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If the state of the economy has got you down and you're ready to stop throwing money at commercial software vendors, you might be overwhelmed at the amount of open source options that exist. Buck up, IT soldier, here are three applications that let you dip your toes in the pool without jumping in all the way.

Mindtouch - I've written before about this dead-simple way to implement a collaborative environment in the workplace. Sure, you can always fall back on sharing files via Google Docs or keep employes connected through an in-house blog, but I don't recommend putting together a piecemeal system and hoping everything works well together.

Mindtouch is the Swiss Army Knife of collaboration platforms: it neatly blends your email system, customer account databases, and other enterprise apps with Web services like search and social networking -- and it's all open source, which means it can be customized to your companies unique needs. If Mindtouch works for big businesses like e-commerce company Bill Me Later and Baxter Healthcare, it's worth finding out what it can do for you.

SugarCRM - There's no shortage of customer relationship management (CRM) software, but even the most robust proprietary vendor offering will have a hard time measuring up to the open source alternative from SugarCRM. It's amazingly customizable, and scales well for both small and large businesses. As DaniWeb's Edward Correia points out, there's even a plugin available to integrate SugarCRM with a Gmail account.

The Oregon Department of Human Services used to manage its community outreach and education communication with sticky notes. CIO Bill Crowell says once the decision was made to try SugarCRM, his tech team had it downloaded and deployed within 24 hours.

Hyperic HQ - All the open source software in the world won't help your company's bottom line if you're company is offline. Hyperic HQ is a great tool for managing and monitoring your infrastructure. Use it to track metrics for more than 65 technologies across Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Unix systems.

There are various versions of Hyperic HQ available, each with its own set of bells and whistles. If you're having trouble envisioning how the app would fit into your workflow, have a look at this terrific post by Redmonk analyst Michael Coté.

Of course, there are loads more apps you can try, but these three make a great starting point if you don't have a lot of experience with open source software. What apps would you recommend to someone just starting to dabble in enterprise open source apps? Let me know in the comments.

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