When I decided to become a Realtor, one of the first investments I made was in computer hardware and software. I decided that I needed a laptop computer and software.

Today, I don’t need a laptop computer — an iPad, netbook or smart phone is less expensive and lighter and will do the job.

I don’t need to spend much on software because most of it is free and what is now free is better than what I used to pay a small fortune for.

Here are some great free programs and services that I use every day, and most of them have been around for years and have a large user base.

1. Pixlr is a free photo editor that is a browser extension. You can use it to edit photographs right in your browser. I use it in Google’s Chrome browser, but it is also available for the Firefox browser. Pixlr has the look and feel of Photoshop Elements and similar features. It can even be used to create graphics. Also try Pixler Express for quick edits and Pixlr Grabber for screen prints that can be edited and shared and saved in the browser.

2. Chrome browser: I have recently switched to the Chrome browser by Google, mainly because it is a faster, smaller program and it doesn’t crash. I also use the Chrome Web store, which is full of free time-saving gadgets and Chrome browser extensions. I have found browser extensions and add-ons that replace services that I used to pay for.

3. Open Office: I stopped buying Microsoft Office. I think it is an expensive, bloated software package that takes up a lot of space and is CPU-intensive. Open Office is free, can be downloaded from the Internet, is a much smaller program, and the upgrades are free, too. Open office is compatible with Microsoft Office and cloud-based Google Docs, and is a complete office suite with word processing, spreadsheet, database, presentation tools and even a drawing program.

4. Blogger: Maybe you’ve heard of tumblr, Posterous and wordpress.com — they are popular free blogging platforms. Blogger is also free and is great for mobile blogging or any kind of blogging. It can be used with a custom domain name and it is very easy to customize the look and feel and the functionality by adding free Gadgets and widgets.

I will always recommend running a free blog off of a domain name that you own so that it can be moved, if needed, without loss of traffic. Any of the free blog platforms can be used to create a free agent or brokerage website, or even an individual property website.

5. Google Sites: If you work on a team or maybe in a small office, you can use Google Sites to set up a company or team intranet. Forms and documents can be stored on the site and shared. The site is easy to build and share, and it is free.

6. CutePDF writer: A free and easy way to create PDFs. Install it on your computer and it becomes a PDF printer. Any file can be saved as a PDF file. Also check out the other CutePDF programs that cost far less than the programs they replace.

7. Scribefire is a browser extension that is available for both Chrome and Firefox. I have used it for many years for writing blog posts. It is a full-featured blog editor. You can grab photographs, links and text from the Internet and compose and post to all of your blogs, all in one place. I like the writing interface, and Scribefire can be used offline and is a handy place to store notes and ideas for future blog posts.

8. Instapaper: My bet is that this tool will quickly become indispensable for you. With Instapaper I can easily save articles that I find on the Internet to read later. The articles can be organized into folders. The "read later" bookmark can be installed into any browser — even the Safari browser on the iPad.

Links to the articles can be organized in folders and can eventually be archived — or better yet, deleted. There is an iPad/iPhone app that stores articles on the device so they can be read later, even without Internet access.

If I were just starting out as a real estate licensee, I would save my money and use it to buy food instead of software.

Most brokerages cannot compete with companies like Oracle and Google to provide better free software for their agents, so even if you are getting free software from a brokerage it doesn’t hurt to check to see what the competition might be using.

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