Roll your own Bill Gates workflow for free
Email & Calendars
Obviously Bill's going to use Outlook. He's fortunate enough to have assistants filter his email. Mere mortals will have to depend of their ISP and local softwares. My recommended Outlook replacement is Thunderbird, for its cross-platform goodness. Want to know how to use Thunderbird, and retrain yourself? Check out this series on using Thunderbird, a very thorough walk through from installation to spam filtering. To integrate calendars, you'll want to stick with the iCalendar format, which is supported by Sunbird, Mozilla's standalone calendar application. My preference in calendars is Calendar, also from Mozilla, because it integrates with Thunderbird and Mozilla browsers. iCalendar is also supported in OS X's iCal app, so Mac users can keep their native app if need be. If you need to sync with Palm devices, you can try using PHP iCalendar in conjunction with this Datebook to iCal exporter. If anyone knows of a more elegant solution, I'm all ears. Next up: your document creation and sharing issues solved...
As for document creation, I think it's safe to assume almost everyone has at least heard of OpenOffice. But have you used it? If not, and you want to get up to speed ASAP, check out LearnOpenOffice.org, a collection of tutorials in text or Flash versions. If OO is too unwieldy for you, why not try Writely (whenever they open it back up) or ajaxWrite? Because those aren't ideal for business, probably. OpenOffice gives you the entire suite of Office apps for one low price: free. Upgrading to StarOffice is an option if your business is very large however, as it does add some collaboration, database, and administration tools handy in that space. Unfortunately, StarOffice costs money, but it's way cheaper than MS Office (less than $70 per seat). There are a few alternatives to OpenOffice, but as you can see they are either antiquated or platform-specific, which gets a thumbs-down in my book.
I can count on one finger the number of people I know using SharePoint. But I know even fewer using O3Spaces, a doc-sharing suite currently available overseas. It's designed for OO, but still in beta. What we're really talking about here are two things: document retrieval and editing, and group communications. Number one means saving your OO docs out to something everyone can see and/or edit. Number two encompasses a wide range of activities, from simple contact lists to tracking task lists.
As I see it, you can do all of this and more, but you'll have to spend some time developing a specific workflow or system. Drupal, for instance, is an immensely powerful (and quite popular) content management system, that can do pretty much whatever you need. It's easy enough to set up, but you do need PHP and MySQL on a server you can work with. Luckily, all those toys are free (except the hardware). So you can have your SharePoint and then some, but you'll want a codemonkey for a couple of weeks to make it all happen. Ideally a simple web portal in the intranet could handle uploading docs, and managing those other bits of data. Take a look at all the stuff Drupal supports (like the iCalendar format), and you'll wonder why SharePoint even exists... I should note Drupal is largely made for blogging, but I don't see why those same tools couldn't be used like a SharePoint site. If Drupal isn't your thing, give ActionApps a look, as it has a slew of cool tools also.
There are web apps out there as well, like RallyPoint and Thinkfree Office Online. These are great for quick and dirty work, but I don't know if they're acceptable for enterprise work.
Notetaking, brainstorming, newsreading
Once again, while OneNote is great, there are free alternatives. I know Bill isn't a fan of to-do lists, but I've found Backpack (and we mentioned Voo2do earlier today) is fantastic for not only taking notes, but making to-do's at the same time. You can make notes with timed events set to notify you at a specified period. You can also add notes via a number of methods (email or SMS for instance) in Backpack, and share and collaborate on these documents. Heck, Backpack itself could do many of the things SharePoint does, but not all the things Drupal is capable of doing.
As for brainstorming, I've found this works best using meatspace tools. But if you absolutely must do things like mind maps or what-have-you, check out FreeMind. It's cross-platform, but requires a little training. There's ThoughtStream too, which works on some Palm models, Windows, and *NIX.
As for newsreading, I could go into the list... But surely you're all aware of blogrolls, browser extensions, RSS readers, and web-based feed aggregators, right? It's not like we've never covered these things... Right now I use a few: Google's homepage for about 12 or so feeds, RSSOwl on my PC and Mac, Vienna on the Mac, NetNewsWire on the Mac, and RSS Bandit on my PC. Don't ask. There's also Bloglines, Technorati, and Newsvine, but I'm not sure that's what we're after (Bloglines tends to be the most applicable here).
Other tools and online resources
There's obviously a case to be made for ditching Windows itself, and switching to another platform. I'm not even going to get into that particular holy war. If I were to make a suggestion for desktop replacements, however, it would be Ubuntu. But again, I wouldn't want to offend the Red Hat or SuSE die hards out there.
I did find an interesting (if brief) article on using Mozilla in the enterprise. There's also a good article on Top 10 Open Source Tools for Activism, but is applicable to any organization looking to build a base. Here's a page with an evolving list of thought organizing apps (which is something OneNote is good for). Don't forget the panolpy of Web 2.0 apps and services out there just begging to be tweaked for business workflows. Skype, Odeo, Campfire, and Jotspot come to mind...
Oh, didn't Bill say, "Another digital tool that has had a big effect on my productivity is desktop search"? Yes, he did, but he failed to mention what desktop search tool he was using. My guess is its not the little XP dog that pops up. Maybe he uses the genie? Nah, gotta be the MSN toolbar, though I can't fathom why he doesn't use the vastly superior Google Desktop Search...
Parting shots thoughts
So it's easy to find faults with Bill Gates, but I can say this: everything he said in this article made sense. I mean, except for the fact that he's holding back on buying one of those whiteboard digitizers (is he waiting for a coupon?), his workflow is very cool and makes a lot of sense. And I'll grant you that, out of the box, the MS solution is pretty end-to-end and easy to set up. However, not all of us have a few thousand bucks to spend on these solutions. Especially when businesses have been launched using a calculator, pen, and legal pad. Some of those were even successful. It's impossible to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation for business. Hopefully I've given you some ideas on how open source apps, or at least shareware apps, can save you a lot of time, save you some money, and maybe even make your work more fun. Because if you love what you do, it's not called work...