sharing of office docs and other files is important to many business pursuits. In the new version 17, WinZip is responding to recent changes in the computing landscape by trying to improve on existing file sharing approaches with improved convenience and security.
For instance, WinZip 17 gives you a single space for viewing and organizing files saved in your Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive accounts. For better security, you can also zip and encrypt files with either 128- or 256-bit encryption.
For that matter, you can also share any file or folder to Twitter followers, LinkedIn contacts, and Facebook subscribers. The software runs on Windows 8 and earlier editions of Windows. Pricing is $29.95 for WinZip 17 Standard and $49.95 for WinZip 17 Pro, a version which adds file backup and extra features for photo editing and sharing.
7. Carbonite Online Backup
Backing up your PC data is always important, but it can be absolutely critical if you’re working with information important to your business.
Carbonite comes in three home editions and two business editions. Before you can use Carbonite, you need to download and install an application. A complete backup through Carbonite actually excludes some files such as system files and applications. Backup up the entire disk requires to to use Carbonite Mirror Image, which is included in the subscriptions for most editions.
Pricing for the home editions ranges from $59 to $149 per PC, per year. The business editions, which cover unlimited numbers of computers, are priced from $229 to $500 per year. HomePlus and HomePremier run on Windows only, whereas the Home, Business, and BusinessPremier editions are available for both Windows and Mac.
While CyberLink Director Suite 11 also competes against a long list of consumer-oriented video editing packages, the new release offers some great features geared to professional film-makers. So if you want to make a movie promoting your home-based business, or even a film for your corporate maketing department, the new package could give you a relatively inexpensive way of adding spiff and polish.
For example, through a new ColorDirector component, you can use mask and motion tracking features to make color changes to only selected parts of a video.
Through AudioDirector, you can use a video-referenced editing tool to synchronize voiceover or apply audio effects to specific video frames.
Priced at $299.95, the software runs on Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP.
As Web-based file sharing and document collaboration continues to rise, PDF files are growing increasingly prevalent as a way of working with docs across multiple PC and mobile platforms.
Adobe Acrobat is one of the most capable among a big field of software packages designed to let you create, edit, annotate, and read PDFs. Products in the latest release include Acrobat XI Pro, Acrobat XI Standard, and Adobe Reader XI, along with two new cloud services for easier document management.
Other key features in Acrobat XI include a new “intuitive” Edit Text and Images tool and the ability to save PDF documents in a number of formats, such as Microsoft PowerPoint, Word or Excel. Pricing is $300 for the Standard version and $450 for the Pro version.
If you find the pricetag for Adobe Acrobat to be a bit steep, Foxit Software offers several versions of its PhantomPDF application, ranging from the $29 PhantomPDF Express to the $149, top-of-the-line Phantom Business.
PhantomPDF Standard, priced at $95, offers many if not most of the functions that a home or small business user would need. The easy-to-use package lets you create PDFs, edit them, and make fillable forms.
You can create PDF files from Word and other office documents, and you can also export PDF docs to other applications. The product includes some security features, too, such as digital signatures.